Step off, Eddie Vedder. And Stone Gossard -- you might as well be Stone Phillips this go-around.
Mike McCready, lead guitarist for Seattle's Pearl Jam, has assembled some childhood pals to eke out a dozen James Garner- influenced songs about angels and bad relationships. Let us weep openly, my baggy-flanneled brethren -- for today's keepers of the amplified twaddle have lost their way. Let us blubber without shame for the once-mighty stomping ground of Hendrix and Cobain, where the gods of music reigned too briefly in fog-bound majesty and where legends are now repackaged in the daily grind like so many overpriced Starbucks biscotti.
This dismal throwback to vanilla-flavored guitar muscularity and altrock alienation sounds as dated as the rasp of a Volkswagen Thing -- and about a tenth as sincere. McCready filters his knack for self-pity through the lead vocals of ex-Goodness warbler Carrie Akre and all the lazy gyrations of toddler grunge. Other than pristine production by John Goodmanson (Sleater-Kinney) and a few shining guitar shootouts between McCready and his grade-school chum Danny Newcomb, the Rockfords do little but beg, borrow, and steal from the sticky Big Chief tablet of preadolescent angst. "I know you loved me/Back when we were friends/Back when I was cool/ Before I broke some rule," Akre sobs on the album's lackluster single "Silver Lining," wearing down her angry pink Crayola to a nub. (Liz Phair wrote better songs in kindergarten, for crissakes.) Somehow this mopefest landed a spot on the soundtrack of Down to You, starring Freddie Prinze, Jr. -- as if that were something to crow about.
"Sure Shot" is the can't-miss rocker of the disc; with pillow talk like "I'll give you something to cry about," the tune conjures more than a bruise from Chrissie Hynde's school of hard knocks -- but in Hynde's case the threat sounds halfway enticing. Even a guest appearance by Heartthrob Nancy Wilson can't float this big-label exercise in irrelevance. "You can't hold the river down," she trills most deliciously on "Riverwide." But it's just more predictable tear-jerking for the pasty and beleaguered children of Seattle.
Do yourself a favor, grungelings. Save your pennies for Mudhoney's latest. -- John La Briola