'Adios' from band linked to Columbine

CD REVIEWS

May 13, 1999|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

KMFDM

Adios (Wax Trax! TVT 7258)

After the tragedy at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., pundits grasping to explain why Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold slaughtered 12 classmates and a teacher immediately seized upon the interests that made the two "different." As is always the case with scary teen-agers, much was made of Harris and Klebold's taste in music -- particularly their fondness for the underground German band KMFDM.

The irony was that even as KMFDM was getting its dubious moment in the limelight, the band was preparing to call it quits. Capping a 13-year career on the 00Goth/industrial scene, KMFDM bids its audience farewell with the curiously compelling "Adios."

KMFDM started out in the mid-'80s as an electronic music combine based in Hamburg. Influenced both by the industrial sound of Einsturzende Neubauten and the gloomy post-romanticism of Ministry, KMFDM -- the initials didn't really stand for anything, though leader Sascha Konietzko was always happy to provide journalists with possible readings for the acronym -- quickly became known for its darkly abrasive sound and bluntly provocative lyrics.

As dark and confrontational as their music could be, KMFDM hardly came across as world-hating nihilists. True, the band did not seem to suffer fools gladly, but even the seemingly revolutionary rhetoric of "Search & Destroy" (from 1995's "Nihil") was more a wake-up call than a call to arms. On the whole, KMFDM was more about attitude than action.

"Adios" offers more of the same, at least on a lyrical level. Although the pundits will likely have a field day with "D.I.Y.," which includes lines like "D.I.Y., destroy what destroys you," the song's menace is so steeped in sarcasm that only an idiot would take it literally. In truth, the song is about KMFDM's plan to "take over" the world music scene, and the orchestral pomp added to the tune's crunching, industrial synthbeat merely underscores how deeply the band has its tongue in its cheek.

Granted, it can be difficult to gauge how earnest the band is at any given time. "Today," for instance, comes across as a near-perfect imitation of Depeche Mode's mannered ennui, but given the chorus -- "Misery loves company/For a little bit of sympathy" -- it's unclear whether that counts as compliment or criticism.

However murky the band's lyrical intent might be, its music remains visceral and direct. Indeed, from the breathless aggression of the title track to the slyly percolating pulse of "R.U.OK?," KMFDM is awesomely good at exploiting the kinetic power of synths and sequencers. But then, that's the point, because this is dance music at root -- even if it isn't a particularly happy dance. ***

Pop/rock

Robbie Williams

The Ego Has Landed (Capitol 97726)

They may speak the same language, but there are times when the English seem ineffably foreign. Take, for example, their adulation for former Take That singer Robbie Williams. Although Williams' self-mockingly grandiose "The Ego Has Landed" certainly offers moments of melodic bliss -- the dreamily lush refrain from "Millennium," the intoxicating harmonies threaded through "Win Some Lose Some" -- it's difficult to share the average Briton's ardor for Williams' brashly derivative pop. Like fellow Brit-rockers Oasis, Williams lives in a world of allusion, larding his songs with well-placed borrowings (a dollop of Elton John here, a bit of Bowie there . . .). Such scavenging often makes for catchy choruses and arresting arrangements; it does little to make the songs compelling, much less memorable. **

Thievery Corporation

Abductions and Reconstructions (Eighteenth Street Lounge Music ESL017)

It would be hard to imagine a better name for a remix crew than Thievery Corporation, or a more appropriate showcase for their work than "Abductions and Reconstructions." Though the album isn't long on marquee value -- artists featured include David Byrne, Stereolab, Gus Gus, and Pizzicato Five -- that doesn't diminish the aural pleasures within. If anything, it reminds us that the true test of a remix isn't the quality of the source material, but how imaginatively it has been reshaped. Thievery Corporation thrives on the gentle insistence of sinuously percolating percussion and lumbering, hypnotic basslines. But even as the rearrangements slide toward the somnolent pulse of ambient dub, the Corp. keeps the melody front-and-center, reminding us that there's more to a dance record than a steady beat. ***

Owsley

Owsley (Giant 24715)

There's a cruel irony to power pop, in that no matter how clever or catchy its melodies may be, they'll never become hits in today's beat-driven world. Somehow, though, multi-instrumentalist Owsley turns this to his advantage on "Owsley." A delightful piece of pop hermeticism, this one-man show makes the most of Owsley's ingenuity, making overdubs sound like a full band, from the densely layered harmonies in "I'm Alright" to the glittering textures of "Uncle John's Farm." Still, the real pleasures here have more to do with songwriting than with studio ingenuity, as "Sentimental Favorite" or the giddily catchy "Oh No the Radio" evoke the brainy hookiness of power-pop legends like Big Star or the dBs.

***

Pub Date: 05/13/99

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