A vapid debut by the Von Bondies

New on CD

Music: in concert, CDs

March 11, 2004|By Richard Cromelin | Richard Cromelin,LOS ANGELES TIMES

Getting clocked in the face by the White Stripes' Jack White might be a painful way to get the attention of the mainstream rock audience, but if nothing else, the recent nightclub fracas between Von Bondies singer-guitarist Jason Stollsteimer and his mentor-turned-antagonist fits right into the rowdy, bare-knuckles tradition of the Detroit rock legacy that both gentlemen represent.

If only the Von Bondies' major-label debut had more of that unruly spirit. For all its merits, Pawn Shoppe Heart sounds too clean and constrained, lacking the swagger of the New York Dolls, or the creepiness of a contemporary primitive such as Johnny Dowd.

That's a crucial shortcoming for a quartet that's much more about performance, posturing and personality than it is about great songwriting and record making.

The album, produced by former Talking Head Jerry Harrison, aims to bottle the band's live energy and charisma, but it's a tough thing to capture, especially when you keep the drums barely audible.

Muted though it is, the album does have Stollsteimer, whose voice goes from supple wail to over-the-top psychodrama, and a notable knack for revitalizing the archetypal motifs of Stooges-grounded garage rock.

And who knows, there might even be some great songwriting in the band's future. "C'mon C'mon," a hook-studded rocker with a compelling vocal, and "Tell Me What You See," with Stollsteimer and the band's girl-group chorus locked in a dynamic dialogue, come back to back early in the album and form a memorable one-two punch. Pardon the expression.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

The Von Bondies: Pawn Shoppe Heart (Sire/Reprise) ***

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