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Spacehog: The Chinese Album
Spacehog: The Chinese Album
turnover time:2024-06-25 05:04:14

Everybody loves Radiohead's OK Computer, last year's most acclaimed album, but few have stopped to consider one of the possible consequences of its success: the return of the concept album. Though there has yet to be a full-scale onslaught of closet Pink Floyd and Rick Wakeman fans releasing would-be masterpieces, the appearance of Spacehog's The Chinese Album—while not in itself a terrible thing—doesn't bode well. A cover featuring Chinese writing and an Asian girl holding a pig against a computer-generated backdrop, coupled with music containing a similarly disparate hodge-podge of styles and sounds, suggests that the British band wasn't operating with many restraints during The Chinese Album's recording. The results, however, suggest that Spacehog's ambition exceeds its ability, and what it all has to do with China is anyone's guess. Of course, "ambition" may not be exactly the right word: Like everything Spacehog has done, The Chinese Album owes more to David Bowie than anyone else, and his influence is apparent on every one of these tracks. "Mungo City," the first single, is, like the band's previous hit "In The Meantime," simultaneously catchy, memorable, and mildly annoying, but, though the album itself rarely rises above that level, it can't really be called boring, either. Driven by a Talking Heads sample, "One Of These Days" attempts to incorporate the electronica influence no one can seem to do without these days. But subsequent songs are equally reliant on bits of operatic arias ("2nd Avenue"), faux-Gregorian chants ("Sand In Your Eyes"), and filtered Tin Pan Alley songcraft ("Skylark"). Unfortunately, it sounds more often contrived than innovative, a fact highlighted by the lovely, spare "Almond Kisses," featuring Michael Stipe sharing vocal duties with lead singer Royston Langdon. In contrast to the glam-rock guitars and swaggering vocals that run throughout the rest of the album, Stipe sounds too sincere, too human, and his appearance is The Chinese Album's highlight. When the closing track, "Beautiful Girl," tries for a similar moment without him, Langdon sounds as though he could just as easily be singing about an especially effective brand of car tires. For the most part, The Chinese Album sounds like Aladdin Sane or Roxy Music's early material, stripped of any sense of commitment or adventure. It's not exactly bad, but, with the exception of a few moments, it plays like hollow music for hollow people.

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