System Of A Down, Faith Evans, The Duke Spirit, Juliette & The Licks
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System Of A Down/
Faith Evans/
The Duke Spirit/
Juliette & The Licks

[The Mail On Sunday, 2005]

HERE'S HOW IT goes. Band gains audience. Band makes best-selling album. Record company wants more of same. Band fears artistic stagnation on one hand and commercial decline on the other. Band attempts, like Odysseus navigating between Scylla and Charybdis, to steer a middle course. The result is often something akin to Mesmerize (American)**, System Of A Down's follow-up to the breakthrough Toxicity.
 SOAD are one of the more intriguing tantrum-metal acts; and not just because of their beards or their proudly brandished Armenian heritage. Their knack for mixing up the usual screaming thrash with eclectic, tuneful interludes makes them less predictable than most; and while their grasp of geopolitics hardly rivals that of The Economist, they are at least prepared to wrestle with ideas. Sad Statue and Old School Hollywood show what happens when they win; more often, the band are the ones pinned down for the count. Without conceding too many compromises, Mesmerize ought to keep the fans on side - in that much, it can be called a success.
 Conferring a title upon yourself is an old R&B trick: James Brown, Aretha Franklin and Michael Jackson all prospered in doing so (although “King of Pop” has been superseded by saltier epithets.) Now comes Faith Evans - launched into stardom by P. Diddy's tribute to her murdered husband, Notorious B.I.G., I'll Be Missing You - demanding to be known as The First Lady (EMI)*. It's fair to say she's more of a Laura Bush than a Hilary Clinton: neat as a pin, wilfully wholesome and with all the discernible personality of toast. Professionalism, technique, currency - The First Lady can boast all of these. And lordy, is it bland. This may be soul, but it doesn't have any.
 Two variations on the theme of muscular, female-led rock. The Duke Spirit's Cuts Across The Land (loog)***, which veers towards indie but avoids the insipid coyness so often associated with it, has some powerful moments, particularly the PJ Harvey-ish title track, and the shuddering, inexorable Love Is An Unfamiliar Name. I often found myself admiring its bracing alkalinity, but I didn't enjoy it as much as You're Speaking My Language (Hassle)*** from the less overtly ambitious and more direct Juliette & The Licks.
 Original it isn't - Joan Jett, Patti Smith, Chrissy Hynde, and Poison Ivy of The Cramps would all be entitled to cock an enquiring eyebrow at Juliette Lewis - but it wades into garage rock with the genuine gusto shared by The Hives and The Detroit Cobras. And yes, it is that Juliette Lewis, something I didn't realise before I played the album, and didn't care about afterwards.

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