Nearly Perfect Power-Pop

The follow-up to 97's masterful and melodic Perfect From Now On.

Boise's best, Built to Spill, return to make good on the promise of

their last full-length outing, Perfect From Now On. Chopping down

the extended, ragged guitar arcs of that album, bandleader Doug Martsch

has composed here an elaborately beautiful pop ode to former President

Richard M. Nixon's secretary, Rosemary Woods.

Woods, of course, was Nixon's Bettie Currie, forever linked to the whole

Watergate scandal by her employer and by an 18 1/2-minute gap found on

one of the famed Oval Office tapes that she administered. The Rosa Parks

of stonewalling presidential secretaries, Woods nonetheless makes for an

odd muse. However, resonances with Monicagate transform Keep It Like

a Secret from a seemingly direct statement on the vagaries of

love-Martsch's usual stock-in-trade to a sweeping indictment of

democracy in late 20th-century America.

With able musical assistance from bassist Brett Nelson and drummer Scott

Plouf -- the first stable lineup for the band -- Built to Spill redefine

the power-trio sound, generating in the process the sonic equivalent of

Sen. Trent Lott's hair: hard, shiny, polished.

Lyrically, Martsch is all over the map. The opener, "The Plan," is told

in Nixon's voice and lifts some lines directly from conversations he had

with chief of staff H.R. Haldeman. It is a paranoid yet oddly moving

account of a man on the edge. "Center of the Universe" finds Woods

lamenting her relative position in the ongoing investigation -- "I so

miss the time I served up bagels and lox/ for Katharine Graham and

Archibald Cox." "Sidewalk" harkens back to the band's sound on the

chirpy "There's Nothing Wrong with Love"; the ballad imagines

Woods fantasizing about what her life would have been like had she

instead followed her childhood dream to become an American Basketball Association (the defunct "outlaw" league from the seventies) cheerleader.

In "You Were Right," the band turns out a rocking performance that

speaks to Martsch's stated fondness for Up label stablemates Modest

Mouse. It finds Woods talking with her mother on a pay phone outside her

apartment, relating how it all went wrong. As Martsch's overdubbed

guitars come crashing down, she realizes how cynical and callow the

Washington establishment had become: "You were right/ about the

Kennedys/ you were right/ about the bennies."

Though I could've done without the winking, 18 1/2-minute gap before the

last, "bonus" cut, it more than makes up for the wait. Closing things

out in rousing fashion, BtS cover the Paranoids' "I Wonder, Wanda?"

(This appeared earlier on a Potatoe compilation, A Messed Up Vote Is

a Veto.)

The ideal Passover present for Monica Lewinsky, and the perfect

soundtrack for the impeachment process.