Sweet And Sour Metal

Rocks hard, but leaves room for sweeping ballads.

Paranoid and Sunburnt, Skunk Anansie's 1994 debut, is the best Dokken

album since 1985's Under Lock and Key. Skunk Anansie's 1996 follow-up, Stoosh,

was no less political but still a small disappointment — what were

metal's saviours doing incorporating loops? I missed being pummeled by politics, I missed being told I was simply a pawn of "The Man" by Skunk Anansie's radical feminist frontwoman Skin. Instead, I

got metal grooves that sounded as though they'd been produced by Portishead.

Looking back now, however, it seems the incorporation of loops and trip-hop

sound effects placed the band about a year ahead of the rock Zeitgeist. Given that jump on the competition and three years spent on the road refining the mix, the band has returned with Post Orgasmic Chill,

an album that turns the politics down a few notches and turns up the trip-hop

and strings while keeping the guitars, vocals and energy locked on 11. As

produced by Andy Wallace (Nirvana, Jeff Buckley), this is less a balls-out

rockfest — though there is plenty of that — than a contemplative

mixture of anger and sorrow (Weltschmertz!). For

good or for ill, they've perfected the sound they were after on Stoosh,

and the results are sometimes stunning — perhaps comparable to Queensryche

if they were ever to get their groove on with Roni Size, Flea and DJ Shadow.

"Charlie Big Potato" (RealAudio excerpt)

opens the album with a nice one-minute mixture of Middle

Eastern grooves and drum & bass before launching into a more traditional series

of metal riffs. The group keeps listeners on their toes, though, allowing for

some exotic strings in the background and a disturbingly calm organ loop to act

as bridge between verse and chorus.

Later on in the album the strings get pumped up as lead singer Skin does her

best impersonation of adult contemporary legend Anne Murray on sensitive rockers

such as "Tracy's Flaw," "Secretly"

and "You'll Follow Me Down."

Most metal bands gain their biggest hits from power ballads, so it will be interesting to see if

Skunk Anansie are successful in reaching a broader audience with these tunes.

"Tracy's Flaw" may be too dark a look at self-destruction, but the radio-ready

"Secretly" (RealAudio excerpt) could be a teen pop ballad if correctly re-recorded. "You'll Follow

Me Down" (RealAudio excerpt), one of the album's best tracks, is a touching valentine to that

dysfunctional partner within each of us — complete with sweeping strings

and a short keyboard riff seemingly copied from a Captain and Tennille record.

The sound melange of "Charlie Big Potato" is followed by the straight-ahead "On

My Hotel T.V.," an anti-media screed that rocks hard over a popping funk bass.

"On My Hotel T.V.," the whisper-to-a-scream "We Don't Need Who You Think You

Are" and the blistering, mosh-pit friendly "The Skank Heads" are the most

political songs on Post Orgasmic Chill as well as the most powerful.

There's a lot of anger to express in these songs, and getting moody with spooky

loops and midtempo rock experiments just doesn't communicate that feeling in the

same way.

That's all the good news, so here's the bad: the album's pacing is uneven,

Skin's melodramatic lyrical readings haven't changed at all and there's nothing

here as powerful as Paranoid and Sunburnt's "Little Baby Sawstikkka,"

"Intellectualize My Blackness," "Charity" and "Selling Jesus."

On the other hand, they've finally nailed down the "trip-metal" sound they were

after three years ago.