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Filter

Title of Record

RS: 3of 5 Stars Average User Rating: 4.5of 5 Stars

2003

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Filter's 1995 hit "Hey Man, Nice Shot" was a timely combination of grunge heat and industrial ice, raw emotion riding a steel pulse of digital rhythm. The breakout moment on Filter's otherwise unremarkable debut album, Short Bus, "Shot" raised a ruckus when it was widely -- and, according to Filter, incorrectly -- interpreted as a sardonic tribute to Kurt Cobain. But no matter what it was about, the single was significant as much for its sonics as for its disturbing imagery.

In the four years since, a new breed of neoindustrialists (Orgy, Stabbing Westward, Gravity Kills) has tried to incorporate some of grunge's emotional directness, its world-weary sensuality, into its music. On Title of Record, Filter singer-guitarist Richard Patrick builds on the "Hey Man, Nice Shot" dynamic with an expanded arsenal of musicians. It's an album that finds the band in transition -- Patrick's collaborator, Brian Liesegang, left after the release of Short Bus -- and at a crossroads of modern rock, wiring industrial not only into grunge but also folk, world beat and psychedelia.

Patrick understands that the initial groundbreaking beauty of industrial rock -- at least as tattooed into the underground consciousness by Ministry's The Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Taste (1989) -- was how it enthusiastically embraced ugliness. Soon after, Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor introduced a new element to Ministry's dehumanizing assault: a sadomasochistic, rubber-suited sexiness. As an alumnus of Reznor's touring band and a resident of Chicago, where Ministry continue to spin ever more noxious variations on the Wax Trax sound, Patrick can't escape their influence.

But whereas Ministry's Al Jourgensen does everything he can to mangle his natural voice, and even Reznor often sounds less human than his machines, Patrick is clearly enamored with the soul-baring wail of Cobain. Patrick is the most expressive and daring of the new industrial rockers, the most willing to expose the vulnerability that lurks behind the jackboots and black leather trench coat. On Title of Record, he sometimes sounds like he's getting in touch with his inner Jeff Buckley, conjuring the tortured croon and aching romanticism of the late folk-soul vocalist.

"I feel like a newborn. . . . I feel so real," Patrick sings, swooping up to grab a falsetto note, over the coffeehouse guitar strum and percolating percussion of "Take a Picture." It's a genuinely pretty moment on a record that positions Patrick not as a bilious aggro-rock mouthpiece but as a postindustrial singer-songwriter, an introspective craftsman as comfortable with an acoustic guitar as he is with a computer.

With the departure of Liesegang, the Filter sound is that of a rock band augmented rather than guided by electronic textures; the melodies are as crucial as the beats per minute, and Patrick is at his best when he lets his pop instincts guide the tunes in unexpected directions. He blends Eastern percussion, acoustic guitars and Revolver-like harmonies on the intoxicating "Miss Blue," gently unraveling its layers to reveal the damaged emotions at its core. "Skinny" breaks up its oppressive atmosphere with acoustic interludes; "I'm Not the Only One" is a wounded meditation that simmers menacingly before going up in flames; and "Welcome to the Fold" juggles bludgeoning verses with dreamy choruses before slipping behind the looking glass during a neopsychedelic midsection to inhale some magic mushrooms.

Unfortunately, Patrick tends to focus on the downward side of his spiral, and his lyrics never stray far from the self-pity motel. Most of the songs are psychic razor blades dissecting failed love affairs, with the singer starting off the album on a booze-and-pills bender and ending it on his knees, begging for a second chance. Along the way, self-esteem takes a beating: "I am a blood-soaked man"; "I am a beaten man"; "I am a guilty man"; "I am a cancer"; "I am a lie."

The unvarying tone and total lack of humor weigh on the music, so that Title of Record at times lives up all too well to its depressingly generic title, merely rehashing the Jekyll and Hyde dynamics that have become alternative rock's creative downfall. On Filter's first album, Patrick made a habit of ratcheting down his voice into a Cobain-lite growl, and he's guilty of the same affectation here. "It's Gonna Kill Me" tries to recapture the eerie magnetism of "Hey Man, Nice Shot," while "Captain Bligh" is the type of third-hand grunge that made stars of Creed and Seven Mary Three. "Cancer" meanders too long before gaining momentum, and "The Best Things" is defanged goth grunge, its guitars muted, Patrick's voice detached, its clattering electronic percussion picked up cheap at a Wax Trax clearance sale.

Once Patrick gets over what's-her-name, though, there's no telling where he might go. With Short Bus, Filter sounded like the latest and lightest in a long line of industrial-rock bands, but Title of Record expands the possibilities. It puts the emphasis on the song and the voice -- still-developing artistic muscles that Patrick should be encouraged to flex even more flamboyantly and with greater originality next time. (RS 820)


GREG KOT




(Posted: Sep 2, 1999)

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