Friday, 20th April 2018. 6:53:35am ET
Reviews CD Reviews Alternative, Indie Rock Concrete Blonde- Mojave
Artist: Concrete Blonde
CD Title: Mojave
Label: Eleven Thirty Records
Reviewer: Joshua Heinrich
Date: 11/19/04

After a somewhat quiet but substantial comeback with 2002's Group Therapy, Johnette Napolitano and company have returned with their second seemingly postmortem studio offering, the desert-inspired Mojave. The 11-track, 47+ minute self-produced excursion is a competent, mature, and refreshingly unpolished rock set showcasing the band's trademark indie vibe and attitude but remaining sonically distinct. Gone to some extent are guitarist Jim Mankey's soaring leads and intricate guitar work of yore, replaced here with plodding rhythm guitar stabs, arpeggios, and more subdued lead work that, while really no less effective, certainly add a different tone to Mojave. Also missing are Napolitano's incredibly captivating vocal wails, substituted by more subtle vocal work and frequent forays into spoken word territory. The album is, concisely, more laid back, mellower, yet still holds the essence of Concrete Blonde.

The music and vocal performances are strong. Crunchy guitars and Napolitano's semi-spoken distorted rasp highlight the excellent "The 'A' Road". The rhythmic "Because I Can" sounds almost like U2's "Bullet the Blue Sky" with reggae undertones. "Hey Coyote" is, musically, a killer rock dirge, while a moody cover of the classic Stan Jones penned "Ghost Riders in the Sky", complete with reverb-drenched "yippie yi yay"s, validates the album's western theme. The album's title track is a great spoken-word ballad with Johnette perhaps channeling Jim Morrison atop an excellent rough western rock backdrop. "Snakes", on the other hand, unexpectedly enters Portishead territory for one of the album's most noteworthy offerings with wobbly organ, plodding trip-hop drums, interesting processed guitar, and stark vocal work.

The album's lyrics are, unfortunately, another subject altogether. Napolitano often sounds as if she's grasping for rudimentary rhyming phrases, and "Jim Needs an Animal", a ridiculous joke song literally naming animals that member Jim Mankey might like for a pet complete with "hee hee"s, isn't exactly going to help maintain the band's previously established underground rock credibility. "Hey Coyote" even finds Johnette spewing out facts about coyote's in a bizarre Discovery Channel environmentalist manner. It's, perhaps, an admirable attempt at environmentalism, but one that comes off as unintentionally humorous nonetheless. Napolitano has been accused of spouting high-school poetry in the past, and, while some of what is here is actually quite strong, much of it will do little to disprove that accusation.

Overall, let's face it. Mojave is certainly no Bloodletting or Mexican Moon. However, time hasn't really deterred Concrete Blonde's relevance, and Mojave, while perhaps not quite as strong or accessible as the band's output during their commercial heyday, is a great album that's more adventurous and sonically interesting than the output of…well…a large portion of their aging peers. Showcasing a mature, subtler Concrete Blonde, Mojave is an excellent, albeit sometimes lyrically challenged, rock album that will likely please most fans.


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