In my ongoing quest to own and review collaborations involving
R.E.M.'s Peter Buck, I picked up a copy of Old Liquidator,
The Minus 5's first full-length release. Actually, it is difficult
to just "pick up" this album because it's basically only available
via import (my copy is a Canadian import). But often, searching
out rare stuff pays off in the long run if you get something
really great. I'm afraid this isn't one of those times.
As a band, The Minus 5 can be seen as The Traveling Wilburys
of the indie guitar pop crew. Scott McCaughey of Young Fresh
Fellows basically leads the project and gathers up some of his
rock 'n roll buds from other bands to make a record every once
in a while. They also have two more releases, The Lonesome
Death of Buck McCoy(1995) and a dual/joint CD with The
Young Fresh Fellows called Let
the War Against Music Begin (1997). Along with McCaughey
and Buck, Old Liquidator highlights Ken Stringfellow
and Jon Auer (both from The Posies). So, this mangy group has
talent to spare, which sounds like an excellent CD for guitar
pop junkies like myself.
But, as The Traveling Wilburys demonstrated, musical fantasy
teams do not always fuse into inspired or groundbreaking work.
Old Liquidator's sound is what I would call subtle
and pleasant -- excellent compositions that include just about
every string instrument known to humans, and some brass to boot
-- but most songs leave me bored. The slower tunes, in particular,
alternate between melodies that are too minimal and explosions
of sound that have no real purpose. On a few of the more poppy
tracks, like Emperor of the Bathroom, the string work,
melody, and McCaughey's vocals come together, hinting at the
more accomplished Let the War Against Music Begin.
For the most part, though, I find the music tedious and frustrating.
It's a little folksy, a little bluesy, but somehow, the melodies
all end up sounding the same, perhaps because of McCaughey's
strong influence. He wrote most of the music and sings on all
of it. Herein lies a major problem: his vocals range from flat
to grating on most songs. His singing style is lazy, perhaps
sloppy, contrasting the careful compositions of the music. Sadly,
McCaughey's vocals are the overwhelming presence on just about
every song, sometimes masking what could be masterful string
For my fellow R.E.M.fans out there, here's my advice: if you're
a big Buck fan, you might enjoy some of the guitar work on this
disc. Buck's versatility shows up in several places, including
both power chords a la Monster and soft picking
like in the IRS days. But, you have to listen carefully for
small rewards. Additionally, if you are used to the gritty moans
of Michael Stipe, Scott McCaughey's smooth, flat performance
will probably leave you wanting more. In other words, if you're
looking for obscure R.E.M.-related recordings, spend your time
and money on old R.E.M. boots.