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  Let the War Against Music Begin Because We Hate You  
  The Minus 5 Young Fresh Fellows  


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  This marks the first in my series of "R.E.M. Bastard Children" reviews. In the coming weeks, I will be reviewing musical side projects by various members of R.E.M., some recent and some older (and obscure). After each review, I will relate the music to other R.E.M. material. Hopefully, this will give fans some parameters for understanding the type of sound in these side projects.  

First, some background: this two CD package is the brain-child, primarily, of Scott McCaughey from the Young Fresh Fellows. Recently touring with R.E.M., he joined with Peter Buck in a side project, The Minus 5. The premise behind this two-CD set is a musical competition between YFF and The Minus 5.

However, I would argue that the two albums are not so much competing as extending; both are variations on the same theme. They highlight a similar 60's retro pop sound, resembling the tranquility of the Beach Boys rather than the fierce power of music in battle. This is "bob your head" pop rather than "bang your head" or "start a revolution" rock.

In a competition, The Minus 5 would certainly win; their songs have more variety and sophistication. Collaborations with Ken Stringfellow (The Posies), Steve Berlin (Los Lobos), Robyn Hitchcock, and several others lend variety among their songs. The cover of The Possibilities' You Don't Mean It, played live last month on Conan O'Brien, is definitely a stand-out song; among the quaint pop romps, it has the most punch. The Rifleman is also interesting with its TV-show premise. Otherwise, the sound oscillates between beach harmony, The Beatles, and The Traveling Wilburys (at times, McCaughey's voice bears a scary resemblance to Tom Petty). The Minus 5 produce several catchy tunes on this album; it's fun, but it's not earth shattering.

The Young Fresh Fellows' CD is rather uneven. Some songs like Fuselage and For the Love of a Girl are well mixed catchy ditties. But, mostly, this CD is a collection of the same ol' bangle-garage pop. Often, the lyrics are beyond unsophisticated, such as in My Drum Set is Better Than That. The band did not bother to put this song's lyrics in the liner notes because, well, those are the lyrics, for the most part. Overall, there are a couple of keepers on this collection, but mostly it's pretty unadventurous.

On the R.E.M. meter, I would locate the Minus 5 somewhere between the band's cover of Love Is All Around Us and the pop sounds of Out of Time, although it doesn't really sound like anything R.E.M.'s done. I know that Peter Buck is a fan of The Beach Boys, but I still can't figure out how he gets from the bangly pop of California Girls to the progressive guitar rock of Finest Worksong. None of the Minus 5 songs have the complexity of an R.E.M. classic. McCaughey's lyrics are closer to the silliness of "They Might Be Giants" than most Stipe tunes. Gone are the sophisticated guitar riffs and other string melodies that lend depth to R.E.M.'s best work. Peter Buck's musical talent is certainly not challenged; he could have phoned this one in.

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