It’s been six years since Melissa Auf der Maur released her self-titled debut album, after winning the hearts and libidos of awkward ’90s grunge-goth-rock boys everywhere. Out of Our Minds was finished and initially due to street in 2007, but MAdM, as she’s now cheekily referring to herself in the album’s liner notes, had grander ambitions. The album, which she’s also abbreviating at times as OOOM (making it sound appropriately like a ’70s-era Marvel Comics villain), is a theme album about Vikings. That’s right, Vikings. In order to highlight the grandiosity of such an effort, there is also a 28-minute film, a comic book and rumors of a video game, though I haven’t seen any evidence of the latter.
While former bandleaders Billy Corgan and Courtney Love have seen their fortunes fall more quickly than BP stock, MAdM (because I’m not writing out that whole thing again) has been quietly doing her own thing. Her own thing led to that 2004 debut, an album rooted in ’90s alterna-rock that I quite liked. OOOM picks up where the debut left off, namely smack dab in the middle of the ’90s, but is more ambitious, expansive and daring, though at times, it doesn’t necessarily pay off. The album has surprising moments of rock majesty and equally surprising moments of sheer dated inanity. Luckily, the highs are enough to help one ignore (or at least skip) the lows.
I started to get excited when I opened the liner notes, spotting some impressive names, such as Bowie pianist Mike Garson, Helmet / Battles drummer John Stanier and musician / producer Eli Janney. But, they’re only on the opening instrumental track. It’s a star-studded, sore thumb intro to an album that veers off in a completely different direction, but impressive on its own merits. The rest of the album does have its share of notable musicianship and guest appearances, but this track is unlike the rest of the album, mired as it is in a singular blend of goth, metal and pop. The first single, the title track, and its album follower, “Isis Speaks,” are dramatic introductions to the concept, steeped in atmospheric guitar washes, only separated from Pumpkins material by about 86 other guitar tracks.
The captivating moments on OOOM, which for reasons that should seem obvious, I’d prefer you pronounce as a word rather than initials, are all centered on composition rather than lyrics. The lyrics are at times comically pedestrian. Looked at from afar, as words in a thematic story, they can almost be forgiven, but simple rhymes, overused clichés and storytelling in verse are features that tend to stand out. But the mostly instrumental “This Would Be Paradise,” featuring a repeated quotation from the man voted the “Greatest Canadian” of all time, Tommy Douglas, starts off a riveting three-track stretch of the album. “Father’s Grave” is a duet with Glenn Danzig, sounding just as much like a Johnny Cash song as the track Danzig wrote for the ‘Man in Black,’ “Thirteen.” “The Key” has a chorus that sounds eerily like Depeche Mode’s “Shake the Disease,” adding yet another brooding pop element to the mix that blends rather nicely.
Auf der Maur, being the rock vixen that she is, doesn’t yet abandon the teenage boy, rocker chick fantasies she often fuels. While my reptilian brain might be okay with it, my human brain tends to laugh at some of the lyrics. “I was lying and cheating / and sucking and kissing / in my bad girl boots.” But, like Dorian Gray, as long as Auf der Maur seems to be getting even more attractive as time goes on, it seems excusable. Plus, the album is a damn sight better than the recent work of her mentors.
Queens of the Stone Age – Lullabies to Paralyze
The Cure – Bloodflowers
Black Sabbath – Sabbath Bloody Sabbath