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  Old Liquidator  
  The Minus 5  
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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 work underneath.

For my fellow 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.

Related Links:

A review of Let the War Against Music Begin.


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