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Cousteau 's debut full-length is almost a victory of style over substance. Unfortunately, many of the songs and arrangements fall a bit flat. The late-'60s work of Scott Walker is clearly the biggest influence of the band. While Davey Ray Moor and compatriots do get the atmosphere right, some of the songs simply flutter apart before they get going. It's not that the songs aren't good; it's more that they are a tad too obvious in their charms. "(Shades Of) Ruinous Blue," for example, displays the chamber pop joys of Walker , but the chorus comes too soon and too often to provide much of a payoff. Certain songs do take flight and provide great entertainment, in particular "The Last Good Day of the Year and "One Good Reason." "One Good Reason" even sounds like it was crafted back in the early days of Scott Walker 's career; that was probably the intention when the song's sonics were manufactured in the studio. There's really not much reason to pay attention to this album if a listener hasn't already completed their Scott Walker collection. Even then, there's a multitude of artists, including Tindersticks and the Divine Comedy who use Walker as a point of departure, rather than a blueprint. In the current world of pop/rock, it takes more than mimicry of one's peers and influences to make a compelling album. Still, this self-titled album is a promising debut from Cousteau ; it suggests that the band, with better arrangements and more original songs, might be capable of scaling greater heights.

In retrospect, White Zombie was one of the most influential metal bands of the '90s -- their breakthrough album, La Sexorcisto: Devil Music, Vol. 1, relied more on camp theatrics than catchy melodies or guitar riffs, and the follow-up, Astro-Creep 2000, featured an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink production that camouflaged the simplicity of the music. Like many of the more popular alternative metal bands of the late '90s, Coal Chamber owe something to White Zombie 's musical approach, often relying on noise, texture, and sheer aggression to put their music across, and sometimes neglecting craft in the process. In following up their popular yet somewhat uneven debut, Coal Chamber follows the White Zombie blueprint to a tee on its second album, Chamber Music , expanding the production palette to include electronic/industrial sounds, a bit of updated goth (., more by way of Marilyn Manson than Bauhaus ), and even a few orchestrations. In pure sonic terms, all of this means that Chamber Music is a better listen than its predecessor, and since it packs just as much of a wallop, it can be seen as a step forward. In another sense, however, it's something of a holding pattern, because even though the band's sound has grown more eclectic, they don't show significant growth as songwriters. Coal Chamber is still plagued by unmemorable guitar riffs that ride one note, or the same two chords, for far too long, and they simply aren't rhythmically interesting or complex enough to take this approach repeatedly. Plus, in the wake of Orgy's successful cover of New Order's "Blue Monday," there's yet another inexplicable alt-metal cover of an '80s pop song, this time Peter Gabriel's "Shock the Monkey" (performed with special guest Ozzy Osbourne ). It's not an incredibly catchy version of the song, and there doesn't seem to be a logical reason for choosing it, which makes it seem like trend-hopping. All of this is not to say that Chamber Music won't appeal to the band's fans -- after all, Coal Chamber is just as hard-hitting as ever, so anyone who liked the first record will certainly like this one too. It just would have been nice to have a little more musical substance behind the blustering intensity.


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