Here's a St. Louis moment for you: Joe Edwards and Nelly are playing a cutthroat game of pool at Edwards' Pin-Up Bowl. Nelly, his neck looped with a house-worth of diamonds, gets the first shot at the eight ball, bounces a bad angle with the cue ball and scratches, losing the game. Well, Joe still rules on Delmar.
But will Nelly still rule the airwaves this summer? That's the question we were there to answer last Sunday at Pin-Up, where Nelly was debuting Sweat, one of the two albums he has planned for release in September. Yes, following in the hubris-filled footsteps of Axl Rose (who I love and respect more than Martin Luther King Jr. ....can we stop with the poorly punctuated e-mails now?), Nelly is dropping two separate discs on the same day. Sweat is an uptempo party disc, while its partner, Suit, is more of an R&B baby-making soundtrack. Local promoters Synergy kept with the theme by holding two listening parties on the same night. First came Suit at Luciano's Trattoria in Clayton. Nestled beside the Ritz-Carlton on Carondelet Plaza, Luciano's may be on the least "street" street in the metro area. Then came the party at Pin-Up.
Surprisingly -- at least to me -- Suit is the better album. It's certainly the most consistent of Nelly's discs, without any truly embarrassing clunkers on it. And the sample of Spandau Ballet's "True" is so obvious, yet so awesome, that of course it's been used before (in P.M. Dawn's "Set Adrift on Memory Bliss"). Suit is certainly the most ambitious Nelly CD yet, and he fulfills the promise well.
While Suit holds its easygoing mood well, Sweat seems a little uneven. There are a few gems on it, but nothing that seems like a sure-thing smash hit à la "Hot in Herre." But it did make a great backdrop for the Pin-Up Bowl party.
The one-two punch of the double-disc release is a risky move, but it's a smart one. For one thing, it keeps both discs to a sensible running time. And the tracks on Suit aren't going to appeal to a lot of Nelly's younger fans, but they might win him quite a few older, whiter ones. For God's sake, Tim McGraw is on the damn thing.
Not many other St. Louis artists are collaborating with Tim McGraw, but they're putting CDs out anyway. In the spirit of summer cleaning, let's go through some of the discs that have cluttered -- um, make that graced -- my desk. That's right: It's time for another Local CD Roundup!
Julia Sets -- Yes-Wave: The Sets have been a pillar of the St. Louis scene for years now, but the band may not have ever put out a disc as upbeat and catchy as Yes-Wave. James Weber Jr. doesn't seem to be studying his shoes as much as he used to, and while his voice isn't the most powerful instrument in the band, he's learned how to use it well. Overall, the band members sound like they've tightened up, with less messy guitar getting in the way of the their songcraft. (Although, if you miss the mess, the Sets loaded it all onto the thirteen-minute last track, which won't be winding up on a lot of mixtapes.) There's also a bevy of guests on the album, including RFT contributor Christian Schaeffer.
Glow -- Rain Theory: Glow vocalist Brooke Edwards knocks Evanescence lead singer Amy Lee, her closest pop-cultural reference, into a cocked hat. Lee would kill for Edwards' clean, melancholy voice and effortless emoting. Glow's music is gothy synth-pop with vaguely house beats, and its sparse, retro sound can't help but seem like window dressing for Edwards. And it's a little alarming that the best track, "Gabriel," came off of a year-old EP. But that song and a few others, such as the lead-off "Single," are dance-floor naturals. Glow just returned from a stint in LA; the group's days in St. Louis could be numbered.
Senseless -- Filthy: Coming out of Black Track Studios, Senseless is one of the hardest-working rappers on the street today. Senseless, like many rappers coming up, practices the art of positive visualization: He portrays himself as a superstar though he has yet to become one.
Will Senseless be a superstar? I wouldn't hazard a guess, but he's got a fun flow. On "Favorite Rappers" he lists some of his MC inspirations before challenging each of them to a battle, referring to Eminem as a "drug addict that bags on [his] mama." It's a wonderfully audacious track, even though Senseless is not skilled enough to take on any of his inspirations just yet. And the production, sparse and midtempo, could use a boost.
The Dead Celebrities & the Hailmarys -- Punk Rock Double Feature: In these days of overstuffed CDs, Punk Rock Double Feature comes as a relief: two bands crammed into 25 frantic minutes. The Dead Celebrities are well loved in this town, but their manic energy is best unleashed onstage. On disc the punkers come off a little flat, in part because of the very punk production. The opener, "Beg 4 Mercy," crawls above the fray as a standout, while "That Girl" is a semi-successful foray into Ramones-style balladry that seems limp at first but finally coalesces around its melody.
The Hailmarys fare much better in the studio, channeling their ass-whup onto disc in a relatively pure form. Vocalist Katie the Lady has a steel-wool voice straight from the early days of the Riot Grrl movement, and the band's five tracks whip by.
Paradise Vending -- All That Ever Wasn't: Chris Canipe started out playing open-mic nights in Columbia eight years ago (when I first met him -- in the interest of full disclosure, we're friends) with just an acoustic guitar and a love of Bruce Springsteen. Since then, Canipe has broadened his influences and polished his sound, recently returning from Austin to re-form Paradise Vending. "Sea of Tranquility" opens the album on a gorgeous note, with warbling effects and swooping guitars. While the rest of All That Ever Wasn't doesn't live up to that early promise (especially on the wanky last track), it still continues the winning streak of Columbia's Emergency Umbrella, one of the area's best labels. "The Living End" shows that Canipe still loves Springsteen anthems, and "Pop Song" (an oft-used title, with everyone from 3 Doors Down to the Jesus Lizard to cLOUDDEAD penning ditties with that usually ironic title) has the hooks the name implies.