New Bees Music
Cobra's newest release, Cobra II, is much like their
puke-yellow album cover: it is not only a failed attempt
at being artsy, but also lacks aesthetic appeal. This
album is a real disappointment, especially considering
that Cobra, founded in the spring of 1989, is venerated
as mainland China's very first all-female rock band.
With just over a decade under their belt as a rock band,
not to mention a tour in the U.S. in 1996, including
a gig at New York City's renowned punk venue CBGB, it
is a mystery why their second album is less sophisticated
than their first. Most tracks on the album rely heavily
on sound-mixing echo effects (a favorite of Chinese
recording studios), as well as tinkly keyboard jingles
and dreamy guitar riffs. Perhaps if the foursome called
themselves "Cuddly Kitty" instead of Cobra, this latest
release would make more sense because this album couldn't
bite anybody if it tried. If anything, it blurs the
lines between Chinese rock and pop, but fails to produce
catchy tunes, which is one of pop music's few redeeming
qualities. The best songs on the album include the first
four B-side tracks: "Bed" (chuang), "Days" (rizi), "Addiction"
(yin) and "Waiting" (deng dai) simply because they are
down-to-earth and harken back to the songs on their
first album which was released on Red Star Records.
Since then, Cobra has signed with New Bees Music, the
Beijing-based start-up record company that released
teenage pop-punks The Flowers' eponymous first album.
So is Cobra II worth the RMB10? Only if you were a Cobra
fan to begin with, otherwise you'd be better off just
buying their first album instead.
Cold Blooded Animal
Jingwen - Scream Records
Cold Blooded Animal ought to be one tired rock-and-roll
band. Unlike most Chinese underground bands, who generally
go into the studio under a record company-imposed time
limit of 3-4 weeks, Cold Blooded Animal worked with
an independent producer for almost a year to complete
their eponymous debut album.
The results of all that time, however, are decidedly
mixed. Hard-rocking live performance staples "Outside
the Window" (chuangwai) and "Patient: Terminal" (juezheng
bingren), come closest to doing justice to the band's
pants-dropping, guitar-smashing, stage-crawling live
shows. Drummer Wu Rui backs up these efforts with an
almost military precision, in perhaps a throwback to
his stint as a soldier. Wu and bassist Li Ming, who
also once enlisted, may count as the most improbable
alumni of the People's Liberation Army.
Grunge ballads "Epitaph" (muzhiming) and "Forever a
Secret" (yongyuan shige mimi) showcase lead singer and
guitarist Xie Tianxiao's intricate guitar solos and
bleak lyrics ("This road is littered with the countless
things I've left behind/ and now the distance between
us is lies") to powerful effect. But odd vocal stylings
and outdated guitar distortion hobble several otherwise
strong songs, including "Way Back When" (henjiu yiqian)
and "I Think I Might Have Died Last Night" (zuotian
wanshang wo keneng sile), while others like "The Place
Where Buried Treasure Lies" (maicangzhe baozang de difang)
suffer from a bizarre lack of momentum, as if the band
was recorded at 33 RPM.
There are some surprises on this album. The haunting
final track, "Lake Yanxi" (yanxi hu), an elegy to the
government-cancelled 1998 "Chinese Woodstock" concert,
is a virtual primer in liquid pain, featuring lyrics
such as "if the sun still won't shine on tomorrow/ then
when will the dawn ever come?" and guitar licks that
sound like they may have been recorded underwater. Rarely
played in concert, it is nonetheless a testament to
the range and songwriting prowess of this band, and
an interesting choice for the last track.
The liner notes are also unusual, in that they include
complete English-language lyrics and acknowledgments.
Chinese language students and budding sonneteers may
want to take particular note of the tender lyrics in
"Patient: Terminal": "You're dangerous on top of me/
too hard, you stroke me into something abnormal."
The most visually arresting part of the CD is a surreal
distorted photo of Xie Tianxiao sprawled onstage in
a pool of sweat, oblivious to the crowd of faces behind
him. It reflects, perhaps better than any of the individual
tracks on the album, the dark spaces and man-made pain
that lie behind Cold Blooded Animal's music, and make
one hope for a live concert album from this band at
Cold Blooded Animal will perform
at Friends Live Club Friday, March 31.
See Zhao Le calendar page 7