Eric Avery Help Wanted

[Dangerbird; 2008]

Styles: alt. rock
Others: Polarbear, Billy Corgan, Garbage, Deconstruction

Eric Avery is a different kettle of fish. His main claim to fame is being the founding bassist for a not-so-obscure, late-’80s band known as Jane's Addiction. Since then, he nearly became a member of both Tool and Metallica, while outright refusing any JA reunion, under the basis that it would only be for money and that he doesn't want to play a watered-down version of his 20-year-old self (that's called integrity, kids). He's an old-school kinda guy.

Eric played in a few projects here and there since Perry Ferrell exploded in a puff of velvet, but Help Wanted marks his first major release in almost a decade and his first solo album over 20 years since Jane's Addiction debuted. Despite that Portishead-like semi-hiatus, Avery has some significant backing for his long-awaited, self-named premiere. Shirley Manson of Garbage, with whom he previously toured, throws some sweet vocals down on a track; Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers, as if you didn't know) adds a little trumpet to another; and Foo Fighters' Taylor Hawkins contributes drums throughout. This is not a slap-and-dash for a few bucks on a name alone. Eric took this very seriously.

Lyrically, Help Wanted paints portraits of desperate people under the uncertain grip of higher powers who play the world to their bitter ends. He is aware and mournful of this society, driven by commerce and satiated by medication as it is. This theme is well-exhibited by the line "Take him newborn from a shell/ Teach him to buy and sell/ Kill with a pill all the dreams he lights" (from "Beside The Fire") and further enforced by the liner art portraying a giant Tylenol in a meteor crater. But along with the negative critiques comes moments of hope for a more honest tomorrow. From the piano-laden downtempo rock groove "Revolution," Avery imagines "All the good men in the world won today/ And in one big bomb, all the war on earth went away", as well as a globe forever ridden of Senator Joseph McCarthy and Mao Tse Tung. His words have good weight to them.

His vocals throughout the record, however, are shrouded with a dense, computer-based, double-tracking effect. And though there are some well-written pieces, utilizing a wide range of strings, synths, and drum machines, I just can't shake the feeling that this album already sounds dated. The production and style (namely the guitar sound) screams mid-’90s all the way. Not that there's anything terribly wrong with that; it's just not exactly pushing the envelope here in 2008. I'm sure longtime followers will take away a lot of positive vibes from this album, but I don't see a whole lot of new fans coming along. In all, I'd liken Help Wanted to the solo work Jerry Cantrell has put out since Alice In Chains' demise. You remember why you respect him, but it's not the same in this new context.

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