La Musica Negra

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After aping the Stones on their debut album, Souls for Sale, and crafting a poppier version of Nirvana's angst three years before the Vines did on Into the Pink, Verbena returns with La Musica Negra, an album that, theoretically, could be called an improvement over their other work because it isn't focused on painstakingly re-creating another band's sound. In practice, though, it's probably Verbena's weakest work yet, precisely because they don't have a template to go by. Charged-up rock songs like "Way Out West" and "It's Alright, It's Okay (Jesus Told Me So)" still have a bit of Cobain-esque raspiness fused with some currently popular blues and garage rock elements, but manage to sound big and obvious without becoming catchy or powerful. As with Into the Pink, La Musica Negra's pop songs and ballads show some promise; "Camellia" makes good use of Anne Marie Griffin's voice before it morphs from simple prettiness into an overblown, gospel-tinged jam, while the countrified "Ether" fares a little better since it's more restrained. The bouncy and buzzy "Me and Yr Sister", and despite the fact that it sounds like nothing else on the rest of the album, "Dirty Goodbyes" -- a slightly jazzy ballad based on piano, strings, and brushed drums -- works for the same reasons. From the over-produced sound to the frequent mentions of Jesus in the lyrics to the disjointed influences from which it draws, La Musica Negra fails not because Verbena doesn't try hard enough to make interesting rock music, but because they try too hard. This album might reflect some baby steps toward finding a sound of their own, but they've still got a long way to go.

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