Chris Mars

Tenterhooks

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Chris Mars' third solo effort gets off to a bumpy start with "White Patty Rap," an attempt at rapping that is the definition of quirky and resembles one that Ween may have tossed off at some point. Before things get too weird, Mars bounces back as a funky Chuck Berry, with an exposé of inbred/racist Bible-thumpers on "Forkless Tree." As was evident on his first two releases, Mars has a distinctive voice, but the appeal of his vocals is limited, and it's likely only hardcore fans of his old band, the Replacements, would be willing to submit to it. In addition, he adds distortion to his voice on many of the tracks, contributing to an even more rough and inaccessible sound. The tender ballad "Mary" is, thankfully, distortion-free, and its catchy chorus could be made into a hit by a more pop-friendly crooner. The constantly shifting Zappa-like "Lizard Brain" incorporates elements of punk-pop, classic rock, and heavy metal, while "Hate It" would have been right at home on 75% Less Fat and has the spirited Replacements feel of his initial recordings. "Brother Song" was written for his institutionalized sibling, the source of Mars' preoccupation with outsiders in his lyrics and artwork. Guest guitarist Chuck Whitney throws down on the successful disco/rock hybrid "Water Biscuits," adds some fine melodic lead guitar lines to "E.I.B. Negative," and then takes his leave after Mars takes listeners on the Halloween amusement park ride "Haunted Town." The uplifting jazz of "New Day" is jarring, coming on the heels of the gloomy pomp found in "Cadaver Dogs," yet an effective surprise at album's end. It's unlikely Mars will ever again reach the heights of his debut, Horseshoes and Hand Grenades, a record that shocked everyone with its bitterness, humor, and strong songwriting, but Tenterhooks is admirable for its creativity and should be seen as a high watermark work for Chris Mars.

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