Gary Cherone's Tribe of Judah begins the sonic assault of their debut disc, Exit Elvis, with "Left for Dead," a techno-rock splash of elaborate guitar, keys, and melody. It sounds like a plea, the incessant "somebody" hook repeating over the churning music. This is powerful stuff, with Cherone taking control after his work as the third lead singer of Van Halen. Initially so perfectly constructed, Exit Elvis begs the question: What if Eddie Van Halen allowed Cherone the creative freedom to come up with something like this on the platform provided by that veteran rock band? There's no doubt it would have launched quickly, enhancing that group's image and bringing them another -- much needed -- new dimension to the Van Halen sound. Alas, the clever nuances of "No One" are going to have to fend for themselves on the national stage. Tribe of Judah comes close to equalling the artistic triumph of Tracy Bonham's lost classic Down Here album, a disc so good it may discourage artists from creating new music because of its tragic fate. Lost in the shuffle of record label and radio politics, fans of Extreme can only hope Exit Elvis avoids a rock & roll episode similar to what Bonham experienced with her masterpiece. "East of Paradise" has Cherone sounding a bit like his pals in Godsmack, though more subtle and intriguing. Rather than hit you over the head, the band slinks through a creepy mood piece that fits in perfectly with what they've put on the aluminum in between the sandwich of this plastic CD. "Thanks for Nothing" features some of the guitar slinging that Nuno Bettancourt assured would follow his friend Cherone around for the rest of his career. Indeed, having Bettancourt and Van Halen as the dudes supplying the guitar power only makes former In the Flesh guitarist Leo Mallace's job all the more daunting. "Celibate" could have used that folky element that Bonham brought to her song "Second Wind" on the aforementioned
Down Here. It was a much-needed break from the thick, layered sound of much of that record, and therein lies the first problem here. There are few dynamics on Exit Elvis, with the band opting to keep the driving force of their sound up; thus, "Celibate" and "In My Dreams" suffer from a sameness. "Ambiguous Headdress" does dip into a smoother tone, though Cherone sounds like a cross between Argentinian pop singer Chris de Burgh and Peter Gabriel. "Suspension of Disbelief" is
one of the better songs, but, again, has to deal with the fact that many of the production techniques were employed on earlier numbers. "My Utopia" has rhythmic textures with the singer going neo-rap, with a vocal that sounds not unlike labelmate Alice Cooper's 1980 hit "Clones (We're All)." The title track gets the nod along with the opener, "Left for Dead," as the CD's two biggest moments. "Exit Elvis" has that acoustic/jazz cabaret sound opening the tune, something that needed to come earlier on this project. It's a concept piece, featuring the great line, "a contradiction in canvas," which this album is. If only there were more moments like this song earlier in the proceedings. All in all, a very good first effort by a group who would have benefited from multiple producers. It seems Exit Elvis is a band project by very good musicians. Cherone, however, is a bona fide star -- and he and Spitfire would be better served by not allowing a talent that big to be kept somewhat in the dark.