Fight Fire

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After releasing a debut album that had all the energy of a band trying to fight its way out of a cage full of hungry tigers, San Francisco's POW! turns in a second album that lacks that kind of desperation and fever, but makes up for it by being weird in all the right ways. Hi-Tech Boom was a precise, tight garage-with-synths pop album that sounded like it was recorded in one frantic session, with muddled, slightly claustrophobic sound; Fight Fire has a much cleaner production style and less of a feeling that everything was bashed out in one take. Not that this is a Toto album; it's not slick by any stretch. The chunky guitars, ripped-up synths, and trash-can-lid drums definitely keep it from sounding too pro. And even though you can hear the band a little better, the album has a little more variety from track to track, and there are a few more briskly meandering synth interludes, this is still just as much of an exciting rock & roll record as their debut. Those who like a little bit of subtlety and restraint may even find Fight Fire to be more satisfying, since the band seems to have a firmer grasp of dynamics and arrangements this time out. The clarity and power of the lead vocals really helps put the songs over, as do the sharpened ax blows of the hooks on songs like "Liquid Daydream" and the garage-tough "Cold Blooded Judge." Living up to a name as active as POW! could have been tricky, but this is the second album where the group finds itself more than up to the task, having cranked out an album that's pretty much nonstop thrills from beginning to end.

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