First things first -- this is hardly the song-intensive, globe-tripping platter When I Was Born for the 7th Time was. Handcream for a Generation is a record that finds its tone and grooves, even as it segues from post-Beck sonic collages to boogie rock to endless jams. No matter how they dabble in different styles, it never affects the foundation, it's just highlights. Strangely enough, for all the dance, techno, and hip-hop here -- all the club-culture clashes careening off the tracks (they obviously learned from their 2000 detour side project, Clinton) -- Handcream's predominant spirit is that of post-Brit-pop, hard-boogieing trad rock. Tjinder Singh publicly derided this sound in 1997, but his subsequent friendship with Noel Gallagher must have affected him on a deep level, since Noel not only lays down guitar on the 14-minute psych epic "Spectral Mornings," he hauls out former Oasis bassist Paul McGuigan for "Lessons Learned From Rocky I to Rocky III"; adopts Gallagher's guitar sound throughout the record; and winds up with a record that is hipper, looser, and funkier than Be Here Now, but weirdly reminiscent of it all the same. Perhaps this is what happens when British bands stretch into contemporary psychedelia, mixing all the past into the present -- they wind up with a record that is pretty entertaining in how it flits from sound to style, all with a sly wink and loving, exacting replication of production techniques, all married to beats that are surely contemporary, but contemporary club beats are often built on the past anyway, giving the whole thing a weird but appealing out-of-phase feel. This all flows well and is quite a good piece of mood music, yet there's no hiding that for all their political stances and past reputation, Cornershop doesn't really have all that much to say this time around, nor have they delivered more than a handful of songs to have all this stick. Sure, moments bubble up from the sleek, stylized surface, such as "Lessons," but for as infectious as that song is, it's really about nothing, as evidenced by its chorus of "the overgrown super-sh*t," which means jack-sh*t. Since 7th Time not only had consistency of sound, it reached further and delivered fully formed songs, it's hard not to be disappointed by the linear, surface-slick nature of Handcream, but, hey -- it sounds good, it boogies, it's good for a night on the town -- and sometimes, that's enough.
Handcream for a Generation Review
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine