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Four Star Mary - Thrown to the Wolves Print E-mail
Tuesday, 01 May 2001
ImageMSG Records
performance 8
sound 7
released 2002

Four Star Mary is a wonderful, slightly scary group that puts soaring guitar work, assured percussion and soulful, far-reaching vocals in the service of songs that often mix joyous-sounding tunes with ominous lyrics. The band’s first full-length album Thrown to the Wolves has a selection of 10 cuts that are distinct enough to provide healthy variety yet flow organically from one to the next.
Imagine a number with long-sustained words over ferociously cascading notes about a relationship that has made the singer so angry that “When I see your face/my eyes just dilate … I want to violate/every bit and everything and every part of you,” and you’ll have some idea of the sound and feel of “Dilate,” the album’s opening track. Lead singer/lyricist Tad Looney’s words don’t sugarcoat pain and fury, yet the tight vocal harmonies give a measure of anguish to the words, creating empathy rather than mere dread. (This may be music by men, but it’s not only for men – anybody who thinks women don’t harbor similar fantasies in extremis hasn’t been having the right conversations.) The song starts at almost conversational level, then blasts as the guitars of Zu and Falon and the bass of Steve Carter all kick in together over the sturdy bed of Curtis Sobchack and Scotty Kormos’s drumming. The album is mixed in stereo, but provides false discrete effects, so that the vocals are up front, with the music in the mains and rears. “Dilate” has a slightly live feel to it, with a bit of evidently intentional scratchiness on the high hat.

The title track on Thrown to the Wolves has a reflective, U2-style pulse to the guitars that chime and distort, so that the sound is at once precise and wild, silver etchings on a wall of sound. The lyrics speak of an absolutely wretched state of mind – “I’d give up the ghosts/Locked up inside me/If I ever once had cared” – but once more, Looney’s vocals and the haunting tune have a passionate energy that involve the listener in the emotions, rather than simply informing us at a remove. The music somehow suggests distance being covered in darkness, even before the words speak of inability to reach a destination.

“Pain” may describe the mindset of a would-be killer or at least a stalker – then again, perhaps the lyrics just reflect the point of view of someone imagining the potential for disaster of opening up to an object of desire. Once again, our narrator is not having a good time, singing of sleeplessness and loaded guns as the guitars, bass and drums -- drummer Sobchack is joined by Buddy Chanda, who also appears on tracks five through 10 -- throb insistently from the start, zooming into hyperspeed on the chorus. There’s a gleefully insistent guitar in the left main and the vocals are strikingly clear. Unlike many rock albums, Thrown to the Wolves mixes the vocals so that the lyrics are readily comprehensible 99% of the time (and there is a helpful set of lyrics printed in the liner notes for that other 1%).

“Never Mind” has a sound that’s slightly ‘80s and somewhat Goo Goo Dolls, with chords that simultaneously float and crash over Sobchack and Kormos’s galloping drumming, as the lyrics take a slightly more uplifting turn – our hero has had a relationship fall apart, but at least he’s walking away instead of wanting to terrify the other person.

“Say It” has the excited and exciting musical thrust of the kind of power ballad we’d expect to find on a film soundtrack, though the lyrics once more subvert the tune’s headlong rush as Looney begs a lover to just “say that you’re gone” and get it over with already.

“Dark Skies” is a marginally gentler tune that still rocks hard, contrasting soft vocal echoes over reflective strumming with blazing guitar and bass elsewhere, going from mellow to manic and back again.

“She Knows” is probably the most optimistic track on the album, allowing for the hope of connection between two people (and, more, that this connection might actually be a good thing). The guitar work by Zu and Falon combines delicate finger-picking and muscular full-bore attack, while Carter’s bass plunges firmly along under explosive cymbals and some deliberate reverb at the end.

“Shadows” has an almost folky, twinkling guitar intro that turns fast and driving, then slows for more impressively clean vocals in a tale of love gone stale and dull. The song manages the neat trick of discussing boredom without inducing it.

“Violent” moves from a churning intro into an arrangement that mixes waa-waa guitars with higher, lighter notes as Looney sings of a love that “Covered in my blood/Is so violent.” For all the suggestively rough lyrics, the high-zest, upbeat melody line carries the mood.

The album closes with “Run.” The lonely opening chords recall both an alternative take on Nirvana’s “All Apologies” and one of the more somber entries in U2’s repertoire in a song of musing and regret, with our narrator seeming rather spent after all his guts-out adventuring.

Looney’s vocals in the lower register sometimes are reminiscent of David Bowie; he also has the ability to extend high notes without leaping into falsetto. The music, credited to Carter, Falon, Looney, Chanda and Zu, with Looney penning all lyrics, has a forceful sparkle and an intimacy that suggests Four Star Mary would do equally well in a club or an arena.

The songs on Thrown to the Wolves have the thrash factor to make them danceable, yet they’re also coherent and provocative enough to inspire contemplation. Mostly, this is a rock album with vitality, intelligence, just a hint of danger and a lot of compelling tunes.

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