Apr 11, 2001 at 12:00 am

After the grueling bar crawl that was last year’s drunken masterpiece, the eponymous debut by Eric Bachmann’s solo project Crooked Fingers, it was inevitable that the ex-Archers of Loaf front man’s follow-up couldn’t recapture the heart-wrenching, open-wounded world of his first release.

Even still, when Bring on the Snakes opens with the hushed, hymnlike narrative of “The Rotting Strip,” it’s hard not to let hopes get too high.

“We crossed our hearts, half-hoping that we could both quit smoking/And kick the booze and blow,” he sings, slow and deliberate, with the gravelly rasp of Tom Waits or Springsteen. Like Bachmann’s entire debut, the song is a beautifully somber, almost meditative musing about down-and-out characters suffering from heartache, addiction and heartache as addiction.

Unfortunately, the rest of Snakes fails to live up to its predecessor. The themes may be the same — booze, blues and boredom — but these eight overlong songs meander to no good effect, and the choruses that once swelled and swooned so dramatically now barely pull listeners in, if at all. There are exceptions, of course: “The Rotting Strip” shimmers with an unexpected optimism and “Surrender Is Treason” drowns in heart-heavy regret. Few of the album’s tracks, however, resonate after they creep to a close.

Which is what ultimately makes Crooked Fingers’ second release so disappointing. Last time out, Bachmann crafted songs with haunting and exhausting afterlives that lingered like nasty hangovers. On Snakes, however, his songs are more likely to leave listeners feeling emotionally sober instead of drunk with romantic revelation.

E-mail Jimmy Draper at [email protected].