Stoned roses

Aug 4, 1999 at 12:00 am

Just why England’s favorite beat-happy rock act has captured the attention of a band-thirsty world tired of Chemical Brothers run-ons and overrated indie rock survivors isn’t quite answered on The Beta Band’s full-length debut. But it does make the case that the London-via-Scotland’s Betas are all things to all people, at least all people gullible or desperate enough to be duped into thinking some wobbly-funk hybrid of Phish, Beck and the Inspiral Carpets with a dash of Pythonesque so-veddy-British humor thrown in could actually save rock. Unlike their Three EPs release last year, which at least sounded more exhaustive than exhausted with its rambling, ambling funk, on this debut the Betas don’t so much save rock as toy endlessly with its corpse. They start off with the tongue-in-cheek "The Beta Band Rap" sounding more like a male choir than MCs, then give a shout-out to KRS-One as they launch into the lazy funk drawl of "It’s Not Too Beautiful," sounding like Beck covering long-forgotten marble-mouth boho-rappers Basehead. Nice guitar line and hipster reference points, but in the end, a pleasantly shambolic-but-iffy funk. Maybe the problem here is that the Betas are the band that just can’t say no – to an influence or idea, or, as it sounds on this slab, ideas under the influence. Not without its merits, the album shows the Betas are actually quite capable of reconfiguring tenses and tones from music history into a glorious, grinning din. "The Hard One" doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry, and so aims to do both, but in true late-’90s fucked-up-edness, does neither, instead making a quiet spectacle of a Joy Division-gray melodic dirge pulsing under the drone of lyrics nicked from Bonnie Tyler’s "Total Eclipse of the Heart": "I used to be falling apart/now I’m falling in love." Used to be? Still is. No crime, no great accomplishment either.