Attention Deficit

Attention Deficit

Magna Carta Records, 1998

http://alexskolnick.com

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/17/1998

There are times that words fail me.

How can I adequately describe Attention Deficit, the debut album from the band of the same name? A band that features three of the better-known names in rock, metal and new age/jazz? A band that, in all respects, should have known better than to put together such a hodge-podge of non-segueing songs?

Alex Skolnick (formerly of the thrash outfit Testament) breaks out of the limitations the metal genre might have put on his playing, and is able to create some serious free-form noise out of his guitars. Drummer Tim "Herb" Alexander (formerly of Primus, another band that escapes definition), much to my surprise, is more controlled and less showy in his playing on this release; he demonstrates there was more to his playing in Primus than all those fancy double-bass fills I came to know and love. And Michael Manring - well, he gets to keep doing what he's been doing all along, which is making the bass guitar as rich a lead instrument as any other axe in the band.

Put these three together, and you'd expect a pretty solid outcome, right? Wrong.

Attention Deficit lives up to its name by happily jumping around the eighteen songs that make up this disc, not seeming to care whether they've finished a musical thought or not (how does a 10-second song allow me to really get into the gist of the track?), often moving to the next song without the benefit of a segue. (At times, it almost feels like the tracks were not only written to flow into one another, but were recorded that way as well.)my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

But by creating such a "go with the flow" piece of music, the identity of many of the tracks (some of which clock in at under one minute) are lost in the cacophony. You literally have to be sitting in front of the CD player with the jewel case in your hand and your eyes glued to the LCD display to keep score on this one. Tracks like "Snip," "Khamsin" and "Wrong" are buried under what becomes a tidal wave of music - too bad.

The centerpiece of Attention Deficit is the nearly 12-minute "Fly Pelican, Fly," a song that does allow the trio to explore the intricacies of their music (as does the track "Scapula"). Manring's bass work often sounds like a solo I might have heard in Frank Zappa's band, while Alexander's drum work is a different change of pace than what he was doing with Primus. Skolnick does seem to revel in the fact he can now sculpt his guitar lines into any shape he wants, but he does still seem to use a touch of distortion (if not enough to paint a house) in his effects to get the guitar sound he craves.

And despite their best efforts, Attention Deficit seems to be missing something. I don't want to go so far as to say that the album needs vocals (though they would have been welcomed at some points in the disc), but as you listen to the disc, you can almost hear a void that isn't being filled by any of the three musicians.

Maybe part of the problem was that Attention Deficit is ambitious - in retrospect, a little too ambitious. Any time you put three of the top names in their instrumental fields in the same band together, the mixture is definitely a volatile one. In this case, it almost is as if none of the instruments wants to come out to the forefront and lead the parade (even though each member gets adequate opportunities). Cream had the same problems, only they had three virtuosos clamoring for the listener's attention at the same time. Attention Deficit seems to try to be fair to each member, but you know the old saying about good intentions.

Attention Deficit also tries a little too hard to be cute. When I read song titles like "The Girl From Enchilada" and "Say Hello To My Little Friend," I think I expect a little whimsicalness to the music. Not in this case; the songs all have similar feelings as the more casually-titled numbers. So, why should these stand out for the listener? I can't think of any good reason.

Attention Deficit occasionally shows moments of brilliance, but these are few and far between. From a band consisting of three well-known musicians, we should expect better work from them - and this isn't it.

Rating: C-

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© 1998 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Magna Carta Records, and is used for informational purposes only.