4 out of 5
Produced by: John Jacobson
Arab on Radar were noise-makers to the extreme, and they went out on a high note – Yahweh or the Highway – that’s still unmatched in terms of its combination of craziness and catchiness; lyrical crassness and curiosities. I absolutely understand the album (and certainly lead singer Eric Paul’s wordy depravations) not being to everyone’s tastes, but once you’re on board with the group’s rather atonal sound, there’re damned funky beats backing up every single track, blasted to no-wave shards by oddball guitar licks and purposefully repetitive drumming. Prior to this “version” of AoR, though, you have their dancier early stuff, which generally stuck to a bouncy and poppy bass and drum line, and a digestibly weird guitar riff. Paul still sang about pee, of course. But the main point is that they were much more notably herky-jerk dancefloor friendly at first, and it seems the chaos of latter day AoR was maybe hard to maintain, as Chinese Stars – featuring several Arab remnants plus a Six Finger Satellite guitarist – picks up that older style and perfects it, minusing out Paul’s more puerile content in favor of more interesting explorations into his obsessions – humans as baby-making automatons; the cycle of life and death – and getting rid of any no-wave quirk in favor of streamlined, slickly produced dance pop. Yes, you’ll recognize Paul’s voice and the high-end guitar squeal of AoR, but check how damned funky every track is, laying down a line that could be some top 20 backing beat (y’know, allowing for that slight off-key vibe), and Eric actually talk-singing odes to disgusting humanity that pretty much make sense. This is also a group very much open to studio touches, giving us occasional flourishes that were heretofore unheard of for our various noise makers: reverb tricks and effects; some actual delicate keys on the final track…
But: The Stars struggle with a problem that also hit AoR, and being a rather streamlined and cleaned up in this variation, its much more apparent here: repetition. There’s enough energy to absolutely get by for the album’s relatively short runtime, and the above-mentioned production flourishes definitely help to add nuance. But stripped down to just the boppy bass and whiny guitar line and percussion, a lot of these tracks can blend together. The repeated lyrical themes don’t help, making some songs very similar. But, thankfully, there’s that energy, and then also the fact that the core beat that’s pushed is damned fantastic, and further spins help to bring out the slight, but important, distinctions from song to song.