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34BELOW (Buy CDs by this artist)
Masses Collide (Blue Crown) 2005

Listening to San Diego's 34Below, it's hard to believe that rock 'n' roll was once considered the devil's music. Masses Collide is the sound of rock dry-cleaned and pressed, sanitized with Howard Hughes-like fastidiousness and then exorcized for good measure. Fronting a quartet that is competent, slick and stadium-ready, singer Steve Ybarra has a fine voice, but from the opening God-rocker "No One Else" ("I can turn the water into wine like no one else") to the stereotypical rock-male-as-lone-wolf valediction "Rolling Stone" ("I am a rolling stone on a road to nowhere"), Masses Collide is instantly forgettable. Not so much rock as meta-rock, 34Below enthusiastically recycle modern rock's worst clichés to create a pastiche of Led Zeppelin, Bryan Adams, U2 and Pearl Jam. 34Below would probably be a stellar covers band but their own antiseptic anthems and sober power ballads are execrable -- just right for corporate events or daytime concerts for the whole family at Knott's Berry Farm. Worst of all, 34Below value the importance of being earnest. Their music would be the perfect soundtrack to a New Man convention: safe, sensitive, uplifting power-rock for guys to weep and hug each other to. Perhaps this really is the devil's music after all.

[Wilson Neate]