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JOHN MOORE AND THE EXPRESSWAY (Buy CDs by this artist)
Expressway Rising (Polydor) 1989
JOHN MOORE
Distortion (UK Polydor) 1990 (Polydor) 1991

Singer/guitarist John Moore briefly drummed (and played guitar) in the Jesus and Mary Chain, but that experience — other than some familiar beats and occasional bolts of noisy guitar — barely informs his criminally overlooked solo debut, a dandy one-man-band project. Solid pop songwriting skills (some of his tunes reuse classic chord progressions to good effect) combined with a surprising Billy Idolish voice and charged but simple rock arrangements make for memorable tunes like "Friends," "Back to Stay," the Ramonesy "Good Times" and the shoulda-been-a-hit "Something About You Girl." The album's unfinished demo-like sound is part of its unassuming charm. (The CD and cassette have two bonus tracks, including the loudly countryfied "Live From Death Row.")

With producer Andy Wallace and a batch of sidemen (including horns and, on "Soul for Rent," strings), Moore turned all-pro on the slick and slightly serious second album which, other than the vocals, scarcely resembles Expressway Rising at all. Beyond suggesting that Distortion (at least in part) is a record Billy Idol would be proud of if he weren't so lost in his own superstar hype, it's hard to tell what Moore's up to, as the unstylized rock — interrupted by minor artistic pretenses — doesn't seem headed anywhere. There's likable stuff here ("Mean Streak," "Put Up or Shut Up") and plenty of contrast (from the gentle "Summer Song" to the mega-noisy "Heart of Darkness"), but Distortion sacrifices too much of Moore's earthy appeal in a concerted push for commercial credibility. The CD's highlight is a seven-minute bonus of "On Broadway," which uses spoken-word/found-sound drama in an effective treatment of the Drifters' soul classic.

[Ira Robbins]