Ah, if only the bleak mood that Timo Maas introduces on Pictures' opener had a way of rearing its ugly head on more of the subsequent tracks. With a few guest vocalists, including Kelis and Neneh Cherry, Mass's second artist album is hot and cold. His well-known team-up with DJ Gary D in the mid-'90s and their Die Herdplatte LP helped usher Maas's name in worldwide trance marquees, and it goes nearly without saying that the instrumental clips on Pictures are short, ever-building, and beautiful. But if Pictures' hottest moments are those entrenched in the dark trance sounds Maas is best known for, its coldest moments are his ventures into alternative rock. Yuck.
Placebo's Brian Molko takes the vocal reins on a lot of Pictures, and sometimes the results aren't as successful as you might expect. Molko's sentiments over Maas's deep pulsing trance, such as those on the title track, are the pseudo-creepy Right Said Fred-type that might end up in a television police drama. Maas's ominous score helps contribute to the soft-core porn fodder that Molko tries to establish, but the words come off a tad silly and don't much match up to stronger cuts such as "Burn Out" or "Release," the latter featuring Rodney P, or Maas's tight instrumental intro and outro pieces.
At his best on Pictures, Maas constructs eerie, dramatically short electronica pieces, with pulsing beats and synth washes that are far more sexually metaphorical than his guests' overt lyrics. "Burn Out" is quite effective in its huge, sweeping melody and sluggish beats, but its pleasant aftertaste is, sadly, all but forgotten in the huge Jeep rock that follows.
The very polished, digestible tracks on here, such as Molko's radio-friendly stretched single syllables on the guitar-heavy "Like Siamese," seem directed at alternative radio, as if created specifically for sing-along, nonsensical value. "Like Siamese" is over-the-top, coked-out arena rock that seems almost entirely out of place on Pictures. At least he got the nonsensical part right. Maas is stretched too thin on this album, and some experiments are better left untested.
Ultra Records web site: http://www.ultrarecords.com/