Chagall Guevara MCA [3½ Stars]

Rolling Stone
Issue 604 - May 16th, 1991
© 1991 Straight Arrow Publishers Inc.
Page 114

Chagall Guevara is a Nashville band that epitomizes the most positive connotations of the word band: collective strength, camaraderie and a built-in check on egos. Guitar-group purists in search of a fix will instantly be heartened by the chiming chords that introduce the opening cut, "Murder in the Big House," like a call to arms. The tumbling frenzy of the rhythm section joins the fray, then Steve Taylor's indignant voice falls in, asking: "When did you last look up at the sky? / Really look at the sky and wonder? / Used to be you could see forever / Now there's cracks in the canvas we're under."

Not since the Clash has a group so effectively turned militant discontent into passionate rock & roll and still maintained a sense of perspective and humor, however black. "Play God" aims darts at those who do just what the title says - televangelists, corporate tycoons, sleazy politicos - with a dry wit underscored by loopy, amateurish horns (the only departure from guitars and drums on the record). The manic rave-up "Take Me Back to Love Canal" takes a fun-house-mirror look at life in the ruins, complete with a catchy sing-along chorus. "Candy Guru" goes after false prophets, "The Rub of Love" scrutinizes the motives of an absentee dad, and "Violent Blue" rues the demise of idealism in this hardened age.

When piqued by some subject, as in the anti-authoritarian "Monkey Grinder," Chagall Guevara attacks corrosively. The flip side is the buoyantly textured pop of "Escher's World" - reminiscent of Cheap Trick when the band was fab - and "Love Is a Dead Language." Finally, if your heart belongs to dada, "The Wrong George" - a tape of an apparently real-life telephone conversation with a confused old woman, set to instrumental accompaniment - will have you in stitches.

Throughout the debut, the feverish interplay of guitars - trebly-pop Rickenbakers pitted against granite-hard Les Pauls - keeps the musical amperage high, while Taylor's match-to-a-flint voice stokes his ideas to flame. Chagall Guevara is a cathartic scream, with guitars that crunch like the apocalyptic reckoning the band believes is inevitable - and worth resisting with every remaining ounce of conviction.

Parke Puterbaugh