Forgotten tribal elders of the LA music scene,
This review is from: Howling Book (Audio CD)
Eleven are the forgotten tribal elders of the LA music scene. Guitarist Alain Johannes played in a proto-Chili Peppers and along with partner Natasha Shneider, provided extra musical muscle for Soundgarden/Audioslave singer Chris Cornell's solo album, Euphoria Morning. But despite their musical expertise and technical wizardry, their own band Eleven - now also including Pearl Jam refugee Jack Irons on the drums - has so far failed to make it big.
Their album Howling Book is a strange affair. It combines bluesy jazz-punk outings with ghostly torch songs, nursery-rhyme ballads with elegantly baroque soundscapes. Influences seem to range from the Beatles - as a guitarist, Johannes does an uncannily accurate George Harrison impression - to Schubert and Bach.
Some of the songs visit too many chords for their own good and Shneider's musical training is plainly visible, veering at times into Muse-style prog or classical pastiche. Such moments are redeemed by the broken passion of her singing; Kill Me No More addresses ghosts, someone who "made the sun go out...all the seams have come undone" and the album's haunted title track heaves with agony, her throaty, Eastern European voice lamenting old wounds and absent friends. Johannes is at his best when he's grinding out riffs and spinning elegant guitar textures; the swampy intro to You're My Diamond flows like melted chocolate and when he remembers to relax, he's a sensual pleasure.
All too often, though, Eleven simply push too hard. It needs to look easy - and the best musical ideas on Howling Book are too often marred by self-conscious effort.