Raised on early-'70s radio and late-'70s punk, Soul Asylum is at the forefront of America's rock underground in the '90s. Retaining the incendiary guitars and driving backbeat of its stylistic forefathers, the Minneapolis quartet benefits from other musical influences and a healthy disdain for haircut 'n' attitude superficiality. Thoughtful lyrics, strong melodies, and structural complexity round out its strengths.
Producer Steve Jordan has preserved more of Soul Asylum's roughness this time out, in contrast to the fastidious sound of 1988's Hang Time. Leading with the band's emotional depth and allowing its stage-hewn precision to do the rest, Jordan fills the record with the exciting roar of Danny Murphy's guitar and the power of Dave Pirner's raw-voiced singing. The inclusion of several low-key numbers only enhances the album's overall impact.
Equally adept at firing up a sensitive thought or channeling passion into understatement, Pirner is a potent and affecting songwriter. His three-dimensional material here ranges from an instant anthem (''Easy Street,'' a caution against suicide) to a somber piano lament (''We 3,'' complete with mournful bells). As on previous Soul Asylum albums, country gets a peppy nod (''Brand New Shine'' ); a '70s-styled rocker with wah-wah and a funk beat (''Something Out of Nothing'') is virtually a roots tribute. ''Nice Guys (Don't Get Paid)'' alternates a jazzy nightclub swing and a shattering rock bridge to convey its indictment of drug dealing, while Murphy's ''Gullible's Travels'' sways like a sea chantey with piping lead guitar.
As the song says, there are no shortcuts to easy street. But Soul Asylum and the Horse They Rode in On makes for an adventurous ride. A-