by Mike Corrigan

The shirtless, feather-festooned Iggy doppelganger on the cover of Precious was a turnoff. The band's name seemed to me to be totally uninspired. The track listings? About the only thing to register on my scope was the inclusion of a cover of the Velvet's immortal "Femme Fatale." (Such tributes to sonic antecedents don't generally impress me all that much, for as sure as death any group of fools can cover a great song.)

No, something extraordinary was going to have to push me to listen to this one. And then something did: boredom. In an apathetic haze, I leveraged the plastic disc from its plastic case and set it spinning around a plastic spindle. And then something unexpected happened: It got to me. Irony-free, positively, surprisingly.

Touching on glam, punk and assorted classic rock elements, Ours constructs a driving, thriving sound with guitar, bass and drum and lyrics that engage on a literary level without surrendering its gutter soul. Songwriter Jimmy Gnecco's upfront vocals form the centerpiece of each track on Precious (Dreamworks), swooping from stratosphere to a low rumble while he lets the red stuff freely flow. Sound textures range from the edgy, dissonant rawk of the opener, "Kill the Band," to the more delicate introspection of ballads like "Places" and "Broken." Though the production represents the state of the art in cold, calculated perfection, old-school harmonics and growling guitars warm up the proceedings considerably.

The songs ebb with melancholy and wrestle with common rock themes, among them death, betrayal and alienation. Gnecco's soul-searching and social commentary occasionally descend into melodrama, but he delivers it all with such earnestness and panache that it's tough to bust him for it.

"Leaves" hooks with chiming six-strings and a sing-along chorus as Gnecco laments the loss of community and trust. It's social commentary that manages the exacting task of achieving significance without sounding trite or preachy -- even when the singer's doing his best to sound a little (but not too much) like a cross between Jeff Buckley and Bono. In "If Flowers Turn," the songwriter wistfully assumes the mantle of the sacrificial lamb and invokes memento mori against a shimmering backdrop of guitar-laced pop beauty.

Oh yeah, and that cover of "Femme Fatale?" Next to the original, unexceptional and predictably anemic . But not bad.

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