Album review

Eleven : Howling Book
Pollen Records

Eleven : Howling BookEleven are the forgotten tribal elders of the LA music scene. Guitarist Alain Johannes played in a proto-Red Hot 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 latest 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 - Shneider's 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.

:: Clare O'Brien

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