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Cobra II
New Bees Music

Cobra's newest release, Cobra II, is much like their puke-yellow album cover: it is not only a failed attempt at being artsy, but also lacks aesthetic appeal. This album is a real disappointment, especially considering that Cobra, founded in the spring of 1989, is venerated as mainland China's very first all-female rock band. With just over a decade under their belt as a rock band, not to mention a tour in the U.S. in 1996, including a gig at New York City's renowned punk venue CBGB, it is a mystery why their second album is less sophisticated than their first. Most tracks on the album rely heavily on sound-mixing echo effects (a favorite of Chinese recording studios), as well as tinkly keyboard jingles and dreamy guitar riffs. Perhaps if the foursome called themselves "Cuddly Kitty" instead of Cobra, this latest release would make more sense because this album couldn't bite anybody if it tried. If anything, it blurs the lines between Chinese rock and pop, but fails to produce catchy tunes, which is one of pop music's few redeeming qualities. The best songs on the album include the first four B-side tracks: "Bed" (chuang), "Days" (rizi), "Addiction" (yin) and "Waiting" (deng dai) simply because they are down-to-earth and harken back to the songs on their first album which was released on Red Star Records. Since then, Cobra has signed with New Bees Music, the Beijing-based start-up record company that released teenage pop-punks The Flowers' eponymous first album. So is Cobra II worth the RMB10? Only if you were a Cobra fan to begin with, otherwise you'd be better off just buying their first album instead.



Cold Blooded Animal
Jingwen - Scream Records
Cold Blooded Animal ought to be one tired rock-and-roll band. Unlike most Chinese underground bands, who generally go into the studio under a record company-imposed time limit of 3-4 weeks, Cold Blooded Animal worked with an independent producer for almost a year to complete their eponymous debut album.


The results of all that time, however, are decidedly mixed. Hard-rocking live performance staples "Outside the Window" (chuangwai) and "Patient: Terminal" (juezheng bingren), come closest to doing justice to the band's pants-dropping, guitar-smashing, stage-crawling live shows. Drummer Wu Rui backs up these efforts with an almost military precision, in perhaps a throwback to his stint as a soldier. Wu and bassist Li Ming, who also once enlisted, may count as the most improbable alumni of the People's Liberation Army.


Grunge ballads "Epitaph" (muzhiming) and "Forever a Secret" (yongyuan shige mimi) showcase lead singer and guitarist Xie Tianxiao's intricate guitar solos and bleak lyrics ("This road is littered with the countless things I've left behind/ and now the distance between us is lies") to powerful effect. But odd vocal stylings and outdated guitar distortion hobble several otherwise strong songs, including "Way Back When" (henjiu yiqian) and "I Think I Might Have Died Last Night" (zuotian wanshang wo keneng sile), while others like "The Place Where Buried Treasure Lies" (maicangzhe baozang de difang) suffer from a bizarre lack of momentum, as if the band was recorded at 33 RPM.


There are some surprises on this album. The haunting final track, "Lake Yanxi" (yanxi hu), an elegy to the government-cancelled 1998 "Chinese Woodstock" concert, is a virtual primer in liquid pain, featuring lyrics such as "if the sun still won't shine on tomorrow/ then when will the dawn ever come?" and guitar licks that sound like they may have been recorded underwater. Rarely played in concert, it is nonetheless a testament to the range and songwriting prowess of this band, and an interesting choice for the last track.


The liner notes are also unusual, in that they include complete English-language lyrics and acknowledgments.


Chinese language students and budding sonneteers may want to take particular note of the tender lyrics in "Patient: Terminal": "You're dangerous on top of me/ too hard, you stroke me into something abnormal."


The most visually arresting part of the CD is a surreal distorted photo of Xie Tianxiao sprawled onstage in a pool of sweat, oblivious to the crowd of faces behind him. It reflects, perhaps better than any of the individual tracks on the album, the dark spaces and man-made pain that lie behind Cold Blooded Animal's music, and make one hope for a live concert album from this band at some point.


Cold Blooded Animal will perform at Friends Live Club Friday, March 31.
See Zhao Le calendar page 7


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