soon to break big

Panic On (Atlantic)

Madder Rose

By Mark Clark

10,000 Maniacs, with teeth.

That's the easiest way to describe Madder Rose, the critically acclaimed band fronted by silken-voiced Mary Lorson. The band combines Maniacs-like melodies (minus Natalie Merchant's soapbox lyrics) and Radiohead-esque guitar licks. The result is a genuinely pretty album (Panic On) that still manages to kick when it wants to.

In effect, if not design, the sound recalls Murmur-era R.E.M. It is rich with ear-catching melodies, meaty guitar hooks and semi-intelligible lyrics. Check out the album's title cut, or "What Holly Sees," or about a half-dozen other cuts included here and you'll get the message.

There's a healthy sprinkling of sarcasm in the mix, too, on tracks like "Ultra Anxiety (Teenage Style)" and "Happy New Year." Guitar aficionados will feast on "Almost Lost My Mind," which is built around some cool, jazzy vibrato licks. The menu also includes a few well-executed, folky ballads ("Car Song," "Day In, Day Out," "When You Smile").

(By the way, this is another of those albums with a super-secret bonus track. Like most such creatures, this one isn't much of a boon to the disc. It's a pointless jumble of incoherent studio chatter, sound effects, moans and finger snaps. This whole hidden-track thing is out of hand, if you ask me. Not that you did.)

Bottom line: Madder Rose is cool. Rush on out and buy Panic On now, before it's all over the airwaves and this band is a big multi-platinum smash and you feel like just another lemming swimming to the sea, like some schmuck hopping on the bandwagon instead of a true new music pioneer, hip enough to be out in front cutting the path. It's YOUR self-image, after all.