one intrigues, the other fatigues

Geek the Girl (4AD / Warner Bros.)
Lisa Germano

Larry Crane (GSR)

Larry Crane

By Allen Howie

Apparently, playing with John Mellencamp affects people in different ways. At least, that's the conclusion you're likely to draw after hearing the new solo albums by guitarist/singer Larry Crane and violinist/singer Lisa Germano.

Bad news first. Crane's album is a numbing, by-the-numbers collection of warmed-over Mellencamp cliches, served up with neither humor nor imagination. Even the guitar is mostly standard-issue rock anthem riffing. And whether by design or unfortunate accident, Crane tries to sing exactly like his boss.

About the only thing here to engage your interest at all is the horn-driven groove of "Silent Make a Sound," which sounds a lot like – guess who? The bottom line: the only thing this record does is make you want to hear the real McCoy.

All of which makes dark horse Germano's latest foray into the spotlight such a stunning achievement. Bearing no resemblance at all to Mellencamp's material, Geek the Girl is a hazy, haunting and altogether riveting look at isolation and the depths to which we'll sink to avoid it.

Rarely does a record manage to be this bleak and this beautiful at the same time. Germano sings with such naked emotion that it's hard to believe she isn't the girl in question, or at least someone who knows her. Think of any real misfit from your high school days: Geek the Girl is a scary trip into that person's mind, where nothing is certain and everything is for sale if there's a shred of acceptance to be gained.

The music is as woozy and intoxicating as Germano's singing, luring the listener into the emotional horror it frames. This is a concept album that works all too well, taking you on a dark ride that, amazingly, you'll want to begin again as soon as it ends.