powerful, intricate, poetic

Beautiful (Star Song)
The Walter Eugenes

By Robert Gruber

With a name like Walter Eugenes, it would almost have to be alternative. And, sure enough, this two-man band, made up of "Walter" Paul Robinette (on lead vocals) and Rick "Eugene" May (on everything else) fall into that category. Having released one largely forgotten album four years ago, the Walter Eugenes are back with a new lease on life, a new label, and perhaps a renewed shot at success, depending on what they consider success to be.

Beautiful is produced by Dave Perkins and Lynn Nichols, both formerly of Chagall Guevara (and currently in Passafist). Like with Chagall, Perkins and Nichols give the Walter Eugenes a big, slamming rock sound -- picture the drummer raising his sticks all the way up in the air before bringing them down on the skins, you get the idea -- mixed with an intricacy that has the listener hearing new things with each listening.

Robinette's voice has the same sort of passion and range as Jim Kerr of Simple Minds, while Rick May's instrumental virtuosity is never less than stunning. Lyrically, the Eugenes take more conventional Christian rock themes -- grace, hope, fallenness, joy -- and give them their own peculiar, stream-of-conciousness spin. Consider this verse from the title track, "Beautiful":

I was swimming 'cross this ocean

I tried running but I'm not Jesus

And sharks all around me

Were biting off pieces

So I grabbed onto the tail of a whale with my teeth

I was thankful 'cause it saved me

The lions and the tigers cried out unfair

They sued the sharks for a share.

Sounds like a mouthful, but Walter handles this self-described "song for underdogs" with ease.

Another interesting cut is "America." Over a pounding, Pearl Jam-style riff, Robinette interpolates words from the hymn "America the Beautiful" with bleak lines like "Forty million people/Live in poverty" and "trade the buffalo for trains," but resolving at the end with "you're still my country." Not quite Lee Greenwood, but so what?! Paul Robinette is as much poet as lyricist, his words tumbling and unwinding through this disc like miles of highway through all kinds of scenery.

Other stand-out tracks include "Clear My Head," "Hole For a Heart" and the single "Crawl," which closes with lines from great poets such as Shakespeare, Cicero, and Solomon. All the way through, Beautiful is four-star cool and rockin'. The Walter Eugenes are a band worth watching for and listening to, with heart, soul and mind. You can bang your head, too, if you want.