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ALBUM REVIEW : Soul Asylum Is Searching With Its ‘Dim Light’

SOUL ASYLUM

“Let Your Dim Light Shine”

Columbia

* * 1/2

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Even before this album’s release, there’s been a chorus of charges that being Winona Ryder’s beau has mellowed Dave Pirner and robbed him of his creative juice. That cynical notion is unfair both to them and to the album, which merely continues Soul Asylum’s steady move toward the “mature” rock mainstream that was under way well before Ryder and Pirner even met.

Nonetheless, “Dim Light” documents a band at odds with itself, trying to maintain its old alternapunk edge while mining the neo-Tom Petty Americana of its 1992 breakthrough “Grave Dancers Union” album. That dichotomy makes for good art in places, notably the song “Caged Rat,” a paranoia haiku that amusingly bounces back and forth from skippy ditty to crunchy metal.

But Pirner too often overreaches for meaning, lacking the natural gift for offhanded phraseology that fellow Minneapolitan Paul Westerberg uses to turn basic tales of disaffection into something more. Pirner proves capable of striking character sketches but generally fails to flesh them out.

Musically, Soul Asylum this time under-reaches, resorting to such forced heartlandisms as John Mellencamp’s “Jack & Diane” riff that punctuates “String of Pearls.” The result is that this band, which in its pre-fame days got by on raw personality, here gropes for identity.

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