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Eleven | Avantgardedog | review | indie | alternative | rock | Lollipop
by Scott Hefflon
Pop gets a bad name due to fabricated boy bands and Barbie Doll singers, so it's truly inspiring to hear the majesty of pop floor your jaded ass. And without an ounce of exaggeration needed, that's what Eleven does to me. Twenty seconds into my first listen, I muttered, "Fuckin' yeah!" And I've interrupted people in mid-conversation when the CD's spinning to remark, "Damn, I love this band!" Eleven: makes you swear and interrupt people as it wows you.
Background I didn't realize (and I have three of their four records - and I sell almost everything after a year, trying to keep my private collection to a mere wall of my house): guitarist Alain Johannes was in L.A.'s What is This with Hillel Slovak, Jack Irons, and Flea. Anthony Kiedis and the other three started Red Hot Chilli Peppers, the bands shared members, and both bands got major label contracts the same week in 1983. What is This soon disbanded and the Chilli Peppers story is now common knowledge. Johannes met the striking, classically-trained Russian prodigy, Natasha Shneider, and they renamed themselves Walk the Moon and cut a record for MCA. Jack Irons rejoined the fold, they renamed themselves Eleven, and three records were released: Awake in a Dream ('91), the self-titled ('93), and Thunk ('95). Irons left in '95 to join Pearl Jam. Johannes and Shneider then built a studio in their house, dubbed 11AD, and ex-Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell soon called upon the band to record/produce his solo effort, Euphoria Morning. Eleven members co-wrote a few of the songs and played on the record, but that was nothing new. Eleven and Soundgarden had toured together and lent members for studio or touring gigs.
That said, it's no surprise that Avantgardedog pulls from the same pop pool as Cornell's solo outing, or that the production is rich and lush, much as that gem is. While there's a strong Beatles element (Eastern instrumental fixation, wonderful melody/harmony interplay), Eleven is distinctly American pop - a stylistic blend of L.A. and Seattle, if you know what I'm saying. There's a bit of BritPop in here (I hear Queen in a couple solos, too), but it's worked through a strong, soulful vocal melody and textured guitars (think Lenny Kravitz - although he's from New York and almost feels like a cover artist, the sound and style are distinctive, no?), so it feel introspective, mildly depressive, and quite North West Coast America.
While, for some reason, Chris Cornell's solo record isn't adored as it should be as the obvious expansion of the pop structures in Soundgarden's later greats, Eleven's Avantgardedog gives y'all a chance to redeem yourselves and weep at the feet of genius. Beautiful, swelling, heart-rending songs that'll have you belting it out after just a few listens. (Like great pop, the melodies are easy to memorize, yet they aren't the insultingly obvious "first pick" ideas of most Top 40 "pop" today. Instead of the absolutely predictable chord patterns, Eleven - and a handful of other skilled writers - know how to make a song comfortable and memorable without being so utterly mindless that when you hear the first few notes, you can plot out the rest of the whole damn song.) Inspiring.