It's hard to imagine a more rigorous rock 'n' roll boot camp than filling in on bass for two of the most revered alt-rock powerhouses of the '90s, Hole and Smashing Pumpkins, both known for their powerful and contentious front people. Having done just that, Melissa Auf der Maur now reveals that she picked up a few tricks of the trade on her self-titled debut album. Having written the songs over the past decade, she gathered an impressive array of indie-rock luminaries -- including Queens of the Stone Age's Josh Homme and former bandmates James Iha of Smashing Pumpkins and Eric Erlandson of Hole -- for the recording, which she financed herself to avoid label pressure or influence. While the result lacks the kinetic brilliance of the best albums by her former bands, it is a smart, hard-rocking album that manages to balance an epic grandeur with the moments of delicate beauty provided by Auf der Maur's voice, which can be both forcefully saucy and pertly pretty. On "Followed the Waves," a chugging powerhouse of metal-laced hard rock, her brassy vocals ring out over a tart, sinuous guitar melody, while "Head Unbound" is a stately mid-tempo rocker layered with rippling bass and guitar. "I'll Be Anything You Want" has a huge, sexy swagger reminiscent of Queens of the Stone Age, and "Overpower Thee" is an ominously sultry ballad full of resonant piano. Auf der Maur revels in the spotlight as if she's been preparing for years.
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