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Korn - Unplugged Review

by Zane Ewton and Robert VerBruggen

The problem with reviews is that you only get one perspective. From time to time we break that rule by providing you with two separate reviews of a CD, often with two totally different takes on the album. With that in mind Zane Ewton and Robert VerBruggen gave a listen to the new Korn Unplugged CD and have reached different conclusions about it.

Zane Ewton kicks us off with his review of the CD. He scored it 3 stars.

Electricity was a masterful discovery. Beyond completely changing the world, electricity may be more important to rock and roll than any band or performer to take the stage. One band that should never be late on their electric bill is Korn.

In the late 1990s Korn had the market cornered on teenage angst. Their wall of sound guitars and Jonathon Davis' tortured wailing to them to the top of the nu-metal heap as the originators and best practitioners.

Ten years have passed and the current climate of teenage angst has drifted from angry, disaffected white-boy to emotional, disaffected white-boy.

This means Korn needs to take some steps towards adult seriousness. What better way to do that than to take a turn on MTV Unplugged?

The band employs plenty of Middle Eastern instruments and international percussion. They even bring on Amy Lee from Evanescence and The Cure to liven up some of their better known songs.

Even with the trinkets, Korn's shortcomings are on full display. Without the sludge of electric guitars, songs that were once menacing and powerful become bland and thin.

Fieldy manages to keep up appearances, his bass remains thick and chunky. Munky's guitar is usually lost under the piano and percussion arrangements. Davis has a voice that is thin when he can't scream and it just doesn't mix well when partnered with Robert Smith's caterwaul.

A cover of Radiohead's "Creep" is unnecessary. They also manage to turn one of the Cure's more upbeat songs into a plodding dirge.

Korn will probably never reclaim the mantle they held as nu-metal's standard bearers. Unplugged is a miscalculated shot by a band that desperately needs the power of electric current to enliven their songs. There is nothing wrong with that. Not everyone can be Neil Young.

Now Robert VerBruggen gives us his review of the CD. He acored it 4.5 stars.

MTV's long-running Unplugged series has a way of bringing out the best in talented musicians. Nirvana turned its plenty-pop-enough-for-the-mainstream grunge into a hard-edged folk, and Eric Clapton played with a classical sensibility. Korn's contribution, no less valuable, maintains the band's odd note combinations for an exotic, often Middle Eastern feel.

Pitter-patter hand drumming (courtesy Michael Jochum; David Silveria is on a break from the group) most often associated with coffee shop spoken-word becomes a primitive yet low-key backdrop for strong melodies and a mostly indispensable performance. Piano, cello, upright bass, trombone and other assorted noisemakers join in from time to time.

"Love Song," "Hollow Life," "Got the Life" and "Throw Me Away" work best in this context because, at heart, they rely more on melody than on pounding instrumentation. "Twisted Transistor," however, ends up surprisingly enjoyable.

And where many musicians use guest performers purely for star power, Evanescence's Amy Lee and The Cure's Robert Smith truly contribute, molding the vocal lines to fit their styles without making "Freak on a Leash" and "Make Me Bad," respectively, sound wrong. Smith's bandmates join in on the latter track, making it a medley with 1985's "In Between Days" (from The Head on the Door).

There are problems here, though. For one, some level of management (MTV, EMI, Virgin, who knows) decided to censor out all the cuss words. "A cheap (awkward pause) for me to lay." Two, the cover of Radiohead's "Creep" sounds fine but doesn't improve or significantly change the song.

Most importantly, early Korn albums featured some of the worst lyrics ever committed to record. Jonathan Davis often sang in terse, awkward phrases that didn't fit the melodies, communicating little more than a vague sense of inner turmoil. With the sludgy guitars and some of the dissonance stripped away, the words are front and center and nowhere near up to the task. "Life's gotta always be messin' with me / Can't they chill and let me be free"?

But admittedly, "All I do is look for you / I need my fix, you need it too / Just to get some sort of attention" takes on a weathered tone the original lacked. Especially after two verses of the dour "In Between Days."

All considered, Korn deserves a lot of credit. The band pioneered nu metal, abandoned it on See You on the Other Side and finds still more new territory with Unplugged. Expectations ought to run high for the studio album due in spring.

Robert VerBruggen ( is Assistant Book Editor at The Washington Times.

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