On Sex Without Love, the follow-up EP to last year's promising, bursting-at-the-seams LP, The Last Election, the six-piece Infantry delivers an apolitical stance on the same key-charged anthem rock that made them initially noteworthy. (Former seventh member, Jay Cartwright, is busy with Eyes to Space.) There's no "The Last Election" here, a pre-November 2nd tirade about phony rappers and pretty girls that defined the last record. There's not even a reference to a politician. Sans politics, though, Asher's social ideology--think Springsteen's populist bent, Lennon's escapist maneuvers and Dylan's self-perpetuating puzzlement and folk-ethic pursuits--rises at the center, embittered, imploring and embattled by what it senses.
On "No More Colleges," Asher twists Dylan's "Idiot Wind" verse--"Down the road to ecstasy"--to the indecisive, "Down the highway, down the tracks, down the road to pain ... or glory," underlining indecision, beset by the uncertain possibility of it all. Those questions--safety and easy glory versus risk and hard-won transcendence--push Asher's cigarette-streaked voice to new places.
The band takes Asher's wail well, roaring through its most complex and convoluted passages yet, driving from an initial Brit-pop-meets-American Beauty lilt to a thundering eight-minute mark on "No More Colleges," slapping out on snares, cymbals and an everybody-sing cadenza: "No colleges, graduations, We know who we are!" They channel Neil Young's Ol' Black Gibson unrest on the exploratory "Storms," an apocalyptic vision of the loner's possible deliverance. Paired with Asher's husky, strained voice, the band's grand statements do swipe the obvious influences at times, though: Guitars bounce around with The Edge's ping-ponged delays on several tracks, and "Sex Without Love" tucks War in its back pocket. The E-Street Band may feel a bit cheated here and there.
But the entire unit takes a different path on the most accomplished song here, "You Cannot Quit Smoking." It's a brilliantly written diabolical, poisoned lullaby, a tarred blade cutting quick to modern entrapment and vicious cycles--if she quits smoking, she gains weight; if she gains weight, he leaves; and, by the way, she doesn't want an abortion.
So long, so short.
Sex Without Love drops Friday, Sept. 23 at Lincoln Theatre with The Annuals and Brite Boy.