Record Review 

Semisonic's new album, Chemistry, reaches its nadir with "Get a Grip." This icky paean to self-love (yes, the title is meant to be taken literally) is so gratuitously embarrassing, I sprouted hair on my palms just listening. Appropriately enough, the term "masturbatory" goes a long way to describing much of the album.

The group's two previous albums were, on the whole, thoroughly enjoyable -- somewhat slight, perhaps, but at least chock-full of pleasantly diverting, roll-down-the-window-it's-springtime pop fluff -- making ideal soundtracks for warm, drowsy afternoons. The problem is, somewhere along the line, Semisonic decided that being a decent pop band just wasn't enough. Impelled by a wrong sense of artistic duty, they decided to stretch out and experiment, and quite frankly, they just don't pull it off.

The biggest musical gaffes occur when Semisonic indulge their clunky, Princely aspirations, such as on the queasy "Bed." The results, unsurprisingly, are about as convincingly funky as day-old Wonderbread. Add to that several wan, nondescript ballads and an inevitable epic rock statement ("I Wish's" banal Backstreet Boys lyrics and bloated instrumental fade screams for flicked Bics) and the pickings feel mighty slim. There are a few bright spots throughout, such as the bouncy Todd Rundgren-esque title track and the infectious "Act Naturally," but for the most part Chemistry is riddled with lame duck experimentation and dopey rawk songs. Know your limits -- there's no shame in writing well-constructed, catchy pop music. To paraphrase the best-- get back to where you once belonged.

Semisonic plays EarthLink.Live, Sat., March 10.

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