Wellwater Conspiracy’s new self-titled album is the latest chapter in the long and ignoble history of rock musicians leaving their perfectly good bands to play in “side projects.” In these “side projects” musicians often say they get to “explore,” “be themselves,” and other fuzzy things like that. But the truth of the matter is that they participate in these “projects” on the “side” because their actual bands are much, much, much, much better than these “projects,” whose albums almost uniformly — ahem — suck.
So let it be with Wellwater Conspiracy. Named after an urban legend about a Minnesota well being spiked with LSD, the band is the baby of Matt Cameron — former drummer of Soundgarden, present drummer of Pearl Jam — and John McBain, the former guitarist of Monster Magnet.
A collection of 11 immediately-forgettable songs, Wellwater Conspiracy’s fourth album in six years mixes progressive rock, heavy metal, psychedelic rock, electronica, and grunge to little success. At their best, Wellwater Conspiracy sound like an imitation of Jefferson Airplane (or Starship, or Minivan, or whatever) crossed with a credible imitation of early Soundgarden. At their worst, they sound like a cheap imitation of Spacehog, which is to say they sound pretty bad.
There are hooks aplenty and the songs are atmospheric and inventive enough, but they never add up to anything more than that. Most of the tracks sound cool for the first 30 seconds, start to get boring at around 60, and it goes only downhill from there.
A number of the songs on the album are instrumentals, which is just as well because most of the lyrics seem as if they were written with the “cliched rock lyrics” version of magnetic poetry. A sample from opening track “Whipple Witch”: “I wanna feel it one time/ got to feel it one time/ now that you’re on my mind (repeat).”
For whatever reason, Cameron and McBain also throw in a cover of “Something in the Air,” the late ’60s classic rock song by Thunderclap Newton (remember them? No? Me neither. It’s a good song though). Besides sounding completely out of place on the album, the well-crafted tune only serves to point out by contrast the band’s songwriting faults.
Had Cameron and McBain stronger song structures to wrap their formidable sonics around, this could have been a fine album. As things stand, it just constitutes another “side project” exercise in musical masturbation. Filled with well-intentioned but half-baked musical ideas, Wellwater Conspiracy’s latest is for die-hards only.