(As published in the Illinois Entertainer ... )
No one has ever accused this erstwhile Replacements drummer of singing pretty. Even so, not only do his vocals on Tenterhooks seem gratuitously Jonathan Richman-like, but they're also subjected to an answering-machine-sounding electronic tweaking that renders the lyrics barely intelligible.
All of which is too bad because, as the lyric sheet reveals, there's a curiously unresolved tension at work. Empathetic numbers like "Brother Song" and "Mary" (in which Mars tries to cheer up depressed loved ones) duel with sarcastic, pissed-off songs like "White Patty Rap," "Water Biscuits," and "E.I.B. Negative" (in which Mars disses clean rappers, Tupperware moms, and Rush Limbaugh and his audience respectively).
As for the music, it's as under-recorded as the vocals, making the Sesame Street jazz of "New Day" and the rinky-dink disco of "Water Biscuits" almost provocatively weird. As for "Hate It" and the B-movie instrumental "Floater," they clatter past like post-grunge little engines that could, as gleefully oblivious to grown-up production values as anything on The Shit Hits the Fans.