Operating under the rationale that songs and singing don’t matter much if you’ve got a bombass guitar sound that screams indie cred and supportive pals like Sonic Youth (who’ve certainly coasted down that same carpool lane on more than one occasion) in your corner, New York’s Cell made an exceedingly underwhelming bow on Slo*Blo, shaking the walls in a rich, tuneless blare. Singing guitarists Ian James and Jerry DiRienzo mash together roaring, boring textures while drummer Keith Nealy (a onetime Sonic Youth guitar tech) and bassist David Motamed (ex-Das Damen) kick the tracks along in vari-speed drive; if commercial post-punk noise were to get more formulaic than this, it’d have to be stacked in the generic-brand aisle. “Two” mounts a usable Led Zeppelin beat and something approaching a melody (to carry along the timeless “Your world’s in trouble and I’m seeing double”); the acoustic digression of “Bad Day” suggests Love It to Death-era Alice Cooper (though the opera singer that filters in from somewhere at the quietest moments doesn’t figure in that equation). Although “Hills” reaches for some pop purpose, Cell doesn’t get a firm grip, and jamming lets it slip away.
Firmly wacked into a presentable state by producer John Agnello, Living Room makes a concerted effort to tone down and shape up something better (setting the thresher controls closer to Crazy Horse) — and to a degree succeeds. It’s amazing what a difference a little loud/not-loud dynamic variety can make. Beyond the refurbished sound, DiRienzo’s songwriting is functional (“Goodbye” roughs up an attractive descending figure and serviceable pop melody), but even the better ones (including “Milky,” “Fly,” “Soft Ground” and the Johnny Thunders-styling “Sad & Beautiful”) are limited by the lack of an able singer and the are-we-done-yet? slouch that underlies all of Cell’s work.
Following Cell’s demise, DiRienzo launched a new quartet, Ugly Beauty, in 1996.