In a Priest Driven Ambulance (With Silver Sunshine Stares)
"Things have changed, and God walks among us now"
Best Song: Unconsciously Screamin'
Worst Song: Mountain Side
As for as an improvement in actual songwriting goes...ehh. The band didn't really *improve* in songwriting so much as they just learned the fine art of cutting out filler. Of course, there are definitely a few songs on here that are less than great, but completely useless time-wasters (like, say, the first half of "Prescription: Love") are nowhere to be seen. Everything here sounds at the very least like the band was trying to make something good, and I can find some positives in nearly every song, so that's definitely a good thing.
The album starts off on an absolutely hilarious note with the, erm, *uplifting* "Shine On Sweet Jesus". I think this song perfectly captures the general pros and cons of the whole album. As for pros: the vocal melody is pretty catchy, it's really fun, and it sounds cool. As for cons: Wayne's voice sounds absolutely TERRIBLE (although "Sweet Jesus" is kind of a novelty song, so it's not as bad here), and the song just kinda...floats along. There isn't much of a riff to be found in the instrumental sections, just a sea of swirling white noise and amp hiss. Again, it sounds cool, but an entire album of this gets a little tiring.
However, a couple tracks in particular actually feature solid riffs, and this works well to break up the monotony of the album. The best of these by far is "Unconsciously Screamin'", one of the band's best-ever rockers. Wayne's vocals actually sound good for once, the riff is awesome, and the whole thing is just ridiculously fun and catchy. I'm not nearly as fond of the album's other riff-rocker, though. "Mountain Side" would've made for a fine 3-minute ditty (albeit one that would feel right at home on Oh My Gawd!!), but 6 minutes of mind-numbing noise and semi-directionless vocals is too much for me.
Some of the album's greater moments come in its quieter, more acoustic tracks. The extremely anthemic ballad "Five Stop Mother Superior Rain" is quite good even despite its silly, "heartstring-tugging" lyrics -- that vocal melody is very memorable, and yeah, I've gotta admit, the brief bits of noise here actually work somewhat well. Just as good is the completely acoustic "There You Are", an absolutely beautiful ditty that works perfectly as a refuge between the crushingly hard rock of "Mountain Side" and "God Walks Among Us Now".
Speaking of "God Walks Among Us Now"...geez, wotta song. It's not a classic, but I can safely say that I've never heard anything even remotely like it. Wayne screams his, erm, "vocal melody" (can you even call it that??) through a cool, megaphone-esque filter while Jonathan attempts to create a ridiculously disorienting sea of guitar noise. It all ends up turning into one bizarre mess of a song, but I definitely enjoy it...to some degree. I can easily see someone HATING it, though.
Speaking of hatred, I've never been fond of the uber-anthemic "Rainin' Babies", if only because the beautiful arrangement and melody are absolutely destroyed by Wayne's terrible, teeerrrrrible vocals. This is one of the few times in the band's career where his voice is pretty much intolerable, and it makes the song very hard to listen to.
The band also tries their hand at covering Can's "Mushroom", and while it's not amazing, I do like it slightly better than the original if only because Wayne wisely chose to take out that ridiculously irritating "I THOUGHT I'D GET MYYY DESPAAAAIR" chorus. I should also mention that the band completely changed the lyrics to the song, going as far as retitling it "Take Meta Mars".
There's also a cover of Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World", which is rather nice. It doesn't do anything too special to the original song, but that's not necessary; it's a classic as is. Of course, you could also make the case for simply listening to the Louis Armstrong original instead, and...yeah, I don't have much of an argument for that. But the noisy indie-rock take on the ubiquitous song is still nice to hear every once in a while, y'know? Plus, it works wonderfully as a closer.
It's good! It's not that "big leap forward" that everyone always treats it as, and it's not quite a must-purchase, but it's certainly the best thing they'd done to this point. If you're a fan of their other early-to-mid-90s work you'll probably like this as well.