Styles add up for Minus 5

Easily the most recognizable entry on the overworked and underplayed McCaughey's resume is R.E.M., which has employed the Seattle-based rocker's varied instrumental talents on its albums on and off since 1994.

After R.E.M., the projects pressing McCaughey for most of his time — the Young Fresh Fellows, The Minus 5 and Tuatara — have probably flown under the radar of all but the most devoted music fan. But by no means does McCaughey's amazing unintentional talent to escape notice mean he has been wasting his time.

With In Rock, McCaughey's latest recording with The Minus 5 — an outfit rounded out by R.E.M's Peter Buck (guitars), John Ramberg (bass) and Bill Rieflin (drums) — the jack-of-all trades instrumentalist, singer and songwriter has given his few but devoted fans yet another reason to celebrate his genius.

Recorded in March 2000 and again in Nov. 2003, In Rock doesn't play like an album recorded in two sessions with a monumental gap between them. Instead, it plows full speed ahead from track to track as if it were recorded in one unbelievable rewarding sitting.

In many ways the album's instrumental opener, "Bambi Molester," proves telling of what the rest of In Rock is going to deliver. The headshake-inducing title aside, the minute-and-a-half track manages to take on epic proportions despite having such a miniature time frame within to work its magic. Featuring an impressive array of distorted guitar wails, a charging drumbeat and well-placed background harmonies, "Bambi Molester" leaves the listener aching for more.

And of course no band wants to see its fans in pain.

Following the opener, The Minus 5 steer toward Green Day-esque punk territory with "Dear My Inspiration" ("Dear my inspiration/Pull my headache through the phone/Delirium needs water/And I feel the highest low/In every bone") and add unique twists to the genre in the form of harmonized vocals and frenzied organ solos.

The Minus 5 keep the borderline-insane energy level of In Rock surging ahead with the garage rock of "In A Lonely Coffin" and the first two-and-a-half minutes of "The Forgotten Fridays." The piano-driven remainder of the track, featuring McCaughey's melancholy warnings ("Don't ever let the Fridays fall in the sea"), offers In Rock's first hint at the considerable sway the Beatles hold over McCaughey's The Minus 5 recordings.

However, had it been recorded 40 years earlier, "The Girl I Never Met" is the In Rock track that would have had John, Paul, George and Ringo kicking themselves and swearing amongst each other for not coming up with the track's lush pop harmonies, understated guitar runs and pleasant instrumental chorus on their own.

Pop excursions aside, The Minus 5 clearly meant for In Rock to be cranked. "Where The Wires Meet The Skies" and album closer "Over The Sea" would be enjoyable rockouts even if they came without McCaughey's intelligent lyrics.

Even "Dr. Evil: Doctor Of Evil," a whimsical glance at Mike Myers' diabolical half-wit of an evil mastermind ("Now if you're feeling sick/Here's a little tip/I wouldn't recommend a trip anywhere near the crib/This doctor calls his crib") finds The Minus 5 absolutely sizzling — just like on all of In Rock.

McCaughey and The Minus 5 deserve a wider audience, and if Dr. Evil himself were reviewing In Rock he might close by writing: "Throw these guys a friggin' bone here!"

Well, you doctor of evil you, consider it thrown.

Grade: A