Picks and Pans Review: Happy Ending

updated 08/14/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/14/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Dogstar (Ultimatum)

One need only consider the stillborn music careers of Bruce Willis and William Shatner to realize what Keanu Reeves is up against. By continuing to play with his Los Angeles-based trio Dogstar and wanting to be taken seriously as a musician, Reeves—the hero of such films as Speed and The Matrix—has turned himself into an easy target for music critics. But unlike Willis and Shatner, Reeves, 35, can actually play. He even cowrote five of the 11 tracks on Happy Ending, his band's first U.S. release. And he's savvy enough here to let his talented bandmates—vocalist-guitarist Bret Domrose and drummer Rob Mailhouse—take most of the spotlight while he anchors the band's rhythmic attack with his rock-steady bass guitar. While no one will confuse his playing with that of such melodic masters as Paul McCartney or The Who's John Entwistle, Reeves's work is solid.

Which is all that Dogstar's music requires. The band makes the sort of simple power pop that went out of fashion with the likes of Soul Asylum and Sugar. And with guitars soaring on tracks like "Alarming" and "Swim," Dogstar even serves up a bit of ear candy (in an early Pearl Jam sort of way), as well as an excellent cover of Leon Russel's "Superstar," updated here with a dreamy trip-hop intro and coda. In a world saturated with Backstreet Boys and 'N Syncs, a little old-fashioned rock goes a long way.

Bottom Line: Honest if uneven effort

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