Since the release of Elastica's self-titled 1995 debut, virtually everything imaginable has gone wrong for the group: Initial sessions for the highly anticipated follow-up were disastrous and had to be scrapped. Singer Justine Frischmann feuded with bandmates Donna Matthews and Annie Holland before Matthews finally bolted for good. Drugs, as might have been guessed, were reportedly a major factor. The problem with being groomed for rock stardom is that it's easy to take the bait, destroying yourself and your music in the process. It's hard to imagine Elastica's fans being patient or loyal enough to care much either way about The Menace, though it's artistically solid enough to warrant consideration. The problem is that without the can't-miss hooks of its predecessor, it's bound to encounter some of the same head-scratching that met Wire and The Fall, two of The Menace's most obvious sources of inspiration. In the past, Elastica has raised the ire of Wire and The Stranglers by blatantly ripping them off, and The Menace is no less audacious in its appropriation. But the band does try to make amends, sort of. "Mad Dog Goo Dam" is a late-era Fall rip-off, but Elastica compensates by enlisting The Fall's Mark E. Smith on "How He Wrote Elastica Man" and "KB." Wire's "Lowdown" is more or less sampled on "Human" (the band is credited), but the song that follows, "Nothing Stays The Same," lifts its chorus from Wire's "Kidney Bingos" without due notice. Nevertheless, Elastica has the attitude to pull it off: Frischmann's frequent threats to go "new wave" or "indie-rock" turned out to be somewhat hollow, but The Menace does pay off on the implicit promise of drugged-out sloppiness. As a compendium of in-jokes and in-fightsseveral songs are apparently intended as retaliatory gestures toward Damon Albarn of Blur, who released his own scattershot mess last yearthe album is a fascinating study in how unreasonable expectations can damage art. As a modest collection of left-field odds and ends such as "Miami Nice," "My Sex," and "Image Change," The Menace is full of surprises and intriguing free-for-all fuck-ups.