Given the current economics of rock music, the most familiar has the best chance of financial success. Given rock's requirements for innovation and excellence, if it works, it's obsolete. This is the conundrum in which D.C. Star finds itself with the release of a frustrtingly competent album, "Escape."

This subtitled record rocks along nicely in a Foghat/Rush light-metal vein. Ken Taylor's lead vocals have a nicely desperate edge, the guitar playing of Dave Simmons and Jeff Avery has an appropriate if unspectacular metallic ring. Henry Farmer and Glenn Jones make up a rhythm section whose tautness bespeaks professionalism.

The five songs display the band's fluency, but they're using a wornout vocabulary. There isn't an original thought in the lot, nary a lick we haven't heard before. In itself, this doesn't spell failure -- that's the way a young band usually gets attention. Songs that wind up getting air play these days generally tend to clone each other, anyway.

What really hurts are the lyrics -- most penned by Simmons -- that set a new standard for shallowness. "Don't Call Me Punk" is the best/worst example. Against a perfectly listenable melodic background full of pleasantly familiar guitar fills, Taylor's quest for a correct rhyme scheme undermines what he's tryng to say in the first place: Up on stage for a living/Living out my life's dream / But all these mindless people / They make me want to scream.

The umpteenth reference to life-as-rockers is bearable, but the irritably hackneyed descriptions just won't fly. And "Makin' Time" makes the problem more glaring rhyming "King and Queen" with "golden wings."

Bands that long to do original material are forced to cover top-40 tunes to get any attention at all. If they're talented and cunning enugh, they can make their own work sound familiar enough to slide into the top 40. D.C. Star has done this admirably; what it needs to do now is forget about conformity and learn some things about risk. If they find something interesting to say, Washington may soon have itself another pride-inspiring rock band. ON RECORD, ON STAGE THE ALBUM D.C. STAR -- Escape (ESC-0001) THE SHOW D.C. STAR -- Sunday at 9 at the Bayou.