THE BANDS that play the 9:30 Club come from all over the map -- and not just geographically. In five days the club will host five groups that have recently issued records, and the range is sweeping: garage-rock from Australia, punk-gospel from America's dairyland and white funk from Southern California.
THE MERCY SEAT -- "The Mercy Seat" (Slash 9 25600-1). Since this rocking gospel band with a sex-bomb lead singer is a side-project of Gordon Gano (the impish leader of the Violent Femmes), it's only natural to regard it with suspicion. Can this Milwaukee foursome, who'll perform Friday, possibly be serious about its punk-velocity arrangements of songs like "I Don't Need Nobody Else (But Jesus)" and "I Am a Pilgrim"? Well, whether it's the message or just the exuberant music this group is celebrating, the resulting record has a surprisingly unself-conscious swing.
THE CUCUMBERS -- "The Cucumbers" (Profile PRO-1239). It's usually a bad sign when a band re-records its best-known song for its first album on a larger label. Sure enough, there's nothing else here as melodically insinuating as the new version of this Hoboken, New Jersey quartet's cult hit, "My Boyfriend." Still, the Cucumbers have an assured pop-ensemble sound and Deena Shoskes' sweetly idiosyncratic lyrics are engaging even when the melodies that frame them are not. Though hardly a stunning advance, this is the best disc yet from the band, who'll perform Saturday night.
VOLCANO SUNS -- "Bumper Crop" (Homestead HMS087). With this record, founding Sun Peter Prescott unveils his third crop of Volcanos, and a bumper one it isn't. Perhaps as the new members get more comfortable they'll prove equal to their predecessors, but this disc, the third from ex-Mission of Burma drummer Prescott and his various lineups, is the least compelling case yet made for the Suns. The Boston trio, who'll play here Sunday, maintains the band's trademark roar but not its previous standards of melodic or rhythmic invention; song titles like "Lummox" seem all too appropriate.
THE CELIBATE RIFLES -- "Roman Beach Party" (What Goes On #11). These globe-trotting Aussies took their sound from the Detroit proto-punk of the Stooges and the MC5, their name from the Sex Pistols and recorded this disc in Holland. They still sound like a Sydney garage-band, though, which will be more charming if and when the quintet's songwriting ever becomes as dependable as its grungy three-guitar sound. Meanwhile, let's hope the Sunday night 9:30 crowd treats them better than their last local audience apparently did: in this album's acknowledgements, the band thanks "nobody in D.C."
RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS -- "The Uplift Mofo Party Plan" (EMI Manhattan ELT-48036). Despite enlisting a diverse string of experts as producers (this time out it's Manhattan art-funkateer Michael Beinhorn), the Peppers have yet to get a recorded sound half so ferocious as their bad-boy reputation. This record, which seems oddly respectful to rock's elders, is their tamest. It features a cover of Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues" and several sincere testimonials to the L.A. quartet's black-music roots. (Women don't fare so well, though, on largely unquotable sexist rants like "No Chump Love Sucker" and "Love Trilogy"). Fans needn't worry, though: The sloppy funk of this "organic anti-beatbox band," which will appear Tuesday, is still well to the left of the mainstream.