Two decades ago, new albums from Moby, J.Lo, Blink, Len and others were spinning away in my portable CD player. Here’s what I had to say about them back then (with some minor editing):
Richard (Moby) Hall knew what he was doing when he filched his nom du disque from great-grandpa Herman Melville. Over the years, the electronica whiz kid has produced one sprawling whale of a disc after another, each as elusive to define as the next. His latest, Play, is yet another ambitious undertaking. Bridging genres, styles and eras with ease, Moby samples Alan Lomax’s classic field recordings — the original samples, if you will — then playfully sets these primal blues to thumping techno, Beckish groove-folk and bayou-gumbo piano. Gradually, he takes over the vocals for some soulful ballads, only to fade out and end the disc with a series of majestic, New Age instrumentals. The performers come and go, but music, he seems to suggest, is eternal and timeless, taking us toward peace and tranquility. All you have to do is play it. And play along.
Enema Of The State
This San Diego pop-punk trio would like you to believe they’re faster and lewder than ever. But really, their dirtiest little secret is that despite their best efforts to remain 14 forever, the Blinkers are slowly growing up. Once you get past the anal-retentive album title scatology and gratuitous T&A cover shot, you realize this disc could be called Enemas: A Love Story. Most of these Green Day-glo, punky sonic spitballs wrestle with such teen turnoffs as relationships, loneliness and suicide. Of course, let’s not trust these kids with the keys to the liquor cabinet just yet: After all, any band that writes a song called Dysentery Gary ain’t about to qualify as big brothers.
On The 6
Why is it that singers want to be actors — see Garth Brooks, Sting, etc. — and actors want to be singers? Latino love goddess Jennifer Lopez is the latest thespian trying to add Top 40 credentials to her box-office resume. Maybe it’s because she got her first big cinematic break playing slain Tejano singer Selena in the 1997 biopic. But now, stepping out in front of the mic for real, it’s not Selena she’s aping — it’s Mariah Carey and Gloria Estefan. On The 6 (the New York subway Lopez used to ride), Lopez shifts between plastic, let’s-party grooves, slick, Puffy-produced hip-hop and Latino-soul ballads on which she coos, purrs and moans like a starlet on a casting couch. Not very convincingly, I might add.
You Can’t Stop The Bum Rush
The kooky cartoon cover of this CD perfectly illustrates the looney tunes, merry melodies and silly stereophonic symphonies of this quirky quintet’s debut disc. Just like in a Wile E. Coyote cartoon, anything goes for these T.O. studio pranksters. You Can’t Stop the Bum Rush is indeed an unstoppable head rush of styles, sounds and influences, leaping frantically from old-school Beastie Boys shtik to robotic techno-quirk, from bizarre samples of Spanish kids’ albums to 2 Live Crew bass thumpers, from Kurtis Blow cameos to guitar solos by Poison’s C.C. DeVille — all in 45 minutes. “My brain’s all broken, but I’m feeling all right,” one of the crew — perhaps leader Burger Pimp — sings on one track. I know just what he means.
I’d Rather Eat Glass
Papa John’s 18-year-old daughter Bijou is no chip off the old rocker. On her auspicious, delicious debut, this self-assured teen terror eschews her pop’s folk-pop for a big, post-modern-rock melange of crunching guitars, pig-sticking pop hooks, moody loops and scratchy samples. Not to mention ear-grabbing lyrics and a voice that retains a tip-of-the-tongue familiarity (It’s Alanis! No, Belinda! No, Blondie!) even as it veers from little-girl lost to yelping brat in a nanosecond. Of course, all that rebellion is no surprise; like any teen, Phillips is a whirling dervish starring in her own short-attention-span theatre, trying on styles — confessional piano balladry, bohemian guitar-folk, rock angst — only to discard them quicker than yesterday’s boyfriend. Unfocused it may be; boring it ain’t. Save us me seat for Bijou’s coming attractions.
Flip Fantasia: Hits & Remixes
There’s no denying these jazzy hip-hoppers redefined dance music a few years back when they sampled classic Blue Note grooves and incorporated them into swinging club hits. Having said that, this might be the flimsiest excuse for a greatest hits set since the Duran Duran B-sides collection. Here, you get six tracks from their two — yes, two — albums, along with four uninspired remakes. Is this some sort of stopgap release? A contractual obligation? A post-breakup cash-grab? Whatever it is, don’t fall for it. Spend the money on their first album instead.
If punk rock is just supposed to be kids’ music, somebody better tell Pennywise. Over the course of a decade, this killer Hermosa Beach quartet has overcome plenty of adversity — including the suicide of one member a few years back — and grown into one of the scene’s toughest, smartest and (dare I say) most mature outfits. Which is not to say they don’t still kick more butt than Jet Li; Straight Ahead, their fifth disc, has all the skate-punk riffage of Offspring and street-smart power of Bad Religion — but without the former’s cartoon silliness or the latter’s buzz-kill preachiness. It may be a tough line to walk — but Pennywise make it look easy.
Brett Anderson and the lads have always played third fiddle to Oasis and Blur in the battle of the Britpop bands. Their fourth album, Head Music, is good enough to change that — but probably won’t, mainly because it’s a far cry from the bombastic, self-indulgent puffery of the U.K. mainstream. Instead, Suede have slinked down a side street into a sleazy, drug-addled netherworld of sin and decadence (the title is more about goings-on below the belt than above the shoulders, if you follow), where glam rock meets grams of rock in lyrics like “She’s cooking crack, giving us a heart attack,” and Anderson pouts and vamps his way through slinky, post-glam grooves while bragging “we’ll steal your children and smoke all your hash.” Call the Betty Ford Clinic and book your room now.
The Art Of Storytelling
After spending the last few years behind bars for shooting one of his relatives — now that’s a family feud — Slick Rick is finally back from the big house and back in business with a new album. Unfortunately, the game has changed some since he’s been away; next to contemporary thugs like DMX and Busta Rhymes, Rick’s sing-songy delivery (sort of a watered-down version of Digital Underground’s Humpty) and lighthearted, cartoony raps sound at best nostalgic, and at worst dated. Lucky for Rick, however, he gets some help from guest stars Redman, Outkast, Q-Tip, Kid Capri and others, who throw a welcome-home party worthy of the self-appointed ruler of rap.
The Quiet Table
When you play in one of the biggest rock bands on the planet, you have to travel a long way from civilization to get away from it all. For Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament, that apparently means trekking in the Middle East with his moonlighting band of ethno-rockers Three Fish. After going native in Turkey and Egypt, Ament and co. bring back some colourful souvenirs on the mesmerizing and satisfying Quiet Table, a collection of snaky middle eastern melodies, ethnic percussion, chanting vocals and water-pipe lyrics about astronauts transporting us into the termor void. In some ways, it’s a lot like Page & Plant — minus the prog-rock pretense.
Chapter 1: A New Beginning
Make that Chapter 1, Pt. 2. For those who aren’t teenage girls or in the know, The Moffatts are Canada’s entry in the global boy band craze. And this disc is actually a rerelease of their 1998 CD, augmented with four new tracks produced by Glen Ballard, who helped make a star of another Canadian teenybopper — some gal named Alanis. While it’s doubtful that sort of lightning will strike these brothers, Ballard’s hand has helped them create tracks edgier and rockier than the typical teen-beat candy floss. Yes, their older stuff is the usual lite-rock mush about how much they want, need and miss you, girl, but the newer forays into chunky power pop, acoustic angst and even garage-y grunge suggest it may be worth checking out Chapter 2 in the Moffatt saga.
Insane Clown Posse
The Amazing Jeckel Brothers
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls — forget KISS; the real Psycho Circus is back. But there are only two clowns in this car: Shaggy 2 Dope and Violent J, the foul-mouthed, face-painted rappers behind ICP. And like their 1997 disc The Great Milenko (which was pulled by their old, Disney-owned label the day it was released, making ICP instantly famous), Amazing Jeckel Brothers is a three-ring wing-ding of cruelty and mayhem. The music is a mish-mash of cheesy guitar, basement beats and circus melody; the lyrics (I Stab People) are as tasteless as day-old popcorn. But it’s so unrepentantly stupid, so gleefully idiotic — a little song, a little dance, a filthy cream pie down your pants — that you gotta laugh. Of maybe it’s just that there really is a sucker born every minute.
W.A.S.P.’s heavy metal king bee Blackie Lawless must have some heavy bills to pay. Not only is Helldorado his band’s second CD this year, but the booklet is a virtual catalogue for Blackie’s Hellfire Sale. Along with the usual T-shirts and jackets, you can buy handwritten lyrics, used drum heads, old stage props and even backstage passes to shows. The music? No surprises there; just the usual power-chord screech and Beavis-and-Butthead lyrics (Dirty Balls, Saturday Night Cockfight, heh-heh-heh) that our inner 14-year-olds all know and love. But even if yours doesn’t, for heaven’s sake buy this anyway — if only to keep the repo man from coming for Blackie’s buzzsaw codpiece. That’s something nobody needs to see.
These days, he pays the bills churning out kid-friendly, Oscar-calibre soundtracks, and is probably remembered for the ’70s novelty hits Short People and I Love L.A. — but back in the day, singer/pianist Randy Newman was arguably the finest pop songwriter in America, possessed of a razor wit and an even sharper sense of melancholic melody that he used to skewer rednecks, fatcats and other deserving targets. And just when we’d given up on him, he’s back with Bad Love — his first non-score work in a decade and a set that proves his edge hasn’t dulled. With equal doses of snide wit and honest emotion, Newman turns his winking, jaundiced eye on the title subject, discussing old men obsessed with young women (Shame), rock stars who don’t know when to quit (I’m Dead) and even his own failed marriage (I Miss You). Bottom line: This is the most intelligent, witty album of the year. The bad news: Who knows when he’ll make another one?
Harry Connick, Jr.
Come By Me
As a skinny kid with an aw-shucks grin and a crooner’s warm delivery, Harry Connick, Jr. was saddled with endless comparisons to Frank Sinatra. Lately, though, his perseverance has paid off — he’s dumped that baggage and earned his as his own man. His latest disc, Come By Me, delivers something for both sides. Stuffed with a baker’s dozen tracks featuring both a swingin’ big band and a sweet orchestra, Harry tickles the ivories and serenades his way through standards by Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini (Charade), Irving Berlin (There’s No Business Like Show Business) and Cole Porter (Love For Sale). Sure, you say, anybody can pick classics. But Connick really cements his rep with originals — from the New Orleans jazz of the title cut to the poppy crooning of Nowhere With Love — that are so finely crafted you have to consult the credits to tell them from the old masters’ work.
666 — the RAM cache of the Beast? Recently reunited metalheads Iron Maiden ROM to the hills on this new three-CD set that’s equal parts greatest-hits collection and computer game. First, the good news: The 20 songs here (including 2 Minutes To Midnight, Wrathchild, Aces High and Killers) are truly fan favourites — they were selected by visitors to the band’s Web site. The bad news? Well, if you want to play the shoot-’em-up Ed Hunter game, you better have a PC. For Mac owners, that megabytes.
The Earth Pressed Flat
Another 10,000 Maniacs album without Natalie Merchant? Yeah, well, The Doors made albums without Jim Morrison too. And they were about as inspired as this one — a bunch of milquetoast folk-pop, dripping with bumper-sticker platitudes like, “the smallest step … starts a journey.” And the smallest step backward pretty much ends one, doesn’t it?
Rarities, B-Sides And Slow, Sad Waltzes
After taking a wrong turn into commercial pop with last year’s Miles From Our Home album, Cowboy Junkies get back on track with this set of endearingly oddball leftovers and unreleased covers spanning their career. Most of the 11 tunes here return to the languid melodies and hypnotic trance-rhythms of their irresistible early works, along with a few garage-y roots numbers — including Dylan’s If You Gotta Go, Go Now and I Saw Your Shoes, a distant echo of These Boots Were Made For Walking — tossed in for good measure. It’s a back-to-basics album for the Junkies in a business sense as well; released on their own imprint, the disc is only available at their Web site.