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By Stewart Mason

JANUARY 31, 2000: 

Prozzak Hot Show (Epic)

According to the press releases, Prozzak is the Euro-pop duo of vocalist Simon, from the Isle of Man, and Austrian guitarist Milo, and indeed the two sing with the respective accents of their homelands. The cartoons on the CD sleeve and the animated videos for the singles, "Europa" and "Sucks To Be You," show the pair travelling through a vividly-colored world in search of Simon's unattainable dream girl as they sing bright and bouncy synth-and-acoustic-guitar pop songs that wouldn't sound out of place in the Eurovision Song Contest. Imagine if the Television Personalities shared producers with the Spice Girls.

The reality is that Simon and Milo are, respectively, Toronto natives Jason Levine and James McCollum of the pop-soul band The Philosopher Kings. In fact, Prozzak began as a series of '80s synth-pop parodies to liven up dull rides in the Kings' tour bus. Ironically, for all the silly trappings, Prozzak's songs are surprisingly solid and tuneful, with the aforementioned singles and tracks like "Omobolasire," "Tsunami" and "Annalisa" not only as ineradicably catchy as any early MTV hit, but far more lyrically acute and emotionally real than you'd ever expect from singing cartoon characters. (In fact, Hot Show has considerably more musical and lyrical depth than either of the Philosopher Kings' albums.) If you own more than one of the Just Can't Get Enough or Living In Oblivion collections of classic '80s hits, you simply must have Hot Show.

Pete Ham Golders Green (Rykodisc)

The second Rykodisc collection of solo demos by the nominal leader of legendary pop icons Badfinger, Golders Green is named after the London neighborhood where the Welsh-born Pete Ham lived in the early '70s, when these songs were recorded. Though Ham (who committed suicide in 1975) was arguably Badfinger's best songwriter and easily their finest singer, the band's strongly-held democracy meant that he wrote considerably more songs than the band could ever use. This is a shame, since guitar-pop gems like "Dawn" and the unbelievably catchy "Makes Me Feel Good" (here in two versions) would have enlivened any of Badfinger's albums.

Aside from a fascinating electric piano and voice demo of the worldwide hit "Without You" (minus the stirring chorus written later by Badfinger guitarist Tom Evans), Badfinger never recorded any of these songs. Unfortunately, not all the tracks are undiscovered gems. "Pete's Walk" is a superfluous fuzz-guitar instrumental (fleshed out, like several of the songs, by newly-recorded rhythm tracks), and the bouncy piano workout "Goodbye John Frost" owes a huge debt to Badfinger's early patron Paul McCartney. A mid-CD stretch of song fragments each lasting under a minute barely even offers historical interest.

On the other hand, stark acoustic demos of otherwise lost songs like the charmingly Merseybeat-esque "I'll Kiss You Goodnight" tantalize with thoughts of what could have been, and frankly, the intimate, rough-edged production often sounds better than Badfinger's sometimes too-slick gloss. Don't bother with Golders Green unless you're already a Badfinger fan, but if you are, much of this album is simply fantastic.

Jim Allen Straight Time (1-800-Prime CD)

The second album by New York singer/songwriter Jim Allen strongly recalls Don Dixon's soulful pop, but with Dixon's countryish tendencies partially transmuted into more of a Hoboken-pop vibe. The ominous "To Keep You Warm" and the catchy pop of "Beauty" recall Freedy Johnston and the dBs, though the sprightly piano-and-pedal steel "Don't Let Me Down" is pure Charlie Rich. And the title of the accordion-driven "Conjunto" is purely descriptive. The album's one drawback is that some songs encourage just that sort of spot-the-influence game -- boy, does "B St." sound like Tom Verlaine! But Allen's a gifted singer and strong songwriter, and Straight Time bodes well for his future.

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