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JUNE 14, 1999: 

*** Moby PLAY (V2)

The perfect beat can save your life, no doubt. But who will say-eee-ave your soul? Some superstar DJ with two fistfuls of ecstasy on his tour rider and values as transitory as the presets on his sampler? Moby can't get with that, so he's spent the past few years treating his record crates like a musical-epiphany search engine, fumbling for transcendence through slow-ebbing minimalism (his waiting-for-God-in-the-chill-out-room album The End of Everything) and confounding hardcore (Animal Rights -- that's when I reached for my Lithium).

On Play, he does something only a spiritual searcher who admits to buying most of his records at Tower can -- he digests the boxed set version of Alan Lomax's Anthology of American Folk Music, introducing chain-gang sex raps to deep-house comedowns, garagy hip-hop to field hollers, ex-slaves to post-rave. It's a slick pop that acknowledges its own gritty DNA the way pop seldom does. "Honey," a British hit in '98, is Delta-blues body rock, Moby's own "James Bond Theme" re-remixed for electric-sliding; "Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad" gives a preacher man the mike while Moby's music-for-airports surges up behind him going ,"Yo, I feel you, man." Our hero even does some endearingly affectless singing of his own, crooning like a Pet Shop Boy on the summer-ready "Southside" and echoing fellow world-breakbeat eccentrics Byrne and Bowie on tracks like "The Sky Is Broken," whispering apologies while the century becomes another piece of loopable history.

-- Alex Pappademas

**1/2 Geri Halliwell SCHIZOPHONIC (Capitol)

Self-reinvention isn't just a pop star's right, it's practically part of the job description. Thus we have The Artist Formerly Known As Ginger kicking off her solo debut (in stores this Tuesday, June 15) with an irresistibly attention-grabbing single, aptly titled "Look at Me," in which she cheekily buries her old persona with a blast of brassy, Shirley Bassey-ish belting. Then again, meet the new Spice, same as the old Spice. Halliwell is still selling "girl power" (i.e., sex, but on a girl's own terms), along with Spice Girls-style lush, catchy, dance pop designed to appeal to the widest possible international audience (with some especially obvious sops to those lucrative Latin and Asian markets). She finally reveals that she can in fact sing; though her voice is thin and not very expressive, it is not lacking in range, color, or technique. And she's determined to prove her versatility as a songwriter, hopping from lite lounge jazz to dreamy torch ballads to vaguely gospely inspirational to quaintly outdated En Vogue-ish R&B. As for the line between stylish eclecticism and bet-hedging calculation, between homage and theft, between tourism and cultural imperialism, Halliwell merrily grinds it into the dust with her platform heel.

-- Gary Susman

*** Pavement TERROR TWILIGHT (Matador)

College rock applauds conundrums, mainstream pop rewards hooks. Pavement have always split the dif. Their knack at pitching the arcane has been obvious since sha-la-las helped grease Slanted & Enchanted's knotty program. The gorgeous turns on Terror Twilight aren't particularly conventional, but after four discs' worth of refinement, Pavement have become expert at making obscurity seem inviting. Between Steven Malkmus's poetry-stimulated lyrics and the band's natural way with hairpin turns, shards have become smooth(er). Win-win in my book. That balancing act positions these sublime misanthropes as skewed classicists, something 1997's Brighten the Corners hinted at too. I'm not using the C-word because allusions to Aerosmith's "Same Old Song and Dance" and Guess Who's "New Mother Nature" flit by -- that's just plain old indie fun. But even the wobbliest moments have an equilibrium. A shimmer, too. A decade down the road, with little chance of sneaking into Hitsville, these wiseacres prove their pleasures aren't based just on wordplay; the music has its own parched glamor. "Tuck in your thoughts/It's there or it's not," sings Malkmus at one point. On Terror Twilight, it's there all the way.

-- Jim Macnie

*** Red Hot Chili Peppers CALIFORNICATION (Warner Bros.)

Call it a triumphant return to form or just the articulate, soulful musings of a constantly evolving, quintessentially American quartet. Either way, Californication re-establishes the Red Hot Chili Peppers as a vital musical force.

You could argue that they never lost that vitality -- it's just that nearly four years have elapsed since the group's last full-length, and that's a long time in the current cultural climate. Boasting some surprising poignant tunes (the buoyant "This Velvet Glove," the reflective "Savior," and the harmony-packed single, "Scar Tissue"), as well as the expected raunch ("Purple Stain," "I Like Dirt," the percolating "Get on Top"), Californication finds the group sounding more cohesive and musically mature than ever before. Chalk it up to the miraculous return of guitar wizard John Frusciante, who, after spiraling into drug addiction during his absence from the band, re-emerges as a catalyst capable of energizing and focusing the Peppers. At times the disc sounds like a showcase for Frusciante's dynamic guitar work. Mostly, though, Californication just sums up a career's worth of punk-funk syntheses as it highlights the more subtle, often underestimated, nuances that make the Chili Peppers unique and relevant.

-- Mark Woodlief

** Snoop Dogg NO LIMIT TOP DOGG (No Limit/Priority)

It was a bit discombobulating when Snoop Dogg -- the rapper from Long Beach who began his career on LA's Death Row Records -- jumped ship to the New Orleans-based No Limit family last year. But the change was a surprise success: whereas Snoop's last album for Death Row was a huge disappointment, his No Limit efforts have been more lively, in large part thanks to the garish, trebly funk that has come to be associated with No Limit chief Master P.

No Limit Top Dogg, Snoop's second album for his new label, is filled with stupid ideas (a retelling of the Cinderella story entitled, "Snoopafella"), outright clichés ("G Bedtime Stories"), and half-assed love ballads ("Somethin Bout Yo Bidness"). It's also crudely effective: Snoop's former mentor, Dr. Dre, adds an exquisitely dinky guitar line to "Buck 'Em"; "Ghetto Symphony" finds Snoop playing gracious host to No Limit soldiers Mia X, Silkk the Shocker, and Mystikal; and tracks like "Doin' Too Much" and "Trust Me" showcase Snoop's appealingly greasy lyrical style.

-- Kelefa Sanneh

*** The Lynnfield Pioneers FREE POPCORN (Matador)

Several years too late for it to make any difference, art-trash downtowniks give up bleating no-wave indifference and turn out what might have resulted if the Jon Spencer of "Bellbottoms," the Beastie Boys of Ill Communication, and Mellow Gold-period Beck had come together to make the party album of the summer of '94. Perhaps you remember: the overly direct "Funky Drummer" quotes, the unfunky-pasty-white-guys-rapping-squeakily-and-obliquely (and driving the girls giggly over geek-homeboy chic), the we're-the-hip-hop-version-of-the-Sonics loaf-eye romanticism, the occasional punky dance number. The exception's at the beginning with "Astral Plane," the best mod-garage rump roast the Make-Up haven't yet written. "Time To Get Dumb" isn't quite the best song here, though it's a fine statement of purpose ("It's time to get stupid/Found an old record and I looped it"), and the band almost live up to it now and again. Given the Pioneers' unlistenable early efforts, one's first reaction to this kind of thing tends to be over-laudatory -- the holy-shit-those-retards-made-a-real-album! syndrome. But the last crucial barbecue I was at got its biggest kicks in the ass from GNR's Appetite -- everyone wistfully recalling Axl's glory days in the dulcet tones usually reserved for vintage R.E.M. or Slayer or something. So here's a clue: good album, wrong summer.

-- Carly Carioli

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