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By Noah Masterson

JULY 26, 1999: 

The Go-Go's Vacation/Talk Show (Universal/Chronicles)

Even before the label quietly closed its doors in the mid-'90s, nearly a

decade after they'd ceased to matter, IRS Records never quite got the whole concept of CD reissues, often jamming two albums onto one disc with minimal liner notes, or not even bothering to reissue albums in the first place. We're still waiting for the Three O'Clock's Arrive Without Traveling on CD, but at last, the second and third albums by the Go-Go's have finally made the digital jump. When you consider that the Go-Go's were the label's biggest act by far (R.E.M.'s worldwide superstardom began after they jumped ship to Warner Brothers), this is astounding.

1982's Vacation got middling-to-terrible reviews upon its release (and to be honest, it's a somewhat lesser effort than the band's classic debut, 1981's Beauty and the Beat), but time has been very kind to it. Specifically, '90s bands like That Dog and The Chubbies owe a lot to this album. Besides its three excellent singles -- the Bo Diddley-esque "Get Up and Go," the swooningly adorable "This Old Feeling" and the absolutely perfect title track, the band's best three minutes -- Vacation features silly but entertaining trifles. For instance, there's the terrific "Beatnik Beach" and Jane Wiedlin's quotidian "Girl of 100 Lists" (which rivals the Beach Boys' "Busy Doin' Nothin'" when it comes to making the everyday sound odd), interspersed with a handful of surprisingly rueful, bittersweet pop songs. Of these, the aching "Worlds Away" is the highlight, but lyrically direct tunes like "I Think It's Me" and "We Don't Get Along" belie the band's party-girl image.

That image is swept away entirely by 1984's mature, reflective Talk Show, with emotionally complicated, adult songs like "Forget That Day" and the heartbreaking "Mercenary" as far from the carefree "We Got the Beat" days as imaginable. The production often verges on slick, but the songs and performances are excellent. In particular, the intoxicating "Head Over Heels" is another of the band's classic singles. A misleading public image and 15 years of OK-to-awful solo albums and short-lived new bands (Wiedlin's punkish-pop Frosted being the best) have tarnished the Go-Go's in some eyes, but frankly, I'll take them over Sleater-Kinney any day.


Original Motion Picture Soundtrack South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut (Atlantic)

I'm only a casual fan of "South Park," and I only went to the movie because it opened on my 30th birthday and the idea of seeing it on such a momentous occasion amused me. Well, turns out this is the funniest, sharpest, smartest film I've seen yet this summer -- Mystery Men still hasn't opened, remember -- but I really only bought the soundtrack so I could stick "Uncle Fucka" onto the ends of mix tapes for my friends. Surprise No. 2: Even removed from the context of the film, South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut has one of the best scores in recent memory.

Trey Parker, in collaboration with Hollywood soundtrack vet Marc Shaiman (Patch Adams, Sleepless in Seattle), has created some brilliant, dead-on parodies of Andrew Lloyd Webber-style bombast ("Up There," "Blame Canada"), Sondheim-esque dueling melodies ("La Resistance"), Alan Mencken's Disney tunes ("It's Easy, Mmmkay," "I Can Change") and, perhaps best of all, the Arif Mardin-produced, Michael McDonald-sung "Eyes of a Child," a note-perfect lampoon of those awful, drippy power ballads played over the closing credits that are usually produced and sung by ... well, Arif Mardin and Michael McDonald!

Besides the incredibly funny lyrics, the songs have a surprising amount of musical value, with indelibly catchy choruses that you'll be extremely embarrassed to find yourself singing out loud in Smith's. In fact, "What Would Brian Boitano Do?" is at least as inspiring as the Disney anthems it parodies.

Unfortunately, the final third of the disc is taken up with "interpretations" of songs from the film. While it's always nice to hear Isaac Hayes, his "Good Love" is uninspired, and sadly, it's by far the best of the bunch. The most useless is RuPaul's "Super," a plodding thump with only the title in common with the soundtrack's Big Gay Al showcase, "I'm Super." You'll be able to turn off the disc after track 12 with a clear conscience, but until then, South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut is nearly perfect.


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