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By Stewart Mason

OCTOBER 12, 1998: 

Alibi Rating Scale
!!!!!= Reason to go on living.
!!!!= Reason to think things are better than they seem.
!!!= Reason to think things might get better.
!!= Reason to question this bleak existence.
!= Reason to take that short drive into the lightpost of Nevermore.

France Gall Baby Pop (Philips)

French pop of the 1960s has been one of the most obvious but least-discussed influences on '90s indie pop. Besides the music's influence on Stereolab, Pizzicato 5 and the High Llamas, artists as diverse as Luna, Dump, Heavenly, Dubstar and Die Moulinettes have covered vintage Gallic hits by Serge Gainsbourg, Jacques Dutronc and in the last three cases, teen sensation France Gall.

Capitalizing on this current fascination, Philips has belatedly begun reissuing Gall's original albums, beginning with this 1966 classic. Gall was still in her late teens at the time, though her career (still going strong, by the way) was already several years old. Baby Pop is in some ways her first mature album; while songs like the adorably cornball "L'Amerique" skirt the edges of cloying, at least she was no longer singing with France's versions of "Kukla, Fran and Ollie," as she had just a year or two before on "Sacre Charlemagne."

The three songs written by the extraordinarily talented Gainsbourg, "Baby Pop," "Attends Ou Va-T'En" and "Nous ne Sommes pas des Anges," are among the best French pop of the era, as inventive and exciting as what the Beatles or Brian Wilson were doing the same year. Non-Gainsbourg songs like "Cet Air La" and "Le Temps de la Rentree" are nearly as wonderful. Gall sings them all with assurance, spunk, humor and sensitivity--she's easily one of the most exceptional singers of the decade.

Most British or American pop from this era feels dated now, but these jazz and Merseybeat-influenced arrangements, mixing complex string and horn charts with surprisingly in-your-face rhythm tracks (especially on the anthemic title track), sound as fresh now as they must have then. Check out what a lot of your favorite current artists already know: French pop rules, and no one does it better than France Gall. !!!!!

Sixpence None the Richer Sixpence None the Richer (Squint)

Wish Natalie Merchant hadn't left 10,000 Maniacs? Wish Tori Amos wasn't so enamored of her Kate Bush albums? Want positive Christian messages without the creepy, hate-driven social agenda of the Religious Right? If you said yes to any or all of the above, check out Sixpence None the Richer. This Nashville trio makes--if not a joyful--an unfailingly pleasant and at times downright beautiful noise. The only problem is that perhaps the sound is too consistent; individual tracks blend together a touch too seamlessly. Still, most other albums so obviously directed at the AAA radio demographic are basically aural wallpaper, so that shouldn't hurt them any. !!! 1/2

Lisa Germano Slide (4AD)

1993's harrowing Happiness catapulted Lisa Germano from her former role as John Mellencamp's fiddle player to one of the most revered singer/songwriters of the decade. Songs like "Bad Attitude" and "The Worst Night of All" sketched suicidal depression in the plainest possible terms, while her exquisite arrangements and melodies (best heard on the original Capitol release, not the restructured 4AD reissue) balanced the pain with genuine and heartbreaking beauty.

Geek the Girl (1994), largely about Germano's experiences with a stalker, is almost too painful to listen to; excerpts from the Love Circus and last year's Slush lightened the mood, though, with unfortunately scattershot results. Slide finds Germano regaining her stride--the album has the melodic depth and lyricism of Happiness, simultaneously delicate and powerful, Germano's whirling keyboards and disorienting strings anchored by her unforgettable voice.

The songs are ceaselessly excellent, "Way Below the Radio" and the Stephin Merritt-esque "If I Think of Love" being particular standouts. The overall tone is serious, but not despairing: "Feeling good to not feel too bad is way too weird for me," Germano sings resignedly. But it does feel good to know that Lisa Germano can make an exceptional album while not feeling too bad. !!!! 1/2

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