Boston Phoenix CD Reviews
NOVEMBER 2, 1998:
THE WORLD'S GREATEST CLUB COLLECTION
(Alpha Wave)What the dancer gets in this 15-track remix compilation is an honest look at glam, a genre that in the mid '80s made a brief but significant contribution to getting disco some acceptance among rock fans. Glam was an in-your-face music, quite different from the subtle teases of '70s disco. It paralleled a contemporaneous move, in rap music, from old school's niceties to the oversized goofs of Run-D.M.C. and the Beastie Boys. The ass-kicking drag of Dead or Alive's Pete Burns (here represented by "You Spin Me Around") assaults the fan rather than flirting with him; the loud push of Burns's fight for the right to wear dresses and lipstick shapes the compilation's vocal remixes -- Rosetta Stone's big and bosomy "Adrenaline," Information Society's "What's on Your Mind," Gene Loves Jezebel's "Gorgeous" -- as well as its techno-ized instrumentals, especially Spahn Ranch's "Vortex" and Transmutator's "My Wonderful Friend." Remixes of Bow Wow Wow's "I Want Candy" and Gary Numan's "Cars" take you back even further, to glam's sources in Blondie and the tubular bells of Kraftwerk.
-- Michael Freedberg
*** The Cardigans
(Mercury)Near the end of Gran Turismo (in stores Tuesday) singer Nina Persson asks, "Do you really think that love is gonna save the world?" And then she answers, cynically, "Well, I don't think so." Coming from a band with such a Noxzema-fresh rep, the sentiment seems way out of character. But with this release the Cardigans -- clearly desperate to be anything but the thinking person's Ace of Base -- embrace the dark side no one knew they had. Turismo is full of buzzing motion-sickness bass lines and foreboding beats, noises more PJ Harvey than Deborah Harry. And yet all this spooky ambiance can't entirely conceal the songs' down-in-the-mouth beauty, or the way Persson's newly world-weary vocals turn "Explode" and "Erase and Rewind" into long, lilting sighs. It's really just an above-average Garbage album. But Persson knows how to make disillusionment sound as inviting as a fuzzy sweater.
-- Alex Pappademas
**1/2 Robbie Fulks
LET'S KILL SATURDAY NIGHT
(Geffen)After two bracing alterna-country indie releases, this is Fulks's big-label shot and, it will be said, sellout. Some of the signs are there, especially a new emphasis on the rockin' side of the singer/songwriter's rebel sound, with enough fat guitar gloss to make you wonder whether his former neo-purist approach wasn't merely a matter of budget limitations. But this is nothing so severe as when Steve Earle first went metal (and mental, as well). True, the dual guitars at times overwhelm Fulks's somewhat reedy vocals (as on "She Must Think I Like Poetry"), but most of the additional ear candy is offered with the same thoughtful cleverness that he brings to his songwriting. A more striking change here than the musical tilt toward radio friendliness is the way his lyrics have grown denser, very effectively on the bully-boy cautionary song "Little King," and on "Take Me to the Paradise," whose lilting obliqueness is reminiscent of Freedy Johnston. Mixed in with the new-style cuts are a few simple, straightforward numbers that give the set a transitional feel. This may not be as cohesive as last year's excellent South Mouth (Bloodshot) but Fulks is still a damn good songwriter, however he chooses to serve it up.
-- Richard C. Walls
THE STORY OF THE GHOST
(Elektra)For most of Phish's 15-year career, their marathon jam-filled live shows have been the big draw; their albums, despite many engaging moments, tended to be spotty. But two years ago, with Billy Breathes (Elektra), the Vermont-based foursome finally succeeded in crafting a satisfying studio album.
The Story of the Ghost keeps that artistic momentum going. Most of its 14 tracks were compiled from spontaneous in-studio improvisations, and though that may sound like a recipe for endless noodling, the resulting songs are actually among the most focused and exciting Phish have recorded. The hopped-up funk of "Birds of a Feather" bears strong resemblance to Remain in Light-era Talking Heads; the mesmerizing "Frankie Sez" points out one of the band's less obvious strengths: vocal harmonies. Yet perhaps the most appealing thing about this album is its sense of quiet intimacy, which is maintained even during Trey Anastasio's blazing guitar solo on the eight-minute-plus "Guyute."
-- Mac Randall
(Epic)Ever since the Brothers Gallagher decided it would be a nifty idea to promote their British rock band as the best thing to happen to music since the Beatles found Ringo, their albums have somewhat inevitably been anticlimactic. I mean, it's hard to think of any release that could live up to the advance hype Noel and Liam disseminated about last year's Be Here Now (Epic).
Which is part of what makes this collection of British B-sides such a pleasure: in the absence of the usual pre-release boasting blitz, it's so much easier to appreciate how well Oasis handle a hook. Despite its ominous title, The Masterplan (out this Tuesday), which features tracks recorded between 1994 and 1997, also benefits from being looser and more playful than the band's last two albums, both of which seemed designed to steamroller the listener into melodic submission. Little touches, like the simple handclap rhythm track and distant cough that accent the moody acoustic "Talk Tonight," for example, offer a relaxed respite from the slamming guitars of "Acquiesce" and the layered production of "Underneath the Sky." And the instrumental harmonica-flavored blues rock of "The Swamp Song" and a cover of "I Am the Walrus" (both live) are solid reminders that the Brothers Gallagher aren't so bad when they shut up and play.
-- Matt Ashare
*** Midnight Oil
(Sony)Midnight Oil may never again achieve as potent a mix of music and message as they did on their visceral classics 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1 and Diesel & Dust, but they're gonna bleed their guts out trying. This CD's "White Skin Black Heart," with its charges of neo-Nazism, is the most potent hate letter any '90s outfit has written to race-baiting politicians. "Seeing Is Believing" doesn't just grieve for a soiled Earth -- it's also about the way we've polluted the human spirit through the relentless exploitation of, well, everything. For that matter, the whole album, with its mournful portraits of corporate egotists at the helm and ineffectual statesmen and complacent citizens, is a bleak, bleak, bleak view of modern times reinforced by Peter Garrett's atypically low-key vocal delivery and the CD's high population of ballads and minor-key melodies.
Which puts Redneck Wonderland (in stores this Tuesday) in a bind. Midnight Oil are always best when they rock, which they've done with brass-knuckled authority -- even when singing about genocide -- and which has helped keep the group from seeming too preachy and dour. But it's obvious from these lyrics that Garrett and crew now think we're all about to be left swinging in the wind. And rocking out might trivialize that, or encourage some listeners to cruise over the meanings of these 12 tales. It's a tricky balance -- setting music and message to equal weight. Here, message tips the scales.
-- Ted Drozdowski
DAS LIED VON DER ERDE: Siegfried Jerusalem, Jessye Norman, James Levine, Berlin Philharmonic
(DG)The stars of the Met's most recent Parsifal take it on the road to Berlin for this rendition of Gustav Mahler's sublime song cycle -- which they recorded in 1992 but for some reason has been withheld till now. It's a sumptuous, slowish reading that confirms Levine's reputation as a Mahler conductor and begs the question why RCA doesn't have all his recordings of Gustav's symphonies in the catalogue. Jerusalem's heldentenor is rich but occasionally lacking in variety and characterization (in his previous Das Lied effort, with his other Parsifal crowd, Waltraud Meier and Daniel Barenboim, he sounds like a different singer); Norman is similarly beautiful and less precious than usual, though her concern for precise enunciation still tends to blot out her phrasing. The Berlin Philharmonic, gorgeous as always, gives the singers plenty of room, but it's an odd, almost two-dimensional aural perspective, devoid of distance or atmosphere, and the last orchestral bars of "Der Abschied" sound unforgivably mundane.
-- Jeffrey Gantz
LOS SUPER SEVEN
(Geffen)This ad hoc Tex-Mex supergroup offer the proverbial embarrassment of riches, three generations' worth -- elder statesmen (singers Freddy Fender and Ruben Ramos, accordionist Flaco Jimenez), journeymen (David Hidalgo and Cesar Rosas of Los Lobos, token Anglo Joe Ely), and rising young stars (country singer Rick Treviño, plus such guests as accordionist Joel Guzman and bassist Max Baca). The songs are mostly south-of-the-Rio-Grande folk and standards that the musicians' grandparents would have sung or heard on the radio. Richly arranged and performed loosely but affectionately, the music is timeless -- sadly so in the case of Woody Guthrie's "Plane Wreck at Los Gatos (Deportee)" (sung by Ely), which indicates that the immigrant's plight hasn't changed in decades). The CD lacks some of the fire of the ensemble's live shows, but this is a fine party record all the same. Even if you don't know Spanish or can't tell norteño from conjunto, you'll recognize these tunes are classics whose deep sorrow (Fender's "Piensa en Mí") or two-stepping exuberance (Jimenez's "Margarita") need no translation.
-- Gary Susman
*** Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
(Matador/Capitol)For about 15 minutes, ACME had me convinced that Jon Spencer, mixed-up master of the jackknife punk-blues deconstruction, had finally gotten his act together. After all these years of mimicking bad garage bands who were aping the Stones, he tackles the Stones head on with "Magical Colors" -- such a remarkable impersonation of Some Girls-era Mick and Keef that it pretty much shows up the rest of the album as an elaborate evasion of Spencer's natural talents.
Ah, but the fractured aesthetic favored by the ol' JSBX demands that the whole self-consciously deliver less than the sum of its parts, and once they get around to greasing up the sampler, the results are a characteristically mixed bag. Spencer has already done more than anyone save Beck to prove that flat-out rock and roll can adapt to the editing techniques of hip-hop, a cause furthered by the pomo doo-wop of "Do You Wanna Get Heavy?" and hindered by their messy infomercial "Talk About the Blues." In places where the band can't manufacture enough mistakes on their own, they bring in Dan "The Automator" Nakamura and Atari Teenage Riot's Alex Empire to scramble their eggs for 'em. But in terms of guiding spirits, the presence of turntablists is less prominent than that of '50s R&B novelty-hit genius Andre Williams, who appears in shouted references to his songs ("The Greasy Chicken," "Bacon Fat").
-- Carly Carioli
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