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Consumer Guide

JANE'S ADDICTION: Kettle Whistle (Warner Bros.) As its currentprojects crumble from irrelevance to negative cash flow, a band that never mademusic or money commensurate with its myth bestows upon a shock-sated marketplaceouttakes, demos, live tracks, and four proofs of physical reunion. Chutzpah hasnever been Perry Bernstein's problem. C PLUS

MASTER P: Ghetto D (No Limit/Priority) The title track is noxious andmiraculous, hooked to a hectoring male singsong unlike anything I've everheard. Subject: how to manufacture and distribute rock cocaine. The hit vies inrank sentimentality with ''Candle in the Wind,'' hooked to a malegroan also unlike anything I've ever heard. Subject: dead homies (a hardreality turned soft metaphor) hoo. The rest is underproduced propaganda for,reflections of, or fantasies about thug life that hold intrinsic interest onlyfor live homies and their wannabes. Question: Why aren't crack buyers alsovictims of this ''black-on-black crime'' that must stop? Andanother: Why aren't there better things to do with talent? C PLUS

SARAH MCLACHLAN: Surfacing (Arista) Fearing serial tsunamis ofsubcosmic truism and womanist gush, I'd always kept away from the edge ofthis Canadian, such as it was. But between her Lilith Fair counterpalooza and''Building a Mystery'' bonanza, I had to dive in, and got lessthan I'd bargained for. McLachlan isn't a mystic, a sister, even a NewAger--merely a singer-songwriter of monumental banality. Now ensconced in themature satisfactions that come eventually to many unhappy young women, most ofwhom don't possess a clear multioctave voice or modest tune sense, she'sproud to encase her homilies of succor and self-acceptance in settings thatdon't call undue attention to her compositional ambitions. Renormalized popat its most unnecessary. C MINUS

98p (Motown) With Cincinnati a hotbed of racial mishegas from UncleTom's Cabin and Stephen Foster to Marge Schott and the Afghan Whigs, whyshouldn't these four white boys be the younger generation's answer toBoyz II Men? They're certainly realer than the Backstreet Boys. But no waydoes that guarantee they're as good. Their mild singing is soulful onlybecause there's no competent pop that isn't anymore. Their goopy hitballad has nothing on a little something called ''Heaven's Missing anAngel.'' And next time--they promise, assuming like so many young foolsbefore them that there'll be one--they're going to write the materialthemselves. C MINUS

WILL OLDHAM: Joya (Drag City) ''Why are you sad?''inquired the alt-rock mag. ''I dunno,'' replied the former childactor d/b/a Palace and such. ''I guess I was born.'' Admired forhis reticence, sexual ambivalence, and general refusal of formal commitment, Imean closure, Oldham lacks neither talent nor originality, and up against sometruly lousy competition this is his most melodic record. But to declare him a newavatar of Appalachian purity is absurd, not just because he's a rich city kidwho can't sing, but because his purity is a candid affectation--a standardvariation on late alt's agoraphobic cultivation of ineptitude as a token ofspiritual superiority. Why is he sad? Because sad is easier than happy--almostcomforting, in a chickenshit way. C PLUS

ROLLINS BAND: Come In and Burn (DreamWorks) Success doesn'tsuit this drug addict, who will kick caffeine only when they synthesize rageitself. Since I got big yucks out of 1992's spoken-word twofer The BoxedLife, which recalled a lab-assistant job and other homely pursuits, I am entitledto grouse about the grim star diary that is 1997's spoken-word twofer BlackCoffee Blues. And while it's no surprise that this thrash-and-churn is hismetalest metal ever, it's amazing that Spielberg-Katzenberg-Geffen madeRollins their flagship rocker--for all his corp clout and cult cred, he was offthe charts a month after he muscled on. As pathetic as it is for aging SpinalTaps to fabricate melodrama out of an adolescent despair they remember viagroupies and fan mail, it's even more pathetic never to feel anything else. CMINUS

THE ROYAL PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA: Plays the Music of Oasis (Music Club)Horny minisymphonies with a trap drummer and even, unless my ears deceive me, theoccasional electric guitar. Maybe it's a wonderful world after all. C

SUGAR RAY: Floored (Lava/Atlantic) Crude for sure, without anythingto say or much to say it with, they nevertheless have some punky life to them,which I say is enhanced by their blatant ska and hip hop rips. What's mostdepressing about them is that their success makes sense--they're the nearestthing to a fresh young rock band the market or the''underground'' has kicked up this year. Not counting Radish, ofcourse. B MINUS

THE VERVE PIPE: Villains (RCA) Although bands like this stilloffend idealists, you can't call them pseudoalternative anymore, because theydon't bother pretending. They're just rockers who crash the album chart,where the money is, from the singles chart, where they're supposedly nolonger welcome--in other words, pop bands who can play their axes. There'sSan Francisco's gold-certified Third Eye Blind, whose little sex kinks aretoo catchy to get het up about. There's Orlando's double-platinumMatchbox 20, whose breakthrough hit some mistakenly (as is always claimed)believe promotes spousal abuse. But the one I really can't stand is thisnear-pseudoalternative one, grown men from Michigan who released two indie albumsbefore their major-label debut catapulted to platinum on a soggy prowomanmorality tale aimed at frat rats, who are urged not to drive girls to suicide bydumping them. The CD's gone now, but the single has stuck around for ninemonths, and when Brian Vander Ark finally emotes the chorus, it's like, Idunno, grunge lives. C

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