Consumer Guide

I'm getting too tolerant in my old age. It's Turkey Shoot time,I'm in there shit-mining as usual, and can I find a meaningful ska album tohate? They all seem utilitarian enough to me. Likewise with the Spice Girls, andthe snazzy wallpaper that is drum 'n' bass. And most''alternative'' is either halfway decent or of no earthlyinterest. It's an ominous sign when bad normal pop is our major outrage.

ANOKHA: Soundz of the Asian Underground (Quango) With zip to do withbhangra, and no commitment to drum 'n' bass, here's a traveloguedesigned to remind us that tabla players (presenter Talvin Singh, for instance!)have been hand-producing something like breakbeats for years. Not exactly likebreakbeats, though. Anyway, who buys records solely for breakbeats? (Wait, Idon't want to know.) C PLUS

RICHARD BUCKNER: Devotion and Doubt (MCA) ''So afterall those months we're splitting up, and it had to happen, but I'mfeeling like shit. We pack the U-Haul, and of course everything in the kitchen ishers except these big jars of oregano and garlic powder I bought in a dollarstore to spice up my pizza. It's so late she stays over, and I watch hersleep, you know? God. But she wakes up pretty early and we kiss goodbye and shegets in the car and then what do you think happens? The U-Haul breaks free andthere's dishes all over the road. It seemed awful at the time, the mess andthe delay had me stressing, but I gotta laugh about it now. And you know thefunniest part? Without her noticing I kept some of those dishes--you'reeating your pizza off one right now. More oregano?'' Well, that's howI'd replot the best song here--in Buckner's version it's ditches allover the road, and he still thinks the whole thing was awful. And of course, hehas just the sensitive baritone to make awful seem awful romantic to sad sacksand the women who love them. B MINUS

PAULA COLE: This Fire (Imago/Warner Bros.) Before anyone knewshe'd go platinum, netcrit Glenn McDonald presciently declared Cole the newqueenpin of a female tradition he traced from Kate Bush through Peter Gabriel,Melissa Etheridge, and Sarah McLachlan. Although McDonald sanely declared thisgenre the obverse of male-identified metal, a skeptic with no tolerance forsubpeaks in either would like to note that each is beholden to''classical'' precepts of musical dexterity andgenitalia-to-the-wall expression. Where Kate Bush overwhelms petty biases asinexorably as Led Zep, Cole is just a romantic egotist who can't resistturning ordinary human problems into three-act dramas. Kate Bush fans will loveher. C PLUS

DAYS OF THE NEW (Outpost) As marketing, pure genius. Looks likealt-country, no electric guitars even, yet is actually America's answer toSilverchair. And hey, it's sincere--17-year-old heartland frontman TravisMeeks really is depressed, really has immersed in Soundgarden, really does thinkit's deep to hook your single to the all-purpose trope''abuse.'' This is why grown-ups need Hanson. It's also whythey need Radish. C

BRIAN ENO: The Drop (Thirsty Ear) Ever the bullshitter, the St.Petersburg (Russia) muso cites as influences Me'Shell NdegeOcello, Fela, andthe Mahavishnu Orchestra, and as an admirer of all three I only wish I could hearthe way musos hear. To me it sounds like he got stuck between Music for Airportsand Wrong Way Up and spun his hard drive for 74 minutes. He hears melodies whosevagueness he extols, I hear vaguenesses whose attenuation I rue. He hears basslines, I hear tinkle. He hears ''sourness,'' I hear more tinkle.C

NAS ESCOBAR, FOXY BROWN, AZ AND NATURE: The Firm--The Album(Interscope) After honoring Bernard Herrmann with some keyb-simulated RZA, Drerecedes (none too soon) and the music spares out--Wasis Diop kora sample today,mbira tomorrow. Foxy's pussycentrism gives the finger to the funniest maleorgasm on record. And black Mafia fantasies threaten white male corporateoppression. (Just kidding.) B MINUS

JOHN FAHEY: City of Refuge (Tim/Kerr) ''My category isalternative, period,'' avers the last intelligent person to make such aclaim in this millennium. He doesn't want to be folk or New Age, and who canblame him? But if he were, some rich dunderhead might insist that he treat bluesand pop rarities to his dolorously deliberate touch, like on those old Reprisealbums Byron Coley sneers at. Instead he's encouraged to stagger toward anobscure destination mere mortals would noodle around, dumbfounding bystanderswith the scraps of sound that flake off his beard as he goes. Once in a whiletunes poke through the refuse, notably that of ''Chelsey Silver, PleaseCall Home.'' These occasion proud huzzahs from young fools who can onlyforgive themselves such emoluments after a good cleansing scourge of spare soloindirection. Their self-disgust is our loss and Fahey's ticket to wankdom.Even the meandering Cul de Sac get more out of him. C PLUS

HERITAGE (Six Degrees/Island) I don't know why DarolAnger's name was left off his pet project, but the effect is to conceptualizeit. As a result, these ''new interpretations of American rootsmusic'' seem of a piece with the rest of 1997's folk revival revival,in which the Smithsonian's Harry Smith reissue and Rounder's Alan Lomaxexhumation joined the alt-country bubble and the revitalization of Bob Dylan in asingle antifuturist countercurrent. But just as there's Americana and thenAmericana, there's futurism and then futurism--why do you think they call itNew Age? And this, by Jiminy, is New Age Americana: fiddler Anger is a WindhamHill stalwart long active on the folk-jazz cusp, which has been the worst of bothworlds since Marin County learned to swing. Guest vocalist Jane Siberry opens'er up and brings 'er home, and in between Willie Nelson and Mary-ChapinCarpenter, who outdid themselves on Dylan's Jimmie Rodgers tribute, sink intothe intelligent sentimentality that is the bane of each. Ditto for long-windedvirtuosos David Lindley, David Grisman, and John Hartford, all of whom can besharp when somebody jabs them a little. The smug soundtrack to a PBS specialabout tribulation and survival on the lost frontier. C MINUS

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

PAUL WELLER: Heavy Soul (Island) Forget the dance compsclogging the top 10 of a land that now believes 1989 was 1977. Never mind who theLighthouse Family might be. If you want to know how little U.S. and UK shareanymore, pull out your cherished copy of Weller's acclaimed 1993 comebackWild Wood (wha?) and note that in its roots-AOR wake the artist to whom thisminor punk is now compared is Neil Young. Don't they get anything over there?C

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