Consumer Guide

KILLAH PRIEST: Heavy Mental (Geffen) Shaolin mystagogy meets millenarian panic in music for the end time. And though the album may be paranoid, that doesn't mean nobody's out to get it--just like any other product of the projects. "Science projects," Priest calls them, amid biblical citations, images of crucifixion, 2001 fantasies, warp-speed verbal drive-bys, and this Inspirational Verse: "I roam the earth's surface/Snatching purses/Allergic/To Catholic churches/What's the purpose?/Religious worship/Is worthless." Preach, killah. A MINUS

CHRIS KNIGHT (Decca) This being Nashville, of course they claim his secret is reality, but I say it's literature. He's a writer pure and simple, schooled in the economical everyday; if he'd grown up in California instead of Kentucky, he'd have tried his hand at sitcoms. I love the way he finds a pungent trope and tops it--drives his truck to Timbuktu and then lies down on a bed of nails. The music is spare enough to signify reality, and big enough to heighten it. A MINUS

MARY LOU LORD: Got No Shadow (Work) Only indie perverts would hyperventilate over Lord's breathy voice, which needs every booster jet mind can devise or money can buy. And only indie perverts would object to her long-aborning major-label debut, where she gets the help she needs. The production is Amy Rigby--style neotraditionalism, with Roger McGuinn rippling under one flowing surge just to mark the concept, and, overcoming her fondness for Nick Saloman (Bevis Frond, don't you know anything?), she makes the most of covers from Elizabeth Cotten to Freedy Johnston. Equally impressive, every once in a while she finds the gumption to eke out a song so winsomely conceived and solidly constructed it belongs in the canon she adores. Sometimes Saloman even helps--the cowritten lead track is a hummer worthy of Stuart Musgrove (Belle and Sebastian, don't you know anything at all?). A MINUS

PRIMAL SCREAM: Vanishing Point (Reprise) As someone who saw the title film stoned in 1971, and loved it, I agree that this is one of the few putatively psychedelic albums ever to evoke the distractible ecstasy of actual psychedelic experience, flitting from detail to fascinating, ultimately meaningless detail. Crucially, the moods and referents that flash past are anchored by tunes and sounds so simple a zonked zombie can relate to them. But as someone not altogether dismissive of the cofeature, Panic in Needle Park (Charles Theater on Avenue B, you could look it up), I must also note that, pace the highly apposite Stones rip that takes the trip back to earth, "medication" has never killed a hole that didn't come back gaping the next morning--a corny truth that renders this an achievement best admired from a sane distance. B PLUS

BONNIE RAITT: Fundamental (Capitol) I'd rest easier claiming this album sounds like middle-aged sex--creaky, caring, not shy about adjusting its groove--if it weren't for the other thing it sounds like, which is the debut album she cut with a bunch of folkie eccentrics when she was 21. So just say it sounds like Bonnie Raitt, old before her time as always. Songwise it's a little less consistent than Luck of the Draw, but now that miracle worker Don Was has withdrawn I can't believe how relieved I am he's gone. Finally there's some mess to go with her slide--Tchad Blake's kind of mess, in which junk is recycled into decor and everybody leaves coffee cups on the speaker cases. Some of them come from Starbucks. Some are straight out the vending machine. Some are Fiestaware originals. A MINUS

SMASH MOUTH: Fush Yu Mang (Interscope) By calculation or osmosis, this unrad agglomeration of semiprofessional entertainers puts bells on the humorous humanism of ska twice removed. As you'd figure, the key is songs, most of them by late-arriving guitarist Greg Camp, whose hardcore links are even more theoretical than his bandmates'. His fondly ignorant take on the hippie moment could be Bertrand Russell by pop standards, and having survived one little sure shot that wasn't (a War cover, how progressive), Interscope is finally getting behind the album-opening "Flo." I couldn't swear radio is ready for a cheerful ditty begging the title lesbian to take the singer's girlfriend back. But the world is. A MINUS


Dud of the Month

ERIC CLAPTON: Pilgrim (Reprise) Actually, Lord, there's been a misunderstanding. Remember when we said it was OK for You to sing? What we meant was...well, first we just wanted You to get rid of Jack Bruce. Then it was more like, Don't be shy, Sonny Boy Williamson didn't have that much range either. But never, never, never did we say, You have the right if George Benson does. Or, You could be the next Phil Collins. Or, Guitars are for sound effects anyway. Really, God. That wasn't the idea at all. C PLUS


Additional Consumer News

HONORABLE MENTION:

B.B. King, Deuces Wild (MCA): best cameos of an albumful: Tracy Chapman, Mick Jagger, Eric Clapton ("The Thrill Is Gone," "Paying the Cost To Be the Boss," "Rock Me Baby"); Loudon Wainwright III, Little Ship (Charisma Records America, Inc.): jape, jape against the dying of the light ("Four Mirrors," "So Damn Happy"); George Clinton & the P-Funk All Stars, Live and Kickin' (Intersound): more funky than fresh, their best live one withal ("Flashlight," "Cosmic Slop"); Chumbawamba, Tubthumper (Republic/Universal): tub as platform, tub as cornucopia, tub as slop bucket ("Tubthumping," "Amnesia"); Fat Beats & Brastraps: New MCs (Rhino): "Unknown MCs" may be the truth, but that don't make it justice (Nonchalant, "5 O'Clock"; Sha-Key, "Soulsville"); Rakim, The 18th Letter: The Book of Life (Universal): the canon has a clarity the comeback can't match ("When I'm Flowin'," "It's Been a Long Time"); Bascom Lamar Lunsford, Ballads, Banjo Tunes, and Sacred Songs of Western North Carolina (Smithsonian/Folkways): as imperious as Odetta, and he's got a right ("On a Bright and Summer's Morning," "Old Mountain Dew"); DJ Shadow, Preemptive Strike (Mo Wax/FFRR): his best here was better the first time ("In/Flux," "Organ Donor [Extended Overhaul]"); Madonna, Ray of Light (Maverick/Warner Bros.): pretty sensual for pop enlightenment, thank God ("Skin," "Candy Perfume Girl"); Cappadonna, The Pillage (Razor Sharp/Epic Street): "Wu-Tang Productions Presents" ("Milk the Cow," "Run"); Robbie Fulks, South Mouth (Bloodshot): in the great tradition of Dwight "Little Man Whose Name Is Saul" Yoakam (and Steve "Jap Guitar" Earle), he vows to deliver Nashville from the dread "faggot in a hat" ("Dirty-Mouthed Flo," "Fuck This Town"); Fat Beats & Brastraps: Battle Rhymes & Posse Cuts (Rhino): bitch-bitch-bitch and brother-brother-brother (Shante, "Big Mama"; Roxanne Shante vs. Sparky Dee, "Round 1 [Uncensored]"); All Saints (London): self-created prefab ("Trapped," "If You Want To Party"); Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Friends of Mine (HighTone): hootenannies, they useta call 'em ("Walls of Red Wing," "Me and Billy the Kid").

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