Consumer Guide

THE PLASTIC PEOPLE OF THE UNIVERSE: 1997 (Globus International import) A great band at half the age and three-quarters the speed, they fended off the dreary horror of Prague '68 with a sardonic despond that the routine oppressions of Prague '78 ground toward somber mysticism. Eventually, as happens with sects right and wrong, their fellowship soured, and only by decree of their artist president did they regroup for democracy at this gig. But though they could still play the sax-viola-guitar-keybs-gripe top and bass-forward bottom of their old music, they weren't miserable enough to recreate its mood. At a clip that suited their existential confidence and funkier, younger drummer, their spiritual alienation fell away to reveal the sonic singularity that gave it form--a Reed-Zappa amalgam so Euro it makes a nominal blues seem like sleaze for an old Elmore Leonard flick, and so intent on forward motion that the part writing only spurs it on its way. A

PULNOC: Live in New York (Globus International import) Cut the night after the U.S. debut of the Plastic People Mach II, which produced the never-released board tape I called Live at P.S. 122 when I named it my favorite recording of 1989, this subtracts a two-song encore and adds local avant-Slavophiles Elliott Sharp on saxophone and Gary Lucas on guitar. Unbeknownst to me till I examined the booklet, it also translates half my concert review into Czech. I'm flattered, but I still prefer the blunter, wilder version I've treasured all these years. The power of this music is its reclamation of arena-rock as motor of liberation, which in Eastern Europe it was back then, and this illusion is not enhanced by embellishment or distraction. On the other hand, it isn't demolished by them either. Covering William Blake and Lou Reed, deploying cello as low-tech synthesizer, putting all their marbles behind a lead singer who's six months pregnant, they rock out as if they can make walls fall. A MINUS

QUEEN LATIFAH: Order in the Court (Motown) A success story whose taste in beats has always run pop, she vowed to "burn MC's like calories" and was off the charts in a month for her trouble. Oh well--if Chuck D can't get respect with Spike Lee behind him, what can a fat-flaunting, sitcom-fronting, dyke-playing woman expect? Here's hoping she swings every way she wants and recommending her sexual ambivalence to females everywhere. Things get bland and icky, especially when designated ingenue Inaya Jafan makes nice to the fellas, but the thematic "Yes/No" is educational right down to its tender skit. And for what it's worth, by the end of the record she seems to be proposing to the guy it's aimed at. Really, 28 isn't too old--and Latifah knows it. B PLUS

SOUL COUGHING: El Oso (Slash/Warner Bros.) They wish they could call it Il Oso, counterposing parallel verticals against circle-squiggle-circle palindrome in a visualization of their true passion: abstraction. They can't, of course, Spanish is Spanish just like groove is groove, and because they know the fundamental things apply, their abstractions still hit you in the gut. Voice-keyb-bass up top are distinct and autonomous, a cable not a gumbo, with the upright romanticism of Sebastian Steinberg and try-anything soundplay of Mark De Gli Antoni providing human touch--as they'd better, because rather than anchoring or signposting, M. Doughty's words establish his intelligence and then bounce us back into the aural construct for emotion and such. You may say you pine for his sarcasm. He just wonders if you thought he'd be corny forever. A MINUS

SUNZ OF MAN: (The Last Shall Be First) (Red Ant) "This rap game ain't what it seems/Artists get creamed turn fiend sellin' people a dream," observe these "intellectuals, rhymin' professionals" ("there go the ladies in our directional"), and this bothers them. Pronouncing it cog-knack, exploring their Maccabee heritage in secondhand Yiddish, singsonging a disarmingly tuneless "tryin' to free our minds of all the drugs and crime," Sunz of Man are poor righteous teachers, street but not hard. And though their Wu-schooled musical religion is more Bernard Herrmann than James Brown, they're deeply proud to share a studio with Earth, Wind & Fire. A MINUS

DUD OF THE MONTH:

FAT JOE: Don Cartagena (Mystic/Big Beat/Atlantic) Promising "the best in hardcore hip hop," the former work boy and bus robber wants to show up the--what was that again, let me check my notes--"fake niggas" who are ripping off his former lifestyle. So he orders plenty murders and disrespects plenty hos (as opposed to "intelligent, civilized divas") before proceeding to the usual violin-drenched do-what-I-say-not-what-I-did--aimed, he says, at "the drug-dealin', thug-ass motherfuckin' niggas listening to Fat Joe." And though Noreaga's cameo sounds as soulful as Otis Redding by comparison, I believe Joe is more enlightened than some of these citizens. I also believe the rest of us can happily live without him. C PLUS


Additional Consumer News

HONORABLE MENTION:

Lauryn Hill, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (Ruffhouse): p.c. record of the year--songs soft, singing ordinary, rapping skilled, rhymes up and down, skits de trop, production subtle and terrific ("Lost Ones," "Superstar"); Outkast, Aquemini (LaFace): men enough to call choruses "hooks," they probably would have quit the life even without them ("Slouch," "Aquemini"); MC Lyte, Seven & Seven (EastWest): Missy-of-the-Year jump start, '70s-funk cruise control ("In My Business," "Too Fly," "Top Billin' "); Fatboy Slim, You've Come a Long Way, Baby (Astralwerks): I ask you, does Weird Al hit paydirt every time out? ("The Rockafeller Skank," "In Heaven"); Brandy, Never Say Never (Atlantic): America's sweetheart, and why not? ("The Boy Is Mine," "U Don't Know Me," "Almost Doesn't Count"); The Roots All Stars, Gathering of the Spirits (Shanachie): Mutabaruka, Sly, Robbie, and friends meet the predancehall elite (Culture, "Blackman King"; the Mighty Diamonds, "Blackman Pride"); Wu-Tang Killa Bees, The Swarm (Wu-Tang): miscellaneous war stories and a Holocaust one-of-a-kind ("Never Again," "Cobra Clutch"); Everlast, Whitey Ford Sings the Blues (Tommy Boy): not much to boast about beyond being alive, and better for it ("The Letter," "7 Years"); Lyricist Lounge Volume 1 (Rawkus): can't beat the atmosphere (Word a' Mouth, "Famous Last Words"; Bahamadia and Rah Digga, "Be OK"); Alpha Yaya Diallo: Aduna "The World" (Tinder): Guinean doctor's son learns guitar in Malinke, botany in college, and pan-Africanism in Vancouver, British Columbia ("Yéké Yéké," "Aduna"); Monica, The Boy Is Mine (Arista): a B-diva with actual vocal technique, and why not? ("The Boy Is Mine," "Misty Blue"); Ted Hawkins, The Final Tour (Evidence): died trying ("Bring It On Home Daddy," "There Stands the Glass").

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