Consumer Guide

Six of these 12 picks recast known compositions, and only two of the six are in the rock tradition. But I did find one medium-obscure alt band worth writing about. One.

ALANIS MORISSETTE: Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie (Maverick/Reprise)If "pop" means anything anymore, it ain't this. As a SoundScan-certified megadeal, she's outgrown the bright appeal of pop the way she's outgrown the punky abrasions that gave the debut its traction off the blocks. The mammoth riffs, diaristic self-analysis, and pretentious Middle Eastern sonorities of this music mark it as "rock," albeit rock with tunes. And in this context I suck it up, feeling privileged to listen along with all the young women whose struggles Morissette blows up to such a scale. Here's hoping lots of young men feel the same. A MINUS

P.M. DAWN: Dearest Christian, I'm So Very Sorry for Bringing You Here. Love, Dad (Gee Street/V2) Jesus Wept boded mediocrity— although composing is no harder than sampling, it is different, and once he'd redefined himself as one more R&Bsongwriter, Prince Be's all-embracing aesthetic and fluky chart run seemed over. But working with a steady band, a sometime collaborator, and the occasional borrowed riff, he revives his spaced-out spirituality as music if not commodity, transfiguring his grumpy disillusion with melodies, vocal harmonies, and now also guitar parts, all lovingly designed to convince his son Christian to be here now. A MINUS

RED HOT + RHAPSODY (Antilles) Bacharachians please note: this AIDS-fighting Gershwin tribute is how great songwriters make themselves felt. Beyond near has-beens Bowie and Sinéad and the all-too- inoffensive Natalie Merchant, the contributors are marginal. Spearhead, Sarah Cracknell, Morcheeba, Finlay Quaye, to stick to standouts, flounder as often as they fly. But entrusted with this material they soar or at least flutter about, as do Smoke City and Majestic 12, both previously unknown to me. Defined by keyboard textures from sampledelica to Hammond B-3, this is a seductive showcase of the moody sensibility shared by acid jazz and trip hop. Now if only the sensibility had Gershwins of its own— well, soon they'd no doubt find themselves something better to do. A MINUS

Pick Hit: P.M. Dawn
Pick Hit: P.M. Dawn

STEVE REICH: Music for 18 Musicians (Nonesuch) Grown even more universal (and likable) in posttechno retrospect, Reich's mathematically ebbing-and-surging facsimile of eternal return is the great classic of minimalist trance, at once prettier and more austere than Terry Riley or Philip Glass. Eleven minutes longer than in the ECM original "owing to a tempo change governed by the breathing pattern of the clarinetist," this relaxed rerecording will appeal to graduates of the chillout room. But though rock and rollers can go with its flow, it's not a true reinterpretation like Bang on a Can's Eno, and I prefer the intensities I learned to love. Maybe Beethoven can be rehashed forever (and maybe not). With Reich, one is all any nonprofessional needs. B PLUS

BUTCH THOMPSON: Thompson Plays Joplin (Daring) One reason Scott Joplin's rhythmic revolution comes through so faintly on record is that it was swallowed whole by the tempo of 20th-century life. And it's true enough, as anyone who's ventured near Treemonisha knows, that Joplin craved respect. But that's no reason to forgive all the concert pianists who've arted up and toned down his beat since Joshua Rifkin, and with a firm hand, the man from Lake Wobegon sets them straight. His Joplin doesn't rock, swing, or anything like it. But at their most liltingly delicate these rags are set in motion, as he says, by "the same driving pulse that underlies all of America's truly original music." Marvin Hamlisch go back where you came from. A MINUS

Dud of the Month:

PLASTIKMAN: Artifakts (BC) (Novamute) One needn't feel deep sympathy for the minimalist project to find use and pleasure in the right Brian Eno or David Behrman, or to conclude that, all subjective affinities aside, Tangerine Dream were full of it. Richie Hawtin is at once sparer and beatier, but not by much, and anyone who would sit there for an hour finding out where he's going has too much time to kill. The belated third volume of a trilogy whose earlier installments I dutifully checked out and guiltlessly discarded, this climaxes midway through with an uncanny evocation of static going down the drain before breaking into a cute little piece of electrofunk that might be sampled by someone with more to say. Then it moves on to Tangerine Dream. B MINUS

Additional Consumer News

Honorable Mention:

Elvis Costello With Burt Bacharach, Painted From Memory (Mercury):sings Burt's chewy music lots better than Burt, not to mention Hal, who proves a healthy influence on his poesy ("Such Unlikely Lovers," "The Long Division"); Baby Sounds (Kid Rhino):ambient bio ("Baby Sounds [Part Two: Toddlers]," "Baby Sounds [Part One: Babies]"); Ultimate Christmas(Arista): chestnuts roasting on an open fire plus surprise gifts— but who invited Kenny, Carly, Sarah, Luciano? (Aretha Franklin, "Winter Wonderland"; Luther Vandross, "O Come All Ye Faithful"); Junior Brown,Long Walk Back (Curb): virtuosity as novelty act, meaning virtuosity that knows itself ("Stupid Blues," "Peelin' Taters"); James Brown, I'm Back(Georgia Lina/Mercury): it was like you never left ("Funk on Ah Roll [S-Class Mix]," "James on the Loose"); Clem Snide, You Were a Diamond (Tractor Beam): deadpan country-folk, nasty when you turn your back ("Nick Drake Tape," "Chinese Baby"); Jad Fair & Yo La Tengo,Strange but True (Matador): Jad never runs dry, but he does trickle off sometimes ("Circus Strongman Runs for PTA President," "Texas Man Abducted by Aliens for Outer Space Joy Ride"); Jay-Z,Vol. 2...Hard Knock Life(Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam): meet Keybmaster Swizz Beats, the missing link between Charles Strouse and Too Short ("Hard Knock Life," "If I Should Die"); Little Charlie and the Nightcats,Shadow of the Blues (Alligator): ain't love a bitch, ain't Stratocasters bitchin' ("New Old Lady," "Dirty Dealin' Mama"); Bette Midler,Bathhouse Betty (Warner Bros.): reclaiming her integrity if not— waddaya want?— her edge ("I'm Beautiful," "Lullabye in Blue"); Silver Jews,American Water (Drag City): noise-tune simplified for baritone monotone ("Random Rules," "Night Society"); Elliott Smith,XO (DreamWorks): high tune, low affect ("Waltz #2 [XO]," "Everybody Cares, Everybody Understands"); Chris Isaak, Speak of the Devil (Reprise): rockaballads AC ("Speak of the Devil," "This Time"); Matchbox 20, Yourself or Someone Like You (Lava/Atlantic): clods have feelings too ("Real World," "Long Day").

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