Consumer Guide

I suppose it is inevitable that the onrush of good-to-great hip hop albums will soon lose some of its force. I only have a couple waiting in the wings. But when the Foxy Brown is pretty good, you know something is happening. And don't think alt-rock is throwing it in, either.

KING SUNNY ADE: Odù (Atlantic/ Mesa)Ade is no longer a signifier of polyrhythmic African mystery— he's a lesson learned and absorbed. Recorded almost live in a Louisiana studio, this is a convincing statement by an individual titan who dominates juju the way Joseph Shabalala does mbube. Ade's slightly roughened pipes subtract less than Jonah Samuel's piano and organ add to an almost jazzlike synthesis of studio-imposed concision and party-time expandability. And the lyrics are translated and transliterated, situating the music in its culture for anyone who cares. A MINUS

BLONDIE: No Exit (Beyond)Forms lose their spring; social configurations fissure and disintegrate. But what usually wears out first is the commitments they inspire, and here the commitment is as palpable as such ironic formalists can make it. Chris Stein is still a great listener, and Debbie Harry never stopped growing. She sings with a force and technical command unimaginable in 1980, and producer Craig Leon comes back at her resonance for resonance. No new song will equal your very favorites. But as a "Rapture"/ "One Way or Another" guy, I'll trade the sexo-mystico "My Skin" for "Heart of Glass," the Euro-friendly "Maria" for "Call Me," and No Exit for, oh, Eat to the Beat. A MINUS

BOUKMAN EKSPERYANS: Revolutìon (Tuff Gong)These righteous Haitians are thought of as a pan-African party machine, but in the aural fact they're devotional. Well past their new flavor moment, they turn out to be one of those bands that develops its craft rather than one of those bands that hits you over the head with an idea they proceed to wear out. Something like soulful, drenched with synthesizers because synthesizers seem natural, their impassioned trance recalls Nyabinghi chants more than Holiness hymns, and is closely related to both. B PLUS

STEVE EARLE AND THE DEL MCCOURY BAND: The Mountain (E-Squared)With bluegrass "more comfortable all the time," the sometime country-rocker turns in his strongest and loosest record of the decade. But bluegrass isn't what it is— it's too comfortable. I was so impressed with how the music moaned and shivered and flapped around in the wind I wondered how I'd ever overlooked McCoury's outfit until I played their new CD, which is just as clean and tight and anal as every other spoor of Bill Monroe I've ever swept out the door. Slurring like a moonshiner who's been on a mush diet since his bird dog died, Earle rowdies up McCoury's sharpsters till they turn all hairy and bounce off walls. And though the songs are less literary, more generic — blues and breakdown, "pinko folk song" and "real-live-bad-tooth hillbilly murder ballad"— literature is Earle's critical selling point, not his artistic strength. He's a singer first. A MINUS

EMINEM: The Slim Shady LP (Aftermath/Interscope)Anybody who believes kids are naive enough to take this record literally is right to fear them, because that's the kind of adult teenagers hate. Daring moralizers to go on the attack while explicitly— but not (fuck you, dickwad) unambiguously— declaring itself a satiric, cautionary fiction, this platinum-bound cause célèbre runs short of ideas only toward the end, when Dre's whiteboy turns provocation into the dull sensationalism fools think is his whole story. Over an hour his cadence gets wearing, too. But he flat-out loves to rhyme— seizure/T-shirt, eyeballs/Lysol/my fault, BM/GM/be him/Tylenol PM/coliseum, Mike D/might be— and you have to love the way he slips in sotto voce asides from innocent bystanders. Sticking nine-inch nails through his eyelids, flattening a black bully with a four-inch broom, reminding his conscience-producer about Dee Barnes, watching helplessly as an abused Valley Girl OD's on his shrooms, cajoling his baby daughter Hailey into helping him get rid of her mom's body, he shows more comic genius than any pop musician since— Loudon Wainwright III? A MINUS

IMPERIAL TEEN: What Is Not To Love (London)Precisely the kind of smokescreen specialists now on their way to extinction at every major in the country, these understated gender-offenders respond to commercial clampdown by mooning around their bedrooms until their hooks are covered with mattress lint. They're true to their alt-bred school— foggier and coyer, yet sweeter than ever if you prove you love them, and hardly averse to reminding whoever's listening that they're "fucking congressmen," say. The brutal fact is that they're not going to break pop no matter how assiduously they polish their lissome tunes or sand down their intelligent noise. So I admire their resistance, and sometimes love it. A MINUS

THE OFFSPRING: Americana (Columbia)Four or five years late, they make selling out seem both easy! (unlike the major-label labor Ixnay on the Hombre) and fun! (unlike the fluke smash Smash). A dozen or two bpm faster than when they caught Green Day's punk wave, they sound like a Bad Religion whose catchy drone is at long last unencumbered by any message deeper than "The truth about the world is that crime does pay"— which, to their credit, makes them indignant— or, more generally, that "The Kids Aren't Alright." This truth they explore as fully as— but, as is only fitting given their relatively privileged upbringing, less solemnly than— any gangsta. Only on the title track do they get grandiose. And while keeping it light keeps them on the right side of their frat-boy base, it also makes the fuckups they mock and mourn seem all the more hurtful. A MINUS

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