Easy Money

Inevitably, a few fools will argue that the youth marketers' project of excising all meaning from their product is long overdue. But it can't be done. In a pop of easy money and disposable delight, there will always be wise guys sticking some ideas in just to make things even more fun. And some of those ideas will be worth sharing.

Mary J. Blige
Mary
(MCA)

Rather than hating playas, she's bored with them. Between Aretha and Lauryn and the sister who knocked on the door and just by being sincere convinced Mary she'd had Mary's man's baby, all that she can say is that she's ready to love someone serious and walk away from anyone who isn't. Unless you count Bennie and the Jets, her pop allies don't do all that much for her song sense, which is why her live album is still where to begin. But two more like this and she'll be ready for another. A girl who can come out of a Diane Warren song with no symptoms of soul death has performed a miracle that defied Al Green. A MINUS

Blink 182
Enema of the State
(MCA)

Ignore the porn-movie cover except insofar as it conveys terror. These guys are so frightened of females that they turn down sure sex from one hussy on grounds of name-dropping and reject another for being too quick with the zipper. There's no macho camouflage— girlophobia is their great subject. And boy, have they worked up some terrific defenses. If preemptive jealousy doesn't do the trick, there's always suicide, or abduction by aliens. Yet note it well— because they're out front about their little problem, "Going Away to College" is the love song the Descendents put Green Day on earth to inspire. A MINUS

Charlie Burton
One Man's Trash: The Charlie Burton Story: '77­'99
(Bulldog)

Since the dawn of the Sex Pistols, it's been art-for-art's-sake for this poet of song, whose evocations of succubi, coronary thrombosis, garbage, manners and morals, dead chickens in the middle of the road, and the varieties of romantic disaster have thrilled and enlightened music lovers in university towns cum state capitals from Lincoln, Nebraska, all the way to Austin, Texas. 'Tis oft claimed he can't sing a lick, but this well-culled collection demonstrates that he's learned to croon a slurp, not to mention rock a bite in the ass. And lest anyone whine about perpetual adolescence, he goes out proving how much he's grown in human understanding: "Without my woman," he intones gravely, "I'd be a hopeless sack of shit." A MINUS

THE COMEDIAN HARMONISTS
(Hannibal)

About 10 years ago, I fell for these Weimar pop phenoms in a five-hour documentary at the Public, where they performed American standards and trombone imitations in the vocal and sartorial regalia of the finest Lieder singers. The effect is somewhat less vivid on this, their first-ever U.S. release— although their harmonies penetrate, their comedy sometimes doesn't. But listen to them gurgle in tune before breaking into perfect German gibberish on "Kannst du pfeifen, Johanna?" and you'll get the idea. Beautywise they lived off the tenor of restaurant singer Ari Leschnikoff, likened by archivist Joe Boyd to Edith Piaf and Oum Kalsoum, though the Klezmatics' Lorin Sklamberg is more the point. A Bulgarian Jew, he was lucky to be merely deported when Goering broke up the integrated group in 1934. In the film, he's a thin old man in a dreary Bucharest housing project. He hasn't heard his own records in decades. He listens and weeps. A MINUS

DRIVE ME CRAZY
(Jive)

The time was right, so here it is— a concept album about teenpop. You get shameless, obvious, brilliant remixes on Britney (new jack title track) and BSB ("I Want It That Way" as cheese house). You get two excellent songs about how prefab teenpop is (by Barenaked Ladies and Silage, which means— I looked it up— "fodder converted into succulent feed"). You get an "I Want You Back" rip that reaffirms teenpop's inimitability. You get the Donnas proving they're whores by playing wholesome teenagers. You get Matthew Sweet sounding like an old man. You get Jive's next big push, Steps, who I hope trip, and great lost tracks by Plumb (?) and Mukla (not African, I don't think). And of course you get filler. B PLUS

En Vogue
Best of En Vogue
(EastWest)

By way of the crass product advisory they deserve, let it be recorded that 1992's Funky Divas captures their cultural moment and this one beats it song for song, including mild pleasantries from their undistinguished debut and adieu. Say ciao to the queens of air-kiss soul. B PLUS

Pere Ubu
Apocalypse Now
(Thirsty Ear)

Something has happened to David Thomas since this "special acoustic evening" in 1991, and though I'm tempted to call it art, it's probably just the art world. Thomas has always fiddled with art-rock, but only when he hit the museum circuit in the '90s did his respectable side get the better of him. It's impossible to imagine him endangering an ICA performance piece with "mind-dead rock" like "Non-Alignment Pact" and "I Wanna Be Your Dog"— for one thing, no attendee would think of requesting such a thing. And it's all too difficult to imagine him rocking a 1999 "acoustic evening" with such benign aggression and hang-loose cheer. "Enough fun," he announces grumpily as he cuts Iggy off at 40 seconds— leaving us to discover that "We Have the Technology" is yet to come. A MINUS

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