Cleanup Time

Apple Venus Volume 1
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Since their outtakes weren't even rags or bones and their idea of a class pop arranger was the same as Elton John's, I figured that if they were feuding with their record company their record company was right. But after years of orchestral fops à la Eric Matthews and Duncan Sheik, I'm ready for McCartney fans who can festoon their famous tunes with something resembling wit and grace. Studio rats being studio rats, the lyrics aren't as deep as Andy and Colin think they are, but at least irrelevant doesn't equal obscure, humorless, or lachrymose. The next rock and roller dull-witted enough to embark on one of those de facto Sinatra tributes should give Partridge a call. B PLUS

Pick Hits

Jay-Z Vol. 3 . . . Life and Times of S. Carter
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Sean Carter isn't the first crime-linked hitmaker with a penchant for kicking broads out of bed at 6:15 in the morning. Frank Sinatra beat him to it. Right, Sinatra never boasted about his own callousness—not publicly, in song—and that's a big difference. Jay-Z has too many units tied up in playing the now-a-rapper-now-a-thug "reality" game with his customers, thugs and fantasists both, and only when he lets the token Amil talk back for a verse does he make room for female reality. But the rugged, expansive vigor of this music suggests both come-fly-with-me cosmopolitanism and the hunger for excitement that's turned gangster hangouts into musical hotbeds from Buenos Aires to Kansas City. You don't expect a song called "Big Pimpin' " to sound as if the tracks were recorded in Cairo. This one does. A

Goodie Mob
World Party
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Not to truck with the boogie bromide that spiritual uplift requires certified fun, but this album is anything but the pop retreat the conscious slot it as. Quiet as it's kept, message was always icing for these Dirty South pathfinders anyway, and this is the first time their music has ever achieved the infectious agape that's always been claimed for it. The mood recalls early go-go—a funk so all-embracing that anyone who listens should be caught up in its vital vibe. But after 20 years of hip-hop, the rhythmic reality is far trickier than Chuck Brown or Trouble Funk ever dreamed—as is Cee-Lo's high-pitched overdrive, which may yet be remembered as one of the great vocal signatures of millennial r&b. A MINUS

Dud of the Month

Christina Aguilera
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"Genie in a Bottle" was such a dazzlingly clever piece of teen self-exploration cum sexploitation that it seemed the better part of valor to hope it was a fluke. But this was avoidance—like LeAnn and unlike Britney, Christina already has "adult" grit and phrasing down pat, and so threatens to join Gloria, Mariah, Celine, and LeAnn herself in the endless parade of Diane Warren–fueled divas-by-fiat hitting high notes and signifying less than nothing. "What a Girl Wants" is clever, too, but in a far less ingratiating way—like its two-hour promotional video writ small, it raises the question of how this ruthlessly atypical young careerist can presume to advise girls not cursed with her ambition, and the fear that some of them will make her a role model regardless. Give me Left Eye any day. C PLUS

Additional Consumer News

Honorable Mention:
The Beta Band (Astralwerks): still lost in sound, but oriented enough here to make tunes out of it ("The Hard One," "Round the Bend"); Buzzcocks, Modern (Go-Kart): looking for the same new love with the same new tunes ("Thunder of Hearts," "Why Compromise?"); Ian Dury & the Blockheads, Mr. Love Pants (Ronnie Harris import): Mr. Smarty Pants mocks meritocracy and enjoys his body ("Jack Shit George," "Geraldine"); She Mob, Cancel the Wedding (Spinster Playground): three women in wigs shout their shouts and tell their weird, unassuming tales ("Teacher," "Prozac"); Mark Lanegan, I'll Take Care of You (Sub Pop): by my count, seven varieties of musical "authenticity" in 11 cover takeovers ("Together Again," "I'll Take Care of You"); Bis, Intendo (Grand Royal): cute, and not just the way demos are cute ("Girl Star," "Statement of Intent''); [File Under Prince], Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic (Arista): put it this way—two decades after "What'd I Say," Ray Charles's shtick was a lot tireder ("Hot Wit U," "Undisputed"); Dolly Parton, The Grass Is Blue (Sugar Hill): bluegrass isn't magic—she could put her back into these songs because she didn't get a hernia writing them ("Cash on the Barrelhead," "I'm Gonna Sleep With One Eye Open"); the Neckbones, The Lights Are Getting Dim (Fat Possum/Epitaph): the dissolute tradition, with nuggets as roots ("Cardiac Suture," "Reckless Night"); Bis, Social Dancing (Grand Royal): from a punk band on top of the world to a disco band who want to stay there ("I'm a Slut," "Making People Normal"); Demolition Doll Rods (Matador): two girls, one guy, no pants—sex and more sex and rock and roll ("Married for the Weekend," "U Look Good"); Knitting on the Roof (Knitting Factory): Fiddler fiddled, less arrantly than you might fear (Magnetic Fields, "If I Were a Rich Man"; Come, "Do You Love Me?"); Melky Sedeck, Sister and Brother (MCA): conscious siblings though they may be, they do sex best ("Shake It," "Attraction"); Beck, Midnite Vultures (DGC): does eventually get funky, if anybody cares but me ("Pressure Zone," "Peaches & Cream," "Debra"); Magnolia (Reprise): Aimee Mann's most flattering setting to date, not to mention Supertramp's (Aimee Mann, "One," "You Do"); Linda Ronstadt & Emmylou Harris, Western Wall: The Tucson Sessions (Asylum): tribute to the modern artsong, country-folk division ("Western Wall," "1917"); Cobra Verde, Nightlife (Motel): if Bryan Ferry was a theoretical dandy, which was hard, then John Petkovic is a theoretical theoretical dandy, which is harder—and he's also John Petkovic ("Conflict," "One Step Away From Myself").

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