Romeo Must Die
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I'm not beatwise enough to swear that Timbaland is the first cause of all these tracks, but for sure all articulate a genrewide reaction to the textural overkill of the Wu-Tang imperium—a reaction that's now gone on so long I bet something else replaces it soon. So rather than a key to the future, take this boldly amelodic soundtrack as a summing up and Timbaland's titular executive production as an ascension into the noble realm of middle management. Note that all the lead voices and subproducers strutting their stuff add indispensable variety, and that it's singers rather than rappers—executive producer Aaliyah, Playa hiding the best cut in the 13 slot, the well-monikered Destiny's Child—who provide the high points. Are their half-tunes the future? Or is it possible that the earnest meaning mongers of the putatively old-school underground will pick up on a minimalism every bit as spare and considerably more meaningful than the retreads they're riding? A MINUS

All Hands on the Bad One Kill Rock Stars

Locked into a visceral style and sound that always maximizes their considerable and highly specific gifts, they could no more make a bad album than the Rolling Stones in 1967. Unfortunately, that doesn't render them immune to the experiential droughts that afflict all touring musicians, or to the media-studies clichés they fall back into when they get hung up on the meaning of their careers. So everything that's right with the three-part synergy and herky-jerk dynamics of "Was It a Lie?" doesn't convince me that the media victim it bemoans died so vainly or so significantly, and in general I prefer these songs as songs when they adduce the musicians' separate lives rather then their collective mission. But play "You're No Rock n' Roll Fun" on your broadcast medium of choice and I'll whoop and holler like I'd requested it myself. A MINUS

Teri Thornton
I'll Be Easy to Find Verve
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A veteran of polio, cancer, incarceration, and cabdriving whose perfect pitch and three-octave range were getting raves when she was in her twenties, Thornton transfigures the showboating artiness that puts pop fans off jazz singers. Since I've lived happily without Sarah Vaughan and Abbey Lincoln, at first I didn't trust my pleasure in the soulful concentration, harmonic subtlety, and deliciously curdled timbre of Thornton's first record since 1963. But from her self-composed blues to her rearranged "Lord's Prayer," her occasional piano to her consistent standards, this woman knows how to serve a song her way. If she's making something of "It Ain't Necessarily So" and "Nature Boy" at this late date, it's only because she's waited a long, long time. A MINUS

Yo La Tengo
And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out Matador
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The main problem with this background tour de force is that you understand not just how good it is but how pretty it is only when you listen up. The whispered guitar and pattering drum patterns, the unattainable sounds, the details of a modest love for the ages—all mean what they mean in part because they're so quiet. Yet if you don't get it, all I can advise is: Play Loud. B PLUS

Dud of the Month
Farmhouse Elektra

Tuneful, sturdy, unfaltering, bland, it's the pioneering jam band's bid for the market share located some years ago by Dave Matthews. Enthusiasts may even claim it proves they're better than Dave Matthews, as indeed it does, though why that needed proving I couldn't tell you. Inspirational Verse: "Each betrayal begins with trust/Every man returns to dust." "One man gathers what another man spills" was taken. B MINUS

Additional Consumer News

HONORABLE MENTION: Ego Trip's The Big Playback (Rawkus): in-crowd touchstones—essential hip-hop history, functional rap entertainment (Rammelzee Vs. K-Rob, "Beat Bop"; the Bizzie Boys, "Droppin' It"); Latino Blue (Blue Note): '50s and '60s "Jazz con Sabor Latino," a/k/a bongos (the Jazz Crusaders, "Agua Dulce"; Kenny Dorham, "Afrodisia"); Shane MacGowan & the Popes, The Crock of Gold (SPV): "F yez all, F yez all, F yez all" ("St. John of Gods," "Paddy Public Enemy No. 1"); Quannum Spectrum (Quannum Projects): deepest grooves in the underground (Lyrics Born, "Hott People"; Divine Styler & DJ Shadow, "Divine Intervention"); Cub Koda & the Points, Noise Monkeys (J-Bird): living for the Saturday-night swindle ("Fast Food—Slow Death," "Look at That White Girl Dance"); Patti Smith, Gung Ho (Arista): always took herself too seriously, still touched with the divine ("Persuasion," "Gone Pie"); Beanie Sigel, The Truth (Roc-A-Fella): his beats are as tough as his rap, and damned if I know whether that's good or bad ("What Your Life Like," "Ride 4 My"); Clinton, Disco & the Halfway to Discontent (Luaka Bop): beats come easier than songs, which suits Tjinder Singh's work ethic fine ("People Power in the Disco Hour," "G.T. Road"); Anti-Pop Consortium, Tragic Epilogue (75 Ark): their beats are as abstract and chewy as their rap, and how good that is is up to you ("Rinseflow," "Your World Is Flat"); Cadallaca, Out West (Kill Rock Stars): four songs boasting three cocomposers, and not necessarily better for the collective effort ("Fake Karaoke Machine," "Out West"); Swollen Members, Balance (Battle Axe): hip-hop interlopers from Vancouver with more technique than content, which falls back on that old reliable, horror comics ("Front Street," "Horrified Nights"); Ani DiFranco, To the Teeth (Righteous Babe): overreaching? her? just demonstrating her integrity is all ("Cloud Blood," "Freakshow"); Sergent Garcia, Un poquito quema'o (Higher Octave): frantic salsa con reggae from, er, Paris—auténtico no, convincente yes ("Jumpi," "Si yo llego, yo llego"); Jad Fair and Kramer, The Sound of Music (Shimmy-Disc): Kramer's settings took three days, Fair's words two listens and one day, and when they jell you'd think it was even less ("Sleeping Beauty," "Elenor"); Sue Garner and Rick Brown, Still (Thrill Jockey): if Yo La weren't so darn pop ("Asphalt Road," "Fussy Fuss"); Dead Prez, Lets Get Free (Loud): pretty lively for socialist moralists with no sense of humor ("Mind Sex," "It's Bigger Than Hip-Hop"); Mekons, Journey to the End of the Night (Quarterstick): they give a war and nobody comes ("Last Night on Earth," "Last Weeks of the War").

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