Where the Action Isn’t

Alt-rock may be alive and well, but not so's bashing it is much fun right now. Though many alt bands were considered for Turkey Shoot 2000, only one proved offensive enough to decapitate. Even artistically, the rock action is mostly on the pop charts, almost always flawed whether or not it comes with some positives. And the charts were where this year's exercise in regurgitation usually ended up.

Outbound (Columbia)
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I'd long since slotted the banjo whiz's genre hop as one more piece of harmlessly irrelevant bluegrass virtuosity, but a simple check of his Warners best-of reveals that he kept getting worse. Between the workaday saxophonist, the omnipresent bassist, the drummer named Future Man, the leader pursuing chord changes to new frontiers of musical forethought, and guests from such exotic climes as Tuva and Eire, how could we expect any less than bluegrass speed for speed's sake, world music meditation for meditation's sake, Phishy keybs, and fusion stop-and-go? All rolled into one? C

IV (Drag City)
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"Now you remember that this is why you loved music in the first place, a love that was without irony, pretense, or posing," declare the postpostrockers as they pursue their lost youths—youths they spent writing the names of hair bands on homeroom desks. This is the essence of those bands, they claim, re-created "with taste, competence, and as kick-assedly as can be." No singers, songs, or blooze to speak of. No solos either. Compositions! And intros aplenty—nay, fanfares, overtures. In short, the true metal—classical music for dummies. I knew it. I always knew it. C

This Time Around (Island)
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If you thought they were bad when they were cute, or even that they were cute when they were good, believe me, you don't want to hear them mature. Self-made arena-pop that's done so much time in the weight room it's got 98º scoring steroids on the street, this meaningless, overstated, three-years-aborning follow-up gutted its way to gold and disappeared. Bye. C MINUS

Red Dirt Girl (Nonesuch)
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What a weird (dishonest? ironic? clueless?) name for a record that's all literature and arty sound effects. Even the title song, while indeed describing the white South of the artist's putative roots, balances on the fulcrum of a four-syllable word: Meridian, which joins allelujah, sanctuary, Antonia, and great big Michelangelo in reminding us that Harris has put away childish things. Instead we get a record worthy of her (to mush up review gush) "celestial" and "eminent" voice, one that "shimmers with poetic imagery and soul." Mortality, redemption, angels, all the important stuff, adorned with Daniel Lanois-once-removed soundscape. Nary an antiwar song, yet you know Joan Baez is proud. C

Inside Job (Warner Bros.)
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On his last album, in CD-cusp 1989, six out of 10 tracks ran over five minutes; on this one, it's nine out of 13, with two others clocking in at 4:49 and 4:50. Since my own suspicions have been on record since the Eagles conquered the air, believe my formerly sympathetic California buddy Greil Marcus in Salon: "While it's well known that as one gets older, one tends to find changes in the world at large unsettling, confusing, fucking irritating, a rebuke to one's very existence, it's generally not a good idea to make a career out of saying so." C MINUS

War and Peace, Vol. 2 (The Peace Disc) (Priority)
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Good ol' Cube, taking time off from his busy schedule as Hollywood honcho and Backstreet Boys stablemate to produce an unimaginative if not notably hateful marker in the "Keep it gangsta, dog" game while preparing a complex rhyme for Eminem's ass: "I'm still comin' with that underground gangsta shit/No matter how many niggas say we ain't the shit." In a year when hards from Cam'ron to Trick Daddy illed with enough self-critical ambivalence and sly style to keep moralists off balance, Cube's boasts and threats are as utilitarian as Chucky Thompson's e-mailed-in beats. With faking the gat life no longer a realistic possibility, he's down to pretending his penis is a lethal weapon. And lest you hold his nonexistent sense of humor against him, the honcho orders up a Chris Rock cameo. C PLUS

Spit (Artemis)
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Proof that Korn fans aren't sexist—they were just waiting for four cute teenage girls to come out bellowing, "Get Off (You Can Eat a Dick)." Waiting so eagerly, in fact, that whether the girls bellowed loud enough was beside the point. C PLUS

Kids in Philly (Artemis)
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Though the press kit just barely mentions Springsteen, anyone intrigued by their reviews should be aware that these young adults from Philly flatter Bruce sincerely enough to make a grown man wince. Just as banjos and mandolins overshadow synths and samples along their E Street revisited, so old-fashioned urban-sentimentalist local color like "Reet Petite," Rocky Balboa, and watches that need winding warm their hearts, while indications that they still keep their eyes open—modern stuff like hazmats, Members Only menswear, ghettos "teeming with beats that reverberate fear"—chill their very souls. They deserve a Big Man of their own. B MINUS

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