By Steve Weinstein
By Bryan Bierman
By Lindsey Rhoades
By Chaz Kangas
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Jena Ardell
By Jesse Sendejas Jr.
By Katherine Turman
ATC "Around the World (La La La La La)"
As in: New York London Paris Munich, "the radio playing songs that I never heard," which concept turns haunting as two Euroboys and two Eurogirls all squeezed from the same zit-cream tube lament loneliness in their empty hotel room to a desolate music-box tune somewhere between "Classical Gas" and "Axel F," over synthesizers spare enough to pass for Steve Reich mallet instruments. Yet like Chicago house architect Marshall Jefferson, they believe music is the key to set them free from trouble, drugs, and increasing poverty. And they break down into a poetry recital to boot.
"Bouncing off the Ceiling (Upside Down)"
Jump up, jump up, and jump down. If you've got the feeling, dance across the ceiling. Two more Euroboys and two more Eurogirls, from an album called Teen Spirit, feeling stupid and contagious indeed: "My grades are down from A's to D's/I'm way behind in history." Don't know much about a science book; don't know much about the French I took. The boys don't know English so good, either, but the girls do OK by Four Seasons "bye-yi-yi"s. And when the tempo slows, the toothache hooks evaporate. Well whatever, nevermind.
CHRISTINA AGUILERA, LIL' KIM, MYA & PINK
The moral equivalent of Ricky Martin collaborating with Eminem and LFO on a cover of "Walk on the Wild Side," and with even glammier guitars than Labelle gave us, though it's still a mystery whether the ever more mythic Ms. Marmalade shaved her legs and then he was a she. Trannie or no, she's apparently still a Creole prostitute dishing out magnolia wine and mocha chocolata ya ya to an out-of-town white businessman taking a red-light break from his 9-to-5 until his savage beast inside roars to the clouds. And though her black satin sheets are now at the Moulin Rouge instead of on Bourbon Street, the second-line-rooted syncopation still boils gumbo like it's Mardi Gras.
EMPEROR PENGUIN Damn
(My Pal God EP)
"Disco Party at the Castle of Love Tonight," vocodered with almost enough unabashedly sad Alpine beauty to forgive Chicago's "post-rock" scene for a decade of Tortoise and Sea and Cake fusion-wank water torture, is the most delectable faux-Eurodisco song about dancing in underwear since Change's 1980 "It's a Girl's Affair," but this time the girls are doing their hair, too, and the castle of love sounds like it's perched on the Disco Mountain that David Shire doodled about on the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. After that: a mournful penguin-café-orchestrated pipe-organ instrumental slowly stretched onstage; a PSA called "Neighborhood Watch (We Call the Police)" taking a bite out of crime in two parts; some fusion-wank water torture amusingly titled "Wizard Dude" that doesn't last too long.
THOMAS RIBEIRO Rideonastar
A great wailing über-macho Santa Esmeralda-style Mediterranean blues voice builds into growls and yelps until you can't tell if it's a guitar or not, then goes robot on us as upswooping semisymphonic sci-fi bombast hitches itself to a melody and metaphors out of early Bowie and absolutely over-the-top-flamboyant rock-Eurodisco propulsion, 25 years after the fact: "You are my fantasy, and through your alien eyes there's a galaxy. . . . Tell me is there life on Mars." Which ain't the kind of place to raise your kids. Then our manly man covers "Bette Davis Eyes" so it's ferocious and precocious and knows just what it takes to make a pro blush, misquoting lyrics ("fill the bathtub just to please ya"!), and saving Prince's "I Wanna Be Your Lover" bassline for the extended 12-inch remix. All the boys think he's a guy; he's got Sammy Davis eye. A full-on hair-metal power ballad about divine intervention sifts time through an hourglass and beckons you to ride on the singer's caravan, then Ribeiro returns to an ominous track he first belted two years ago on a Les Rythmes Digitales album, begging you for a needle and to look into his black amphetamine eyes as Lucifer rises in his head. Then finally, over a mere alarm-clock tick of percussion, some almost famous music shamelessly swiped from Elton John's "Tiny Dancer" marries a plot out of Van Morrison's "Blue Money" or Duran Duran's "Girls on Film" or the Fabulous Poodles' "Tit Photographer Blues" or Boogie Nights or Andrea True's life story. "If you wanna know how I really feel, get the camera rolling," Andrea warbled in her one and only hit. "The film is loaded and my camera's rolling," Thomas Ribeiro answers here. The mescaline (or is it masculine?) angel he's shooting has on black leather and silk pantyhose, he tells us. And glitter on her wings.
NELLY FEATURING CITY SPUD "Ride Wit Me"
His St. Lou strut is sweet as molassesso unforced, so unrushed, so natural. Three great singles and counting. His last one was mainly an homage to Speedy Gonzales, though Bugs Bunny and Frosty the Snowman and Old McDonald going E-I-E-I-O stopped by as well, not to mention one girl who was half-black and half-Asian and another whose husband was on vacation, not to also mention a superhero flaunting more bread and karats than your local grocery who could transform "from Fatboy to Iceberg Slim in one hour." This time, having temporarily had his fill of lesbian twins with corn rows and manicured toes, Nelly concocts a potent brew of disco basslines and gang shouts (from the devolutionarily monickered City Spud?) and "zoooop!"s squirting out of nowhere as he's flying first-class next to Vanna White and easing down the highway in his new Cadillac, a fine fox in front, two more in the back. They're smoking Lucky Strikes and wearing spike heel shoes. He spies a little thing and follows her all night in her porcupine Levi's and her sweater kinda tight. Nelly is the new ZZ Top! He's bad, he's nationwide.
R. KELLY "Fiesta"
Border rhythms and emotional climate out of War: summer at dusk, mariachi horns and high registers and intermittent ivory simulating the calm before the temperature plummets and the tornado hits. Great barbecue weather! Kelly's previous "A Woman's Threat" was a transcendently droning paranoia-blues that used the Three Little Bears like Ray Parker Jr. used to use Jack and Jill. This time he's digging Friday on his DVD, mixing juice with Tanqueray, taking haters nonchalantly out back and roughing 'em up, chilling at the light, jumping on the roof like he's the police if not the A*Teens, sippin' la and smokin' la while strippers are showin' la at the club and ATC are singin' la around the world. In the non-album remix, Jay-Z's busy clutter kills the menace a little. But that added verse about moving to the 'burbs keeps things real in a whole new way.
LUDACRIS "Southern Hospitality"
(Def Jam South)
Electronic tribal congas laid down by the Neptunes, a dozen years removed from Miami bass, serve as a bed upon which this Dixie rapper offers up profound thoughts on overalls, candy Cadillacs leaking oil, sauce so hot it makes you sweat, fly-ass boots with open toes, and 20-inch thighs making 20-inch eyes hungry for 20-inch American pies. In a comparably hard and hooky 1979 song called "Somebody's Gonna Get Their Head Kicked In Tonite," proto-oi! Brit-pubsters the Count Bishops warned us, "There's gonna be a pool of blood on the ol' dancefloor." Here it's "when you get on the floor you can throw them 'bows." As in: elbows! Ten notches on his shoes, and when it comes to dancin', Ludacris can't lose.
THE LIVING END "Roll On"
A horde of Aussie football hooligans herding cattle and tumbleweeds, it sounds like, until all the stuff about shipyards and docks and "wage-fueled riots" and "too much work and not enough pay" and "our conscience in the gutter, our dreams up in the sky" clue you that this might be the most explicit union rallying cry you've ever heard on album rock radio. The guitars teach a history lesson in concise virtuosity, from Eddie Cochran to the Who to the Clash; the verses and choruses and yells rampage like U2 or Big Country or especially the Living End's countrymen Midnight Oil might've, if only they'd quaffed more ale.
RED PLANET Let's Get Ripped!
They wish they were picking up drugs in a brand-new car and getting free cocktails at the bar, but they gotta get back to their pizza job as soon as they've rocked this club. (Insert Domino's ad here; they did.) Hence, the return of party-voice-in-the-background suburban drunk rock, delivered in histrionic Peter Brady-at-puberty hiccups surprisingly more reminiscent of Kix in 1980 than the Replacements in 1984 or Dictators in 1975. "Big Hair Camaro" 's cheese-metal synth effects peg it as a long-awaited answer to the Dead Milkmen's Def Lep disses in "Bitchin' Camaro"; "Too Drunk to Fuck" (courtesy the Dead Kennedys at their most Jello-shotful) is instructively followed by "Find Me a Girl (Who Likes Me Best When I'm Drunk)," the most marinated booze-punk ballad since the glory days of Gang Green. Though even those alkies never requested a woman who'd let them piss in the sink.