Rock 'n' Rai

RACHID TAHA Made in Medina (Mondo Melodia)
The Steve Hillage-produced follow-up to Taha's neotrad U.S. debut takes the rai project of Arabic rock to a harder place. The beat's not rock or funk either, but that's just as well—one reason the powerful momentum, strong Arabic melodies, and guitar louder than you knew Gong-banging, Orb-gouging Hillage had in him sound fresher than anything I've heard from competing English speakers recently. Pure sound sensation—for those who lack Arabic, the vocal drama signifies masculinity in extremis, nothing more. So tell me, just how many other young singers are getting away with that saw these days? A MINUS

Pick Hit

 TRICKY Blowback (Hollywood)
I have no idea whether this will prove the smash Maxinquaye wasn't—well, actually I do, but I promise to keep it quiet if you do. For sure he's presented his new label with his first song album since then. Where once were textures you could write a poem about now are textures you can hang a tune on. And forget P.J. Harvey for clout, this one's got the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Alanis Morissette and, uh, Live and Cyndi Lauper—all of whom sound fabulous. Yes, he's still very down in the mouth. With him, that's a matter of principle. But his defiance is more coherent, his mysticism more visionary. And if it's not gauche of me to mention it, he rocks and does a Nirvana song, not necessarily at the same time. A

Take Off Your Pants and Jacket
(MCA) Aware that their commercial base is teenage girls who know real boys are meaner than 'N Sync, as all teenage girls do, they play up the fears that afflict mean boys at least as much as any other kind. They pine, they get tongue-tied, they wait by the phone, they curse their stupid haircuts. Way too old in real life to stop at kissing, and also way too horny, they assume the persona of guys for whom kissing and even holding hands are a big deal, which even for mean, old, and/or horny guys they often are. Yet they also rail against know-it-all grownups in general and warring parents in particular, and make obscene suggestions about their girlfriends' moms. All to the fetchingly whiny airs of the universal punk tunebook. Commercial calculation—it has its uses. A MINUS

Dud of the Month

(Reprise) Whatever happened to that Clash-sounding '80s band from Switzerland, I forget their name? Right now I wish I knew. Presumably they didn't turn into an Alarm-acting '00s band from Australia, because these Melbourne laddies are Young, you bet, and also Indigenous in their Anglo-Saxon way, imbued with "the Rose Tattoo and AC/DC [in their rock dreams—ed.] and the Angels." Notice they don't mention INXS or Midnight Oil, relevant in their unfettered ambition and feckless idealism, respectively. Nor is the latter anything to write Stone about. Of the approximately four political songs, only the immigration-keyed "Don't Shut the Gate" is effective even artistically, and the anti-union tack of the opener, however well justified by specifics, is a bad sign. It's no fun to point out that dumb bands give agitprop a bad name. But they do. C

Additional Consumer News

HONORABLE MENTION: Ass Ponys, Lohio (Checkered Past): more song, less band—also more feeling, less story ("Nothing Starts Today," "Baby in a Jar"); Dropkick Murphys, Sing Loud, Sing Proud! (Hellcat): the PBA meets the IRA and turns left—another punk precinct heard from ("Which Side Are You On?" "Caps and Bottles"); the Robert Cray Band, Shoulda Been Home (Ryko): pushing 50, on the road, and "afraid to let this one go" ("No One Special," "Baby's Arms"); Music From the Tea Lands (Putumayo World Music): Anatolians and Ainus are Asians all, even via Australia or America—that's Orientalism, and calming it can be (Ujang Suryana, "Kang Mandor"; Lei Quang, "Picking Flowers"); A Break From the Norm (Restless): the former Norman Cook shows off his capacious ears and record collection (Doug Lazy, "Let the Rhythm Pump"; Yvonne Elliman, "I Can't Explain"); Vital 2-Step (V2): one hell of an abstract way to put your back out (Artful Dodger, "Re-Rewind"; Nadine Featuring Capital T, "I Feel for You"); Manic Street Preachers, Know Your Enemies (Virgin): punk propaganda poppified, which generates an illusion of context ("Ocean Spray," "Let Robeson Sing"); [Selim Sesler and the Sounds of Thrace Ensemble], The Road to Kesan (Traditional Crossroads): Gypsy intensity from Greco-Bulgarian Turkey, artist uncredited on cover, somebody sample that daire drum, or is it a darbuka? ("Kiremit/Nasti usava," "Tulum"); Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros, Global A Go-Go (Hellcat): sing-alongs for the international brotherhood of disenfranchised world-music punks ("Gamma Ray," "Bhindi Bagee"); Wild Pitch Classics (Wild Pitch/JCOR Entertainment): your once-in-a-lifetime chance to find out how exactly how much you love the Main Source (the Coup, "Dig It"; Ultramagnetic MC's, "Raise It Up"); Slimm Calhoun, The Skinny (Aquemini/Elektra): cheese steaks from the Peach State, no more and no less ("It Ain't Easy," "The Cut Song"); Master Musicians of Jajouka, Featuring Bachir Attar (Point Music): as meddling goes, better Talvin Singh's ethnotechnics than Brian Jones's psychedelics ("Up to the Sky, Down to the Earth," "Jamming in London"); Eileen Rose, Shine Like It Does (Compass): U.S. indie-rocker turned U.K. singer-songwriter, "ginny-mick courage" intact ("Still in the Family," "Party Dress").

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