Pick Hits

Missundaztood (Arista)
Teen idols have matured at their peril since Del Shannon told us the name he was born with, and between the Internet gossip roast and Carson Daly's Dick Clark act, the current crop will have it even tougher. Which makes this meeting of L.A. Reid's double-platinum Philadelphia white girl and justly forgotten 4 Non Blondes emoter Linda Perry even more of a feat. These are pop songs in the sense that they deliver their payloads in 90 seconds. But they're also confessional, dark, downtempo—and, OK, a little gauche sometimes, which just makes them seem realer. Despite Pink's audacious claim that she's not as pretty as "damn Britney Spears," celebrity anxiety takes a backseat to a credible personal pain rooted in credible family travails, a pain held at bay by expression. Artistically, it's a next step for a genre I never thought would take one. I wish I believed Justin Timberlake's solo debut will sound half as honest, frustrated, and fulfilled. A

Southern Rock Opera (drivebytruckers.com)
The alt-country reprobates enter three-guitar heaven on a what-it-says-it-is that gains power and bite as the fat lady's moment approaches. When Patterson Hood lets his bandmates write songs on the first disc, you can take a piss break, but Mike Cooley and Rob Malone both contribute winners on the second—about alcoholism and Cassie Gaines easing her brother into Lynyrd Skynyrd, respectively. Although George Wallace is treated to a crucial cameo, Skynyrd are the tragic heroes throughout. The last three songs get them on the plane, up in the air, and plummeting to their doom. Every detail and digression tells. A MINUS

Dud of the Month

Àgaetís Byrjun (Fat Cat)
Once there was a sensitive, conceited young fellow named Jonsi Birgisson who lived on a permafrost island surrounded by a cold, dark sea. Jonsi was a well-meaning person who loved music, and he yearned to put more warmth in the world even though he wasn't exactly sure what warmth was. Not just "throwing an electric blanket on the corpse of electronica," that he knew. Jonsi longed to blaze "inspired new avenues in sonic landscapes," to deliver "shamelessly tear-stained epics" in "the falsetto cadence of angels," to turn "4AD-styled, sepia-toned instrumental passages" into "awe-inspiring new-religious mantras." Stuff like that. He did all this and more on a thematically linked work where some of the sonic landscapes were entrancing (although not warm). Because he was conceited, sometimes he would announce that these soundscapes were destined to change musical history, and then sometimes mean people would make fun of him. But he always had the perfect retort. "You have to admit I'm smarter than Enya," he would say. And about that he was certainly right. B

Additional Consumer News

HONORABLE MENTION: Craig David, Born to Do It (Wildstar/Atlantic): it's the rhythm not the song, but the singer helps ("Rewind," "Booty Man"); Yeah Yeah Yeahs (Shifty): femme-punk self-definition, by now a trope among many others, done with spunk, funk, and downtown noise ("Bang," "Mystery Girl"); the Stratford 4, The Revolt Against Tired Noises (Jetset): more-Brit-than-thou San Fran mopesters cross the sainted Only Ones with the accursed Spiritualized ("All Mistakes Are Mine," "Hydroplane"); Unknown Prophets, World Premier (Unknown Prophets): beatwise, Classical 101 meets Hip Hop 101; rhymewise, Twin Cities whiteboys moralize sincerely and fantasize boastfully ("Almost There," "Never"); Blu Cantrell, So Blu (Arista): higher-res than Res, more songful than Mary ("Swingin'," "The One"); Alligator Records 30th Anniversary Collection (Alligator): the endless varieties of endless boogie, turn-of-the-millennium style (Little Charlie & the Nightcats, "I'll Take You Back"; Corey Harris & Henry Butler, "If You Let a Man Kick You Once"); Baxendale, You Will Have Your Revenge (Le Grand Magistery): cleverer than most faux disco without ever achieving the truth faux disco yearns for ("Music for Girls," "The Future . . . "); Muscular Christians, Dan Marino: Important Message (Mediaman Media): folk songs for an age of electronic media and confusion-is-sex ("Harvey Fierstein," "The Cosby Show," "Richard's Brown Baby Boy"); DJ Vadim, U.S.S.R. (Ninja Tune import): basslines with a sense of humor ("Your Revolution," "Viagra"); They Might Be Giants, Mink Car (Restless): but that doesn't mean they hate short people ("Older," "Wicked Little Critta"); Britney Spears, Britney (Jive): hardly the first not-terribly-bright teenager to approach self-knowledge via the words of others ("Overprotected," "Cinderella"); Trick Daddy, Thugs Are Us (Slip-N-Slide/Atlantic): gangsta without apologies as entertainment without apologies ("Can't F**k With the South," "Take It to Da House"); Radiohead, I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings (Capitol): four from Kid A, three from they forget, and one minor new love song add up to a slightly unhinged live remix album ("National Anthem," "Everything in Its Right Place"); Bubba Sparxxx, Dark Days, Bright Nights (Beat Club/Interscope): there are smarter rednecks ("Ugly," "Bubba Talk"); Dan Bern, New American Language (Messenger): weird dreams for justice ("God Said No," "Thanksgiving Day Parade"); Macy Gray, The Id (Epic): extraordinary voice, interesting person, familiar ideas, ordinary music ("Gimme All Your Lovin' or I Will Kill You," "Nutmeg Phantasy"); Bitch and Animal, Eternally Hard (Righteous Animal): but with a gooey center, yum ("Ganja," "Six States Away").

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