As Long as I Still Can

The Raven
Only a Lou-lou could love this concept album with a hole in the middle, by which I mean the theater piece that supposedly held all the new songs, old songs, new instrumentals, poetry readings, and cameo turns together. But though it's less than the sum of its parts, the parts are pretty arresting—Antony's castrato version of "Perfect Day," for instance, is a terrible idea in theory that ends up beating the original. Gee, maybe Poe actually was the progenitor of Selby and Burroughs and, more importantly, Reed himself, who delivers the theme-setting "Edgar Allan Poe" with a rhythmic intensity that is, let's be frank, a rare thing in literary criticism. Best Performance in a Supporting Role: Steve Buscemi as a somewhat younger Lou Reed doing a lounge act the older Reed wrote. B PLUS


Up the Bracket
(Rough Trade)
Forget all the well-meaning comparisons to good bands present and especially past. Every guitar-based four-piece with enough sidelong flair and I-don't-care gets those nowadays, and these Londoners have more talent and panache than most if not all of them. They're plenty songful if you give them half a chance, which is hard because they conceal such a bewildering wealth of compositional tactics within a fast, loose, lyrical, vulnerable sound that's their own even if they've never given it a moment's thought which is what the sound wants you to think, and which I very much doubt. Let the past take care of itself. They want the world and they want the handcar it's going to hell in. A

Best of Koffi Olomide
(Next Music import)
Soukous is passé, the Congo is a war zone, and from his old Kinshasa home this brown-eyed handsome egotist has become a pan-African star of the old school. Not that he's "soukous"—with African punctiliousness in the matter of genre names, he calls his music "tcha tcho" and "Congo" and no doubt other things. He's a university graduate whose compositions were being picked up while he was still a student, and you could say he sounds like one—singing with more brain than body, he deploys his breathy baritone for subtlety and leaves the heavy lifting to the hired hands. But what he really sings like is a songwriter, specifically a ballad specialist who cares about sound play and emotional complexity. I have no way of judging how responsibly he's programmed this inexpensive double-CD from his several dozen albums except to report that it includes early and late titles of some renown. I can say that the slower disc is more beautiful than the Olomide Stern's put out in 1990, and that the special remix CD makes room for the animateur-driven seben beats he claims he's too deep for. A good thing, because he isn't. A MINUS

Dud of the Month

Turn On the Bright Lights
They bitch because everybody compares them to Joy Division, and they're right. It's way too kind, and I say that as someone who thanks Ian Curtis for making New Order possible. Joy Division struggled against depression rather than flaunting it, much less wearing it like a designer suit. What's truly depressing is that, just as the hairy behemoths of the grunge generation looked back to the AOR metal they immersed in as teens, these fops tweak the nostalgia of young adults who cherish indistinct memories of much worse bands than Joy Division, every one of them English—Bauhaus, Ultravox, Visage, Spandau Ballet, Tears for Fears. At a critical moment in consciousness they exemplify and counsel disengagement, self-seeking, a luxurious cynicism. Says certified British subject Peter Banks: "Emotions are standard and boring. I'd like to find another way to live." That's thinking either big or very small. C PLUS

Additional Consumer News

HONORABLE MENTION: Rilo Kiley, The Execution of All Things (Saddle Creek): conquering depression indie-rock style, only cleaner, which they'll get over ("The Good That Won't Come Out," "A Better Son/Daughter"); George Harrison, Brainwashed (Capitol): say this for death—it focuses the mind ("Any Road," "P2 Vatican Blues [Last Saturday Night]"); Milky Wimpshake, Lovers Not Fighters (Troubleman Unlimited): now imagine a tuneful weed who covers Phil Ochs and gives Jack Straw the business ("Jack Ass," "Scrabble"); the Rogers Sisters, Purely Evil (Troubleman Unlimited): no, not as good as the Bush Tetras—better, which is the least we should insist on ("Purely Evil," "Zero Point"); Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin & Sammy Davis Jr., The Rat Pack Live at the Sands (Capitol): master singer, underrated comic, disruptive symbol ("Dialogue [Track 15]," "Medley: Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes/I Don't Care If the Sun Don't Shine/I Love Vegas [Paris]"); t.A.T.u., 200 KM/H in the Wrong Lane (Interscope): contains six versions of their two girl-love hits, including a video ("Not Gonna Get Us," "All the Things She Said"); Pretty Girls Make Graves (Dim Mak): four early songs twixt thrash and Sleater-Kinney ("Liquid Courage," "Modern Day Emma Goldman"); Fat Beats Compilation Volume Two (Fat Beats): amazing how much brains and music alt-rap can still lay on us (Atmosphere, "My Songs"; Alchemist Feat. Twin, "Different Worlds"); Jenny Toomey, Tempting: Jenny Toomey Sings the Songs of Franklin Bruno (Misra): she doesn't sing so great either, but she's better than he is, and his writing deserves it ("Unionbusting," "Let's Stay In"); The Rough Guide to Sufi Music (World Music Network import): not just qawwali (Hassan Hakmoun & Adam Rudolph, "Saba Atu Rijal"; Sheikh Yasîn Al-Tuhâmi, "Qâlbî Yuhaddithuni"); Cody Chesnutt, The Headphone Masterpiece (Ready Set Go!): just what alt-r&b needed—loads of ideas, considerable talent, and all the stern self-discipline of a trust fund baby ("Family on Blast," "The World Is Coming to My Party," "My Woman, My Guitars"); Pearl Jam, Riot Act (Epic) masters of their own audio, with soft spots where their emotions can go ("Save You," "Bushleaguer"); Kathleen Edwards, Failer (Zoë): Canadian folkie walks on the wild side, really ("Westby," "One More Song the Radio Won't Like"); Dan Bern & the IJBC, Fleeting Days (Messenger): as life goes on, his lyrics follow it everywhere ("Eve," "Graceland"); The Coral (Columbia): nice Liverpool lads—very enthusiastic, bit confused ("Waiting for the Heartaches," "Skeleton Key").

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