Heads, Future and Past

Finally a chance to catch up on all those new bands. Well, maybe not bands exactly . . .

Pick Hits

PAPA WEMBA
1977-1997 (Stern's Africa)

I know just two tracks of 18, both from import albums; most of the first disc began its life as seven-inch vinyl. But beyond Franco, who bought vocalists in bulk, no one in soukous amassed a catalog of this strength in the '80s, much less the '90s. The audio is shrill at first, and the lead track's guitar is as crude as it got in Zaire—but also, how rock and roll, as exciting. Always conscious of country and city, Wemba has been the rare African to hold his own with synthesizers, yet homes in on two village chants. He deploys manly shout, girlish falsetto, gritty tenor, and mellow midrange to describe, explain, celebrate, ululate, sigh, cajole, declare his love, and state the facts. And ever since Zaiko Langa Langa, he's led one hell of a band or another. A

EMINEM
Encore
(Aftermath)

Any lingering doubts that puking and diarrhea noises might effectively forestall maturity were allayed by the crinkled noses and pursed lips they've elicited from arbiters of creativity at Billboard and Cokemachine-glow alike. Except to report tediously that he sounds bored and complain ad infinitum that he's obsessed with the love of his life (plus, right, the beats are no good, details later), how else to objectify the cycle of disinterest inevitably inspired by the mainstreaming of 8 Mile? Me, I say good riddance to his rock dreams, so much vainer than his mosh dreams, and note that said noises are hard to listen to, which is a compliment. Funny, catchy, clever, and irreverent past his allotted time, he can't make records this good forever—no one else has. But I also note that the mostly unreviewed three tracks on the bonus disc keep on pushing—"We as Americans" is a high point. That's rare. A

AFRICAN UNDERGROUND VOL 1: HIP-HOP SENEGAL
(Nomadic Wax)

According to the label head's senior thesis, there are 3,000 hip-hop acts in Senegal, so a big up to BMG 44 and Omzo, who take the lead tracks here after highlighting Trikont's 2002 Africa Raps. But where that music was Senegalese first, this sounds like the true Afrofunk. Flow yeah yeah, and the label guy says the lyrics are conscious, although the few in English could be sharper and are welcome anyway. But here, there, and everywhere, the techno-flavored synth/ guitar splats of international hip-hop sink their hooks into frantic gutturals of unknown meaning. A MINUS

THE ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND
One Way Out: Live at the Beacon Theatre
(Sanctuary/Peach)

The best live album of their career because both age and youth suit them, and because —just compare this 2003-vintage double-CD to the recently dug-out Atlanta International Pop Festival set or the expanded Live at the Fillmore East—they're better now than they ever were. Right, the original Allmans were true visionaries, and there's no reason to think Warren Haynes or Derek Trucks would have become what they became in the blank space that vision filled. But both have more chops than 2001 layoff Dickey Betts or, sorry, Duane himself. On their solo/leader records, both prove better-than-average virtuosos. But in the band context they have the good sense to play Duane's kind of music. Power audio, curtailed drum solos, and songs not yet buried alive in the uncharted expanses of the Allmans' live catalog finish the concept, and at 55 Gregg finally sounds as if there's more to a man's life than the parlous fate of his latest erection. A MINUS

THE FUTUREHEADS
(Sire)

There's that Ramones sense that songs should be short like life, and that XTC sense that songs should be complicated like life. So who could expect these young Brits to understand life, except to suggest, sometimes observantly and sometimes rhetorically, that it's dangerous? They don't fulfill the promise of the wonderful title "The City Is Here for You to Use." But they do make the most of the bitter novelty "First Day," which starts fast and ends double-time, just like that job they were so lucky to get. B PLUS

MCENROE AND BIRDAPRES
Nothing Is Cool
(Peanuts & Corn)

Like most beatmasters, Vancouver's finest thrives with a partner, and although local legend Birdapres pitches in on music as well as words, it's really the collaborator's spirit and reach that make this a find. Effectively, McEnroe's Disenfranchised was a concept album about the indie-rock business. Still defiantly scenebound, this is a party record for people so determined to pursue their own idea of fun they're ready to go back to their j-o-b's on a buck-and-a-half's sleep. Bush and his war and even his economy loom over these Canadian pleasures, but that permeable border affords psychological protection—the beats are danceable in practice as well as theory, and there's no sense of hiding from grim reality. Living in it, that's all. Exemplary. A

NAS
Street's Disciple
(Columbia)

Its double-CD sprawl is ambitious not hubristic, imposing not indigestible—squeezes onto a C-90. There's devil and Jesus-killer obscurity up front, electoral asininity later, but in general Nas finally seems comfortable with his (black) humanity. He's responsible, thoughtful, and compassionate, never mealymouthed, so that his political misprisions and retrospective sex boasts function like Eminem's latest sound effects—they keep him incorrect. If this means "Prescott Bush funded Hitler" is ignored on the op-ed page, Nas is barred from that realm anyway, and the information certainly does his faithful more good than, for instance, the distracting fantasy that Prescott's heir planned 9/11. The shout-outs to Bojangles Robinson, Stokely Carmichael, Redd Foxx, Fela, and Miriam Makeba are right on time. And when he and his pops get together on a blues, Muddy Waters is in the house. A MINUS

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