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Yes
The Ladder
Beyond Music

Gone are Rick Wakeman's keyboard excursions, the classical overtones, the songs within songs—much of what Yes-heads find so very attractive and fascinating, what critics of prog-rock find so irritating and pretentious. Oddly enough, while many fans will find The Ladder a disappointment, it could become one of Yes' few critical successes. But Starship Troopers can take solace in Jon Anderson's high-pitched vocals ( "Lightning Strikes), the still-sharp guitar of Steve Howe ("Nine Voices (Longwalker)"), the vocal harmonies and bass flexing of Chris Squire and the time-keeping of drummer Alan White. Once again Roger Dean's other-worldly artwork graces the album cover, but it doesn't make up for the struggling-to-fit new members. While most will resent the addition of keyboardist Igor Khoroshev (a poor man's Wakeman) and useless second guitarist Billy Sherwood, old-schoolers will relish "Can I?", a brief re-visitation and update of Fragile's "We Have Heaven." —Ian D'Giff


Korn
Issues
Immortal/Epic

Thankfully, the boys of Korn have finally hit puberty. And even though Limp Bizkit has inherited the throne, Korn is still cherished as the godfather of testosterone-fueled townie-rock. The band's fourth studio effort finds them toying with more complex arrangements and polished vocal work, which has revealed that Jonathan Davis is, in fact, capable of melody. His anguished cries in "Hey Daddy" even bear a disturbing resemblance to the signature falsetto of Radiohead's Thom Yorke. The band has taken some pointers from its hair-metal forefathers and abandoned the hip-hop flava that was dragging them down, save for a few cleverly disguised beats on "Make Me Bad" and "Trash." They've also mercifully decided to lose their trademark grunts and moans, and what's left is a mighty, rocking record that captures feelings of teen self-loathing. Sure, the band has thrown in a few rowdy token crowd-pleasers, but boys will be boys. —Akash Goyal


John Prine
In Spite of Ourselves
Oh Boy

After John Prine successfully battled throat cancer, his first studio album in four years finds him pairing with talented partners on country standards and rustic obscurities. The main theme bounces between lovin' and cheatin', be it swapping spouses ("Let's Invite Them Over") or indiscretion in tinyville ("In a Town This Size"). Throughout, Prine is backed by an assortment of crying pedal steel, mournful dobros and rippling piano. His purist instincts even succeed in transporting Trisha Yearwood ("When Two Worlds Collide") and Patty Loveless ("Back Street Affair") away from their usual saccharine natures. Although Lucinda Williams and Emmylou Harris match up well with Prine, Iris DeMent turns out to be the perfect partner. Singing with a style that brings to mind the Carter Family, her twang fits hand-in-glove with Prine's relaxed delivery, particularly on "(We're Not) the Jet Set." —Dave Gil de Rubio


Dude of Life
Under the Sound Umbrella
Phoenix Rising

Consider yourself forewarned: If the name of this Phish lyricist doesn't bug you enough, wait till you hear his music. Pick up this CD and you'll find yourself beating your head against the wall, asking yourself, "Is this guy fucking kidding me?" It's one thing to wade through a sea of stoned pre-teens to attend a Phish concert, but listening to Dude of Life repeat chorus after chorus of his drivel is torture of another kind (think car batteries, jumper cables and nipple clamps.) While three Phish members (Trey Anastasio, Jon Fishman and Mike Gordon) and an alternating crew of studio musicians play fully-cheesed porn-funk, the Dude spews repetitious crap about "Pete Rose," "Paparazzi" and a "Puppydog Named Madness." If you're diggin' Phish for the nonsensical lyrics, you'll probably enjoy the Dude's latest. If it's complicated jamming you crave, you'll probably agree that the title of this album should be Under the Stomping Boot, 'cause that's where you'll want to put this disc. —ID


LI Sounds

Step Lively
The Trigger Effect
Triple Crown

Ska Island has been pumping out some of the best talent on the East Coast. Spiders are everywhere, venue-owners shit their drawers to stage the Scofflaws and the Toasters practically have a summer time-share here. Yep, 'round here two-tone beats and brassy skank are all that. Step Lively's first full-length is one skalarly highball of jumpin' horn arrangements, lounge-y percussion and third-wave juice. "Price I Pay" grooves behind the thick backing keys of Jay Orig. "String Beans" wags a swinging tail behind the bouncing vox of lead dog Mark Thomas and the spirited trumpet solos of Mike Rubenstein. "Inside Me" mashes punkable pop croons with trad-rock strings. "Repeater" mixes lo-fi funk and alt-harmony into a snazzy dance melody, while "Sea of Strangers" is a contemporary gem, powering itself on a catalogue of old-school simplicity and dueling trombone grit. Bowl away. Contact: Step Lively, 139 Verona Pkwy, Lindenhurst, NY, 11757. —Ron Strauss


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