MODERN ROCK: Rufus Wainwright is the apple of rock crits’ eyes because he’s a smart-but-sensitive prep-schooler turned scruffy guy-like Elliott Smith, he could pass for a rock critic. At least he’s less a heartmiser than Elliott. Maybe his airs seem odd at first; but “April Fools” is exactly the kind of baroque flower you get grow-ing through the cracked concrete on the boulevard of broken alt. The song is a love story between you and love, lasting the span between Valentine’s and April Fools’. Then the anti-Lent ends, “the fish start to smell, and you’re struck down by a hammer.” But for six weeks you’re a sucker, and happy that way. Peep the holiday choices: free from all that Easter/Passover shit, we can base our religion around the boy next door. It’s a mix of modes we’re unused to: complicated but not serious. Ahh, spring is here!
URBAN: I keep waiting for someone to get struck down by a hammer in Blackstreet’s “Boyfriend/Girlfriend” (with Janet and Ja Rule representing the she-said part). It’s not that there’s a lot of hawking and stalking; it’s the animation. Teddy Riley new-jacks back Timbaland’s skit-tery sinister shuffle (what comes around goes around) and drives it to Toon Town, collapsing into a flurry of half-raps punctuated by the funnest quiver of clanks, whooshes, and boi-oi-oings in memory. They’re [expletive deleted] sounds, Donald Duck’s comic-book speech-bubble cusses on wax. Way more than any of those avant soundtracks to imaginary films — or Blackstreet’s own contribution to The Rugrats — this is a movie for the radio. Toontronica rules; can I get a #@*#!?
YOUNG COUNTRY: Lee Ann Womack wept like a Paltrow when she copped the 1997 Horizon Award, sentimental as her Cline-bottle classicism. But ’99 has her finding her inner twerp on “I’ll Think of a Reason Later,” defacing a rival’s engagement photo and trash-talking all through the guitar’n’fiddle slide. She blames her “family’s redneck nature,” but it’s not her parents’ fault she’s a punk. Okay, maybe not a full-blown punk. But at least wicked and sloppy; the rhyme “I just hate her, I’ll think of a reason later” is so loopily off the beat, so full of abandon, it’s a couplet only a 14-year-old could love. And we do. It’s the pure no-time-for-style childishness LeAnn Rimes was always too old for, the ghost of garage rock haunting the beaches of Cheyenne.
TOP 40: Ricky Martin’s “La Vida Loca,” to be released in a week, is more country than Pam Tillis’s “Mi Vida Loca,” flashier than Allison Anders’s Mi Vida Loca, punkier than DFL’s “My Crazy Life” and, just for good measure, prettier than Toad the Wet Sprocket’s “Crazy Life.” Plus the Texas guitar out-twangs Duane Eddy (who only had “Crazy Arms”). His romance-languaged grooves, like the Grammyphonic “Vuelve,” get flat-tened by the Latin competition; too contrived by half. But his drama fits hit-radio perfectly, where it makes sense to sing everything like a show tune (just ask Cher). Jimmy the spirit of rave-up fiesta into the tight squeeze of Anglo-pop and the pressure gets hectic-this is the boom. Ricky will overtake Cher in a month; turn him loose against Monica’s eighth single and trickle-down Sugar Ray, and he will blow up the spot in three minutes flat, because it ain’t where you’re from it’s where you’re at.
ADULT ALTERNATIVE: Perhaps you think of “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)” as “that graduation speech song,” or “that atheist Desiderata,” or “that song that makes me wanna steer into oncoming traffic.” Credited to Baz Luhrmann Presents, with an elaborate history I don’t have space for, it’s weirdly sincere; you wait for the irony like Cool Breeze waits for the hook. It never comes. Unless it’s “ironic” the tract exists only to make fortysomethings feel smug: “Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh never mind, you will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they’ve faded.” Let me try to be equally sincere: fuck you. I promise I’ll go back to being a vampy ironist next month. But this song is a test. If “Keep your old love letters; throw away your old bank statements” sounds reasonable, fuck you. Where was my “Don’t have a bank account” option? And if I take the bait of “Enjoy your body,” do I have to swallow “Respect your elders” and “Don’t mess too much with your hair,” presented as if they were different requests? Fuck you.
The race is not long. Do not pace yourself. Set at least one police car on fire. Expect the tax dollars of Volvo drivers to support you. If they don’t, steal their hubcaps and sell them. This is the adultest song on the radio, the triumph of the hideous shit grown-ups tell kids to keep ’em normal and make themselves feel better about dying. (Now that’s Christian rock!) You’d think Baz, director of Romeo + Juliet, would know better — he was clever enough to shoot a kids’ love story in the visual slang of kids. But he must’ve missed the part where one 14-year-old confesses to the other, “I should have been more strange.”