Finally, one of those fall bonanzas the biz is always promising. The two Pick Hits are among the year’s very best, and several runners-up are truly choice. Beyond OutKast, that’s not to predict that any of them will get as bizzy as the biz prefers, of course. But give it credit for trying.
AMADOU ET MARIAM
Tje ni Mousso (Polydor/Universal import)
Riding out on the bedriff of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground,” this “blind couple of Mali”—their chosen billing, and you should see their sunglasses, since they can’t—”déconcertent et séduisent en recyclent avec un fausse naiveté musiques africaines, américaines et européenes,” says one Alsatian critic. Got that? “Disconcert and seduce while recycling African, American, and European musics with a false naïveté,” only in French it sounds better. Just like the accompanying lyric, whose minitrot reads, “Here we come singing for freedom, happiness and love all over the world.” And that’s not even to mention the Bambara one summarized as “Welcome to women who respect their husbands.” Cheap and charming, they play and sing with the multicultural comfort Malians who emigrate to Abidjan and then Paris rarely find the fit for. A MINUS
Halfway Between the Gutter and the Stars (Astralwerks)
As someone who’s about as intimate with modern dance music as the radio jocks and collegiate punters Slim accesses with such drunken disregard for subcultural niceties—and who believes house divas are only slightly smarter, popwise, than Slim’s fellow sot Jim Morrison—I say this is where Norman Cook achieves the nonstop stupidity breakbeats alone could never bring him. One great idea per song, from anywhere—embellished, of course, with all the sonic tricks he’s filched and made his own. “What duh fuck” muttered to infinity. A retox anthem whose time has come. Macy Gray B-in’, C-in’ and F-in’ ya. And for that essential soupçon of soul: a Wet Willie sample! All shallow, all pure as a result—pure escape, pure delight, and, as the cavalcade of gospel postures at the end makes clear, pure spiritual yearning. Transcendence, we all want it. Good thing Cook knows most of us aren’t deluded enough to want it all the time. A MINUS
The Sugar Tree (Koch)
I know Rigby just well enough to worry whether her songs are worth what they cost her in frustration and heartache. But I admire the nakedness of her singing and writing enough to believe I’d feel the same even if mutual friends hadn’t engineered a child chair exchange for us back when she was married. Now pursuing fortune and fame in Nashville like many lesser NYC songwriters before her, she shows no signs of turning into Janis Ian, and sexual preference has nothing to do with it—except insofar as men are dicks, of course. She has perspective on her lack of funds, her healthy sexual appetite, her susceptibility to ladies-love-outlaws syndrome, and her self-knowledge itself. Rode hard and put away wet, she’s funny about it—”Cynically Yours” is made for an Alt-AC format that will never exist. And she’s also touching about it, which is the hard part. A MINUS
THE ROUGH GUIDE TO CUMBIA
(World Music Network import)
Slightly pokier than World Circuit’s two Cumbia Cumbia comps, and mouldier as well (most artists born in the ’20s and ’30s, youngest in ’53), these 22 tracks from Colombia’s Sonolux label (the World Circuits are Disco Fuentes, for those who know the difference) partake nevertheless of cumbia’s sprightly shit-kick, which is several pelvic rolls more fluid than its Tex-Mex conjunto cousins. Despite several avowed dance anthems, it flirts with the generic. But with some out-of-the-way genres, that’s just what most of us need. A MINUS
In the Mode (Talkin’ Loud/Island)
Size is the most “r&b” of the big junglists, which means not that he knows Booker T. & the M.G.’s by heart, although he may, but simply that he (a) likes content, and (b) prefers black American pop to black Detroit electro. When he indulges himself, he doesn’t dream symphonies like Goldie—he channels Chaka Khan and the Wu. “To me, New Forms was a skeleton of ideas which was sifted around in our heads, in our scene,” he says. “This is the flesh and the skin. We’ve definitely put the skin on it.” And underneath—muscle, ligament, cartilage, cardiovascular circuitry. The album moves the way you always hope jungle will, like a cross between a tiger and a snake, yet it’s also a kind of mix record, with five showcases for Reprazent’s serviceable MC Dynamite, who’s as useful as the inevitable Method Man in the crucial matter of providing rap sounds. Size has his own Chaka, too. Her name is Onallee, and she takes the record out. A
SWAY & KING TECH
This or That (Interscope)
All year I’ve been wasting good review time listening to the commercially unavailable rap mixtapes Cornerstone Promotion mails out. Hopping hiply among foreshortened current and prospective hits, exclusive freestyles, and unclassifiable obscurities, they convey as no single-artist album can the image of an inexhaustible culture comprising an infinity of adjustable musical parts. Sway and Tech, whose Wake Up Show is said to reach 11.5 million listeners on 17 stations, accomplish something similar on the first major-label rap mix record unimpinged by discernible copyright hassles. Rather than embracing a whole culture, though, they merely establish the underground’s right to claim old-school, as when snippets of “I Know You Got Soul,” “Looking at the Front Door,” and “They Reminisce Over You” lead from the Jurassic 5 to Kool Keith and improve both. Other highlights: “The Anthem” from KRS-One to Xzibit, respect for Canibus, and Eminem’s little-boy act. A MINUS
All That You Can’t Leave Behind (Interscope)
I know they’re with a new label if not corporation, but the transformation I imagine was simpler. They woke up one day, glanced around a marketplace where art wasn’t mega anymore, and figured that since they’d been calling themselves pop for half of their two-decade run, maybe they’d better sit down and write some catchy songs. So they did. The feat’s offhandedness is its most salient charm and nagging limitation. If I know anything, which with this band I never have, their best. A MINUS
Alone With His Guitar (Mercury)
Like most rock and rollers, and most country fans, I much prefer Hank the honky-tonker. But back before Pete Seeger claimed eminent domain, Williams just as often conceived himself as a folksinger. Mixing standards with obscurities and originals with covers, this 18-track selection from the countless solo demos and radio transcriptions preserved on his daunting nine-CD set will satisfy most of us. His directness is in relief, and though his natural sense of rhythm is irrepressible, his natural gravity overpowers it. If you wonder how the songwriter could get as starkly lugubrious as “A Teardrop on a Rose,” listen to the singer bore into “With Tears in My Eyes” and “Thy Burdens Are Greater Than Mine.” A MINUS
Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea
If Nirvana and Robert Johnson are rock’s essence for you, so’s To Bring You My Love. But if you believe the Beatles and George Clinton had more to say in the end, this could be the first PJ album you adore as well as admire. It’s a question of whether you use music to face your demons or to vault right over them. Either way the demons will be there, of course, and nobody’s claiming they won’t catch you by the ankle and bring you down sometime—or that facing them doesn’t give you a shot at running them the fuck over. Maybe that’s how Harvey got to where she could enjoy the fruits of her own genius and sexuality. Or maybe she just met the right guy. Tempos and pudendum juiced, she feels the world ending and feels immortal on the very first track. The other 11 songs she takes from there. A PLUS
Comic and expansive, P-Funk were ’60s from their psychedelic universalism to their rock dreams. OutKast are straight outta the Reaganism that immiserated underclass blacks who could still laugh at Star Child back when. They still take gangsta’s Reaganomic equation of crime and self-help too seriously, which imparts cred as it narrows the grand good time they have whether they’re petitioning their babygranny or loving deez hoez “from the wigs to the fake eyes to the fake nails down to the toes.” But on this album their realism and high spirits drive each other higher. There’s more bounce-to-the-ounce and less molasses in the jams, more delight and less braggadocio in the raps. Ever the happiness salesman, Big Boi would like you to know that every song has a hook. Dre’s chief interest is the ideas. Drawl this very fast: “Speeches only reaches those who already know about it/This is how we go about it.”A
Dud of the Month
Perfecto Presents Another World (Sire)
“I think maybe the next generation of clubbers will want to move out of the hip-hop, r&b vibe—they’ll want something a bit more,” posits the Guinness World Record DJ (opened for U2, you know) as he predicts U.S. dominion for his post-Balearic tranceport, which turns out to be textured Eurodisco BPMs sans diva mess. It’s only a mix record (two mix records, why stint in utopia?), so how bad can it be? Start with four tracks featuring Dead Can Dance and/or Lisa Gerrard. And for that mass appeal—Blade Runner! C
Additional Consumer News
HONORABLE MENTION: Mystikal, Let’s Get Ready (Jive): gangsta shit finally beneath him, he bids to become pop’s scariest party animal (“Shake Ya Ass,” “Big Truck Boys,” “Family”); Afrobeat . . . No Go Die! (Shanachie): ultimately, the man made the style (Dele Sosimi, “Gbedu 1”; Kiala, “Batumwindu”); Mohammed Reza Shajarian/Kahyan Kalhor, Night Silence Desert (Traditional Crossroads): Persian classical meets Persian folk halfway, more entrancingly than any techno meld for sure (“Rain,” “Festive Occasion”); Gloria Deluxe, Hooker (Gloria Deluxe): living-room alt-country blues from Brooklyn, I guess—with Dixieland horn section? (“Cheap Two-Faced Star,” “Family Tree”); Mozambique Relief (Naxos World): the Afropop miracle—out of want, exultation (Ghorwane, “Mayvavo”; José Mucavele, “Golheani”); Twilo Volume 1: Junior Vasquez (Virgin): two and a half hours of complex build toward the black female voice (Dubtribe Sound System, “Equitorial”; Kelis Feat. Terrar, “Good Stuff”); Papa Roach, Infest (DreamWorks): singing or rapping, they speak truth for their not yet dysfunctional cohort (“Infest,” “Revenge”); Taquachito Nights: Conjunto Music From South Texas (Smithsonian Folkways): best of a 1998 festival, a formula for mediocrity that beats the odds for once (Gilberto Pérez y sus Compadres, “El Burro Pardo”; Joe Ramos y Ellos, “Maldito Vicio”); the Kinleys, II (Epic): big-pop don’t suit ’em, surprise surprise, but happy love songs still do (“Me Too,” “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah”); Rah Digga, Dirty Harriet (Elektra): “Let’s take their bail money/Make it hair and nail money” (“Imperial,” “Do the Ladies Run This . . . “); Offwhyte, Squints (Galapagos4): ambient hip-hop, all shadowy soundscape and free-floating intelligence (“Reallocated Resources,” “Galapagos Four”); Limp Bizkit, Chocolate St*rfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water (Flip/Interscope): minimal sexism, doody jokes for corporate America, and the best rapping money can borrow (“Rollin’ [Urban Assault Vehicle],” “Getcha Groove On”); Automator, A Much Better Tomorrow (75 Ark): remixed 1996 DIY EP plus more Kool Keith and atmospherics (“Buck Buck,” “King of NY”); the 6ths, Hyacinths and Thistles (Merge): make that 83 love songs—these 14 delicately rendered when you’re in the mood, preciously undercut when you’re not (“You You You You You,” “Waltzing Me All the Way Home”); Deltron 3030 (75 Ark): better Del should branch into science fiction than crime fiction—but better he should stick to confessional fiction than either (“Things We Can Do,” “Madness”).
CHOICE CUTS: Destiny’s Child, “Independent Women Part I” (Charlie’s Angels, Sony Soundtrax); Third Eye Blind, “10 Days,” “Wounded” (Blue, Elektra); Trick Daddy, “Tryin’ to Stop Smokin’ ” (Book of Thugs: Chapter A.K., Verse 47, Atlantic); Baudelaire Memorial Orchestra, “A cheerless song about Count Olaf” (lemonysnicket.com/count_olaf.mp3).
DUDS: Alice Deejay, Who Needs Guitars Anyway? (Republic); Best of Trance Volume One (Robbins); Deftones, White Pony (Maverick); Fuel, Something Like Human (Epic/550 Music); Godsmack, Awake (Republic/Universal); Iommi (Divine/Priority); Marilyn Manson, Holy Wood (Nothing); Morcheeba, Fragments of Freedom (Sire); Platinum Christmas (Arista/RCA/Jive); Armand Van Helden, Killing Puritans (Armed).
ADDRESSES: Astralwerks, c/o Caroline, 109 West 29 Street, NYC 10001, astralwerks.com; Galapagos4, 1457 West Rascher, Suite 2, Chicago, IL 60640, galapagos4.com; Gloria Deluxe, c/o Cynthia Hopkins, Box 23061, Brooklyn, NY 11202-3061, gloriadeluxe.com; Koch, 2 Tri-Harbor Court, Port Washington, NY 11050, kochint.com; Merge, Box 1235, Chapel Hill, NC 27514, mrg2000.com; Naxos World, 416 Mary Lindsay Polk Drive, Suite 509, Franklin, TN 37067, hnh.com; 75 Ark, 77 Chambers Street, 4th floor, NYC 10007, email@example.com; Smithsonian Folkways, 955 L’Enfant Plaza SW, Suite 2600, Washington, DC 20560; Traditional Crossroads, Box 20320, Greeley Square Station, NYC 10001-9992; World Music Network, 6 Abbeville Mews, 88 Clapham Park Road, London SW4 7BX, England, firstname.lastname@example.org.