Public Enemy, "Muse Sick N Hour Mess Age" (Def Jam/PolyGram)(STAR) (STAR) (STAR) 1/2
True to form, the fifth release by Public Enemy has surfacedamid a storm of controversy. But this time, instead of critics andhip-hop fans fighting about Chuck D.'s ideas, the argument is aboutP.E.'s relevance in the age of gangstas like Snoop Doggy Dogg and andmore tuneful "edutainers" like Arrested Development.
Chuck does his bit to prime the pump with "Hitler Day," a rantagainst enemies both real and imagined. Reviewers feel obligated toquote the lines, "If you find a critic dead/Remember what I said/Whokilled a critic?/Guess the crew did it."
OK, so Chuck D. always has been a bit of a whiner. He hasfired off plenty of couplets full of self-serving complaints,contradictions and fuzzy thinking.
What's forgotten in the current debate is the fact that P.E.remains a musical powerhouse. When Chuck is backed by a solid grooveand the trademark wall of sound, it doesn't matter what's he saying.
His booming basketball announcer voice is still one of rap'sbest. And though the Bomb Squad production team is gone, tracks suchas the noisy, furious "Bedlam 13:13" and the soulful "What Kind ofPower We Got?" hold their own, even when compared to classics suchas "Fight the Power" and "Bring Tha Noize."
Even more effective is "Aintnuttin Buttersong." It questionswhy we teach children to sing "The Star Spangled Banner," which Chuckregards as a a violent imperialist anthem. He samples the nationalanthem and places it in a dramatic and different context, just asJimi Hendrix did 25 years ago at Woodstock.
It's true that some of Chuck's notions are wack. The messageof anti-drug raps such as "Live and Undrugged" and "Give It Up" seemsdiluted by the well-publicized drug busts of Flavor Flav, Chuck'scomic sidekick. Chuck's conspiracy theory of white Americans andEuropeans uniting to create a worldwide ghetto is paranoid andabsurd, and he's ill-informed about theories that AIDS originated inAfrica.
But Chuck D. isn't a political leader or a teacher. He's onevoice in a big debate, and his goal is to create music that forcespeople to communicate. On "Muse Sick N Hour Mess Age," he succeeds.
Julian Cope, "Autogeddon" (American) (STAR) (STAR) 1/2
Sooner or later, all eccentric rock visionaries seem to wind upon American Recordings, home of weirdos as diverse as Johnny Cash, Glenn Danzig and the Jesus & Mary Chain.It should come as no surprise, then, that Julian Cope, the formerleader of acid-popsters the Teardrop Explodes and lately a mercurialsolo artist, has joined Rick Rubin's roster.
"Autogeddon" is the last installment of a trilogy that startedwith Cope's brilliant and poppy "Peggy Suicide" (1991) and continuedwith the brilliant and droning "Jehovahkill" (1992). Island releasedboth albums, but never really promoted them. Unfortunately, Cope'suneven American debut lacks the anthemic quality of the former or thehypnotic power of the latter.
The concept this time is that the evil automobile is killing usand the planet. (The spark, literally, came when Cope's car explodedin his driveway one Christmas Eve.) But the singer's environmentalconspiracy theories make for better reading than listening.
Several tracks pack Cope's familiar bouncy hooks, including"Ain't No Gettin' Round Gettin' Round" and "Don't Call Me MarkChapman." Others are in the metronomic style of German art-rockersNeu! and Kraftwerk. (Ironically, Cope makes great driving music evenas he's telling us he'd rather walk.)
These standouts are separated by obvious filler and pointlessinterludes. Cope's fans will love them regardless, but it's too bad this legendary misfit didn't aim for abroader audience now that he's on a label where he truly belongs.
Superstar, "Superstar" (SBK) (STAR) (STAR) 1/2
Guitarist, vocalist and primary Superstar auteur Joe McAlindenhas played with fellow Scottish popsters Eugene Kelly and NormanBlake in the notorious cult band the BMX Bandits, and he usuallyprovides the string and horn parts on Eugenius and Teenage Fanclubalbums.
McAlinden shares Kelly and Blake's obsessions with the '60s popsounds of Beach Boys circa "Pet Sounds," the Raspberries and Big Star(Alex Chilton guests on guitar on one track). But the self-titleddebut by McAlinden's own band also hints of early BeeGees vocalharmonies and (yipes!) the lush orchestrations of the Moody Blues.
Thankfully, tunes such as "Barfly," "Noise Level" and "I Can'tHelp It" rock harder than the Brothers Gibb or the Moodies ever did.And despite the presence of strings, flugelhorns and tubular bells,the group never skimps on the hooks or takes itself too seriously inthe lyrics.
MC Eiht featuring Compton's Most Wanted, ``We Come Strapped"(Epic) (STAR) (STAR) 1/2
After languishing on hip-hop's fringes, MC Eiht finally breaksthrough on his solo debut.
Without much mainstream recognition, MC Eiht and his Compton'sMost Wanted crew have cultivated a respectable following since thelate '80s. MC Eiht broadened his fan base with the single "Growin'Up in the Hood" on 1991's "Boyz in the Hood" soundtrack, and with thesmash "Streiht Up Menace" on '93's "Menace II Society" soundtrack.
Here, the rapper extends his trademark "Jeeeaah" over 16 tauttracks. With a sparse production setting for his sinister stories,MC Eiht takes you on a tantalizing trip through the 'hood. "Take 2Wit Me" and "Goin' Out Like Geez" are gripping tales about ill-fateddrug deals and gang wars.
"All for the Money" symbolizes the way that many youths areseduced and stricken by mindless materialism, and "Compton Cyco" andthe title track are warnings to personal and professional rivals.Even "Niggaz Make the Hood Go Round" takes a street twist tosociopolitical mobilization among urban African Americans.
Intriguing and entertaining, Eiht's album affirms his newlyauspicious niche in rap.
The Coctails, "Peel" (Carrot Top) (STAR) (STAR) 1/2
If you follow the fickle fads of slacker culture, you'veprobably read about the Cocktail Nation, a group of bands fromdifferent corners of the country devoted to the sexy, swinging,martini-swilling lounge-music sounds of late '50s and early '60s.
These bands include the spectacular Combustible Edison, the lessspectacular but still entertaining Love Jones, and the funny butforgettable Black Velvet Flag. Chicago's Coctails have been aroundlonger than all of them. They're more creative and they're bettermusicians, and if they weren't such modest guys, they could even layclaim to giving the "nation" its name.
"Peel" is the Coctails' fourth do-it-yourself album of newmaterial. Thanks to production by Stuart Moxham, leader of theEnglish cult band the Young Marble Giants, it's the quartet'slushest, most dynamic and most self-assured effort.
At best, the Coctails are mediocre singers, and instrumentalssuch as "Daylight," "Cottonbelt" and the title track are thestandouts. Nevertheless, you'd be hard-pressed to find better partymusic. For a truly happening affair, this disc is as essential as ajar of olives.
Big Mike, "Something Serious" (Rap-a-Lot/Priority)(STAR)(STAR)
After being handpicked to replace Willie D in the Geto Boys, BigMike continues his career climb with a solo release.
Big Mike capitalized on his opportunity to step into thespotlight by ripping rugged rhymes that sent rumbles through rapcircles. On a solid if not spectacular solo effort, the Louisiananative continues his "swamp style" storytelling.
As a laundry list of producers provides the beats, Big Mikefluctuates from territorial touting of his backwoods background on"Comin' from the Swamp" and "Southern Things" to mellow musings aboutlove ("Player Player") and life ("World of Mind").
A particularly poignant cut is "Daddy's Gone," a tribute tosingle mothers who overcome the tribulations of absentee fathers.
Buckshot LeFonque, "Buckshot LeFonque" (Columbia)
Despite all the talk about how hip it is to mix jazz and rap,the sad fact is that most performers go no further than dropping abit of bebop into an otherwise standard hip-hop groove. But BuckshotLeFonque really does blur the boundaries between the two.
Driven by Branford Marsalis with able assistance from mixmasterDJ Premier (from Gang Starr), "Buckshot LeFonque" eschews thepre-programmed rigidity of hip-hop, playing with the time so thebeats flow as naturally as they would from a jazz rhythm section.The solos sparkle and shine, and there's an added liveliness to theoverall pulse that leaves the group seeming equally at home in anystyle, from the dance hall cadences of "Hotter Than Hot" to thebluesy stomp of "Some Cow Fonque (More Tea, Vicar?)."
But the best tracks by far are those that emphasize therelationship between words and music, such as the swinging"Blackwidow" and the group's powerful, poetic rendering of "I KnowWhy the Caged Bird Sings."
J.D. Considine/Baltimore Sun
Edie Brickell, "Picture Perfect Morning" (Geffen)
Anyone who wrote off Edie Brickell as just another slight-voicedhippie pop singer will be in for a rude awakening with "PicturePerfect Morning."
Although parts of the album - her first as a solo artist - touchon the same loose-limbed grooves she worked with the New Bohemians,most find Brickell expanding her stylistic range, offering everythingfrom the pastoral gentleness of "Green" to the slow, jazz-flavoredblues of "Stay Awhile."
There's some remarkably evocative stuff, too, particularly whenshe evokes a sense of time and place as vividly as she does on "Inthe Bath." But Brickell is at her best when showing off her R&Broots, riding the disco-style bass of "Another Woman's Dreams" orevoking the lithe sensuality of Smokey Robinson in "Good Times"(gotta love that Barry White cameo). It's a delight.
J.D. Considine/Baltimore Sun