Issue 12 – Reviews by Jason Anderson

BRANDY/Never Say Never (Atlantic/Warner)
Dear Brandy: How are you? I’m fine. I like you on Moesha and I like your
new album very much – I saw so many posters, I couldn’t wait to hear it.
Then I bought the magazine about you and Monica – I think it was called
Brandy and Monica. Anyways, “The Boy Is Mine” is excellent, but I hope the
boy you and Monica are fighting over isn’t Mase, because he’s nasty. Are
you old enough to date boys? I also like “U Don’t Know Me (Like U Used To)”
because it’s fun to dance to, like Missy Elliott. Do you know her? I like
her hair. The only I thing I don’t like is “(Everything I Do) I Do It for
You” because I hate Bryan Adams – he’s nasty. I wish you did more fast
songs, but I still think you’re the best. Love, Kath

CHARLIE FEATHERS/Get With It (Revenant/Koch)
A mythical also-ran, this hillbilly-cum-rockabilly cat is worshipped by
aficionados as a crucial precursor to Elvis (whose first C&W hit, “I Forgot
to Remember to Forget,” was cowritten by Feathers), but he only came to
greater notice this decade with discs for Nonesuch Explorer and Norton.
This double-disc on John Fahey’s Revenant label – with a thick book of
testaments by heavyweights like Nick Tosches, Colin Escott and Peter
Guralnick – collects his ’50s sides for King, Sun and other labels
(including Holiday Inn Records! apparently, Sam Phillips had a stake in the
hotel chain), and unissued recordings including Sun demos from ’54 and two
songs with Junior Kimbrough in ’69. Feathers’ hot, tough proto-rock ‘n’
roll is the real McCoy – the missing link between Hank and Elvis, with a
mean nasal whistle of a voice.

MONICA/The Boy Is Mine (Arista/BMG)
If I was that guy in the video who was getting it from Brandy and Monica
and they found out and dumped meä I’d kill myself. I mean that. However, I
am disappointed that there are so few erotic scenarios presented on The Boy
Is Mine – it’s as if Monica was scared by the suggestion of three-way sex
in “The Boy Is Mine” and had to retreat to more chaste fare. “For You I
Will” has a promising title, but it’s Diane Warren-written, David
Foster-produced dreck. Plus, Monica seems unlikely to be going out on a
second date with OutKast after “Gone Be Fine.” Somebody give her a Cosmo
subscription.

DR. JOHN/Anutha Zone (EMI)
There’s an ongoing effort to introduce Dr. John – a.k.a. Mac Rebennack,
born in New Orleans in ’42 and one of the wittiest and most enduring
purveyors of Southern-style R&B – to a fresher-faced audience. The GRP
label sorta tried it in ’94 with the so-so Television, except on Anutha
Zone, the cameo slots filled by the likes of the Red Hot Chili Peppers are
now taken by trendy but capable Limeys (e.g., Paul Weller and members of
Ocean Colour Scene, Supergrass, Portishead and Primal Scream).
Whatever the case, Anutha Zone is very, very fine. At its heart is the
continued collaboration between Dr. John and Spiritualized’s Jason Pierce,
and it’s probably Pierce who deserves thanks for inspiring Rebennack to
revisit the voodoo funk of his late-’60s masterstrokes, Gris-Gris and
Babylon. “Ki-Ya-Gris-Gris” gives off a spooky vibe avec cowbells and a
really loud ‘n’ scratchy keyboard squiggle. Then come the two tracks with
Pierce: “Hello God” overwhelms with its big gospel choruses; and the
swampier “John Gris” is a cool revamp of a few Gris-Gris tracks, especially
“I Walk on Gilded Splinters” (a song covered by Paul Weller and sampled by
Beck). The songs do come off a bit like simulations of past greatness,
lacking some of the originals’ freshness and looseness. But here in ’98
they cut the mustard, as well as any other Cajun condiment you choose.
The rest is fonky and sweet – though many of the songs aren’t particularly
memorable, the performances are winning, there’s a lot of imagination and
finesse in the arrangements and Dr. John’s charms are irresistible. A cover
of John Martyn’s “Don’t Wanna Know” with Jools Holland is a tad milquetoast
but far superior to Clapton’s version. “Voices in My Head” and “Why Come”
(in which he wonders why white people are pink and black people are brown)
are big fun, and the brassy closer “Sweet Home New Orleans” is yet another
fine tribute to his hometown. Bask in his limitless cool.

TOM WAITS/Beautiful Maladies (Island/PolyGram)
A few points on Tom Waits’ fruitful Island years (though likely to rejoin
Chris Blackwell at his new Palm Pictures label, he’s recording his next
album for Epitaph). The first is that Waits was in the ’80s what Captain
Beefheart was in the ’70s: a maverick making records for major labels who
was able to unify music, lyrics and production techniques in unique, highly
detailed and (relatively) accessible soundworlds. The second is that
despite the thematic intricacy of the albums (particularly Frank’s Wild
Years), most songs work very well on their own (the choices and sequencing
for this comp are canny). Finally, Waits’ approaches change quite a lot
through this period. Contrast the relatively straightforward character
study in the wistful “Shore Leave” from Swordfishtrombones – not a million
miles in style from anything on Closing Time – with the dense, deranged
narrative in “Earth Died Screaming” nine years later on Bone Machine. A
steamin’ hunk of genius.

LO-FIDELITY ALLSTARS/How to Operate with a Blown Mind (Skint/Sony)
Scummy, would-be drug dealers as a rock ‘n’ rave posse, flaunting samples
of UTFO and Rick James – like an Irvine Welsh story made flesh. The band
hyped their own debut as the ’98 equivalent to Primal Scream’s
Screamdelica, but it’s more like the Happy Mondays’ Bummed – thuggy, druggy
and, with on “Kasparov’s Revenge” and a remake of Pigeonhed’s “Battle
Flag,” haphazardly thrilling.

BEASTIE BOYS/Hello Nasty (Grand Royal/EMI)
Ain’t there a proverb that goes “Free Tibet and your ass will follow”?
Anyhow, the first Beasties album since ’94 has dropped – and sold a million
in the States in about two weeks. While it’s solid action, it ain’t the
old-school-on-psychedelics rap masterpiece you may be stoked to hear.
They’ve dropped the punk-rock schtick of Ill Communication and Check Your
Head, toughened up the beats and increased the turntable skills (live,
they’re joined by Mix Master Mike of the Invisible Skratch Pikls, or
however you spell it). So how come Hello Nasty sounds like Paul’s Boutique
with half the ideas? I guess the shit don’t fly as fast and funny as it
once did. Bitchiness aside, there’s some amazing stuff here – “Just a Test”
and “Three MCs and One DJ” are two of their best lyric workouts since
“Shadrach,” suggesting repeat viewings of Wild Style. It’s sweet when they
go for N.Y. electro-funk on “Intergalactic,” and “Flowin’ Prose” and
“Unite” are freaky dub science (and preferable as such to the Lee Scratch
Perry track). Still, the weirdo-pop numbers like “Picture This” and “Song
for the Man” are way better done on the Money Mark disc, and for hip-hop
density and wit, Hello Nasty doesn’t match ’97 discs by Prince Paul and
Company Flow, or the Black Eyed Peas’ new debut, Behind the Front. It’s no
loser, but it’s no master’s thesis, either.

MAXWELL/Embrya (Columbia/Sony)
On the cusp of megastardom, the emergent prince of soul is far too much of
an oddball to play it straight. In the tradition of Terence Trent D’Arby’s
Neither Fish nor Flesh, Embrya is a far more convoluted version of the
debut album, Urban Hang Suite – song titles like “Luxury: Cococure” (the
single, no less) and “Gravity: Pushing to Pull” ensure there’ll be the sort
of complexity that second-years crave. “Confusing as this is,” our
Brooklynite Lothario sings in “Drowndeep: Hula,” “I hope my kiss can
rectify the lack of part-time bliss.” Well, yeah, it does. The music is
impossibly soft and supple, with relentlessly percolating bass and pillowy
strings, and Maxwell confidently overcomes the potential drawback of having
hardly any tunes to speak of. The first half-hour seems like the most
effortlessly sensual music ever made; the second is inevitably
anticlimactic. I’m convinced he’s the secret love child of Teddy
Pendergrass and Kate Bush. Everybody into the pool.

BUTTERFLY CHILD/Soft Explosives (HitIt)
Gorgeous, made-in-Chicago third album by project led by fey Irish fella Joe
Cassidy, a former protÈgÈ of cult art-pop duo A.R. Kane. Butterfly Child
sound rather like Nick Drake fronting the High Llamas, as the fragility and
tenderness in Cassidy’s voice and lyrics are juxtaposed with vast, ornate,
avant-pop arrangements (it’s not far off from the Mercury Rev disc, out in
late September). More straightforward than his previous work but no less
ambitious, Soft Explosives is glorious.

DUSTY SPRINGFIELD/Where Am I Going/Ev’rything’s Coming Up Dusty
(Philips/PolyGram)
These reissues of the second and third albums by England’s most strident
soul singer of the ’60s are so utterly fabulous that I fear I don’t deserve
to hear them. After the ingenue days of hits like “I Only Want to Be With
You” and before the triumph of Dusty in Memphis, Dusty was an amazing
interpreter of songs, invigorating sub-par material (which, really,
describes 50 per cent of each disc’s contents) and personalizing songs as
unlikely as “La Bamba,” “Close to You” and “Ne Me Quitte Pas.” This is too
good to be merely appreciated as kitsch, and Dusty’s presence is readily
felt in ’90s pop and trip-hop (fans of spiritual heirs Saint Etienne may be
stunned to learn that their ’91 casino classic “Nothing Can Stop Us” is a
total cop of Dusty’s “I Can’t Wait Until I See My Baby’s Face”). An easy
thing to love.

KOMEDA
What Makes It Go? (Minty Fresh/Page)
THE ALUMINUM GROUP
Plano (Minty Fresh/Page)
Pop sweet enough to give a horse a headache from the Chicago indie label,
whose batting average has been excellent this season. Komeda are Swedes
whose schtick fits snugly between Stereolab’s and the Cardigans’. Their
best songs (“Cul de Sac,” “A Simple Formality”) marry the au courant
fetishes for Antonio Carlos Jobim and Krautrock with winning melodies and
the right amount of gimmickry. Derivative but insistent and occasionally
ingenious. The Aluminum Group are fronted by the honey-voiced Navin
brothers and they want to tell you – in great detail and backed by
sumptuous Bacharach-style strings – how crazy they are about you, you
gorgeous, winsome thing. Plano lacks the edge that melancholy and cynicism
added to stylistically similar discs like Everything but the Girl’s
Idlewild, the Go-Betweens’ 16 Lovers Lane and, my fave disc of ’98, the
Perniece Brothers’ Overcome by Happiness. Still, if you want dreamy, you’ll
get dreamy.

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