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The best way to check if an artist possesses the necessary groove is to take a test drive on the dance floor. During a recent trip to a Lake Tahoe discotheque, I listened as the DJ slipped Beck's "Beercan" between the techno and high-energy records. Surprisingly, people got off on the song as if it were the latest jam from Zapp. The exploratory Odelay builds on Mellow Gold's hip-hop moments with gleeful abandon. Most of the tracks--"High 5 (Rock the Catskills)," "Devils Haircut," "Novacane"--easily best the work of rap's current celebrity-producer pantheon. Typical Beckisms like throwing-up-blood vocals, narcoleptic folk, and rambling, metaphor-mixing quips litter the landscape like road kill. Critics and friends have been busy comparing Odelay to the Beastie Boys' masterful pastiche Paul's Boutique. It's a fair comparison, as there are many moments when I found myself mumbling/laughing, I can't believe he did/said that. With more bounce to the ounce and a pumping achy-breaky heart, Beck is the man. (Todd S. Inoue)

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Melton Mustafa Orchestra
Boiling Point

From the first deliciously smeary trumpet solo, Melton Mustafa's big band reanimates the swaggering spirit of Kansas City jazz. No surprise here; the trumpet player/ composer/arranger spent eight years with Count Basie's band. And, as if that doesn't qualify the Miami-based musician as a legitimate heir to the big-band mantle, he is also a Duke Ellington alumnus. The disc's title track rocks the Kansas City blues according to Basie's trademarked recipe of low-down blues and hopped-up swing. The interplay of the brass section and the piano builds from feverish to equatorial; this is a group of musicians whose grasp of "swing" goes far beyond mere comprehension to a place where feeling (some call it "soul") reigns supreme. "Blind Love Blues," featuring organist Lonnie Smith's smoky B-3 Hammond, is a fine example of low-rent, high-quality blues. Boiling Point is also shot through with Milesian modalism, bop and even a little Afri-Cuban rhythm. (Nicky Baxter)

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Tears for Fears
Saturnine Martial & Lunatic

Sadly, when pop guru Roland Orzabal pulls out an 18-song collection of Tears for Fears B-sides from the archives, it sounds more like a wannabe New Age/world-beat album than a bona fide pop record. Fast, happy ditties have always been the band's forte ("Shout," "Break It Down Again"), but on Saturnine Martial & Lunatic, gleeful melody is abandoned for grocery-store music (the even more pathetic cousin of elevator music). Orzabal & Co. load the songs with an eclectic variety of synthesizer-produced sounds--ringing telephones, chanting human voices, miscellaneous violin screeching--creating songs perfect for spelunking; yes, Saturnine would undoubtedly be played in Natural Wonders stores. "Pharaohs," for example, sounds like Enya covering "Everybody Wants to Rule the World," while "Sea Song" is a pop ballad shivering with tragic poetics, orchestrated accompaniment and Orzabal's heartbroken vocals. Happily, songs like "New Star," "The Big Chair" and "The Way You Are" lapse into the jiving pop groove we've come to expect from the band. (Bernice Yeung)

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From the August 1-7, 1996 issue of Metro

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