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Picks by Edward Crouse (EC) and Alyssa Nitchun (AN)

Pet Shop Boys

If you cult-worship the Pet Shop Boys like millions of sweaty dance room aficionados, then you already own this album. But what about those of you who thought Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe went the way of all English Top of the Popsters to VH-1 nostalgic heavy-rotation heaven? With Nightlife, their 15th album, the Pet Shop Boys are still doling out more than a few ambitious words of help to the downtrodden on songs like "I Don't Know What You Want But I Can't Give It Anymore" and "Happiness Is an option." Tennant and Lowe use the London Sessions Orchestra, Metro Voices Choir and the latest sonic tchotchkes for the danciest, sharpest, most inimitable Pet Shop Boys vibe in years. Look for their cutting-edge stage show designed by uber-architect Zaha Hadid. (AN)

The Next Best Thing
Madonna disguised as various artists (Maverick Records)

Best described as "looking for love in a hall of mirrors," Madonna and producer William Orbit's gambit on this soundtrack is to surround real Madonna vocal tracks --"American Pie," "Time Stood Still"-- with mimicked ones. At the start, you get princess Christina Aguilera in a warble-strut mode, resembling something off Madonna's Like a Prayer LP. Right after "Pie" is Mandalay's sexy-as-hell synth-housescape tune "This Life," with whispers and eroticized huffing all in their proper places. This begs the question: How much could Madonna win in court for self-plagiarism? (EC)

Nilsson Sings Newman (Buddha Records)

NSN's 30th anniversary reissue edition finds both Randy Newman's early songs and Harry Nilsson's decathlete voice ageless. Newman's piano playing is quiet and spare, and can't help but sound humbled by the labyrinthine multi-tracked vocals. "I'll Be Home," for instance, has Harry singing plaintive lead while acting as his own call-and-response gospel squad. But hearing him growl like Mahalia Jackson is just half of the matter. While the vocal personalities are densely webbed, their beauty transcends their status as whirlgig gimmicks. Nilsson's team of voices peel away at Newman's firm, almost filmic ("The milk truck hauls the sun up/ the paper hits the door/ and the subway shakes my floor/ and I think about you") sensibility. It's still luscious. (EC)

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From the April 3, 2000 issue of the Metropolitan.

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