Sharps & Flats

Topics: Music,

Largo” is a song cycle designed to evoke the American influences that inspired Antonin Dvorak’s symphony “From the New World,” and while that sounds awfully precious on paper, the result is a pleasing collection of folk-rock performances that fit into the rootsy Americana format. The project is the brainchild of producers Rick Chertoff and Rob Hyman, with valuable assists from engineer William Wittman and Eric Brazilian, Hyman’s old partner in the Hooters. All were involved in the production of such stylishly slick albums as Cyndi Lauper’s “She’s So Unusual” and Joan Osborne’s “Relish.”

“Largo” is the second movement of “From the New World,” and the theme is interpreted both by the Chieftains, who give it a lovely lilt, and by Garth Hudson of the Band, who has great fun pulling it apart. The new songs work better as episodic vignettes than as parts of an ongoing narrative, with standout tunes performed by Osborne (“An Uncommon Love”), Lauper (“White Man’s Melody”), Taj Mahal (“Freedom Ride” and “Needed Time”) and Willie Nile (“Medallion”). But the real star of the show is David Forman, who helped write many of the tunes, and who sings lead on five of them, including a terrific duet with Levon Helm on “Gimme a Stone,” a song that sounds like a forgotten gem by The Band. Forman attracted critical attention in 1976 for a sweetly soulful LP on Arista. Twenty-two years later, it’s nice to see him taking a second bow.

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Tricky
ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES | ISLAND



BY MICHELLE GOLDBERG | Like Tricky’s last record,
“Pre-Millennium Tension,” “Angels With Dirty Faces” is a
jumbled, gorgeous hiss of despair. This dark and difficult album
will do little to bring back fans of the relatively accessible
“Maxinquaye,” who were alienated by “Pre-Millennium
Tension’s” relentless bleakness. On the new album, the
beauty-and-the-beast tension that Tricky has with Martina, his
angel-voiced collaborator, is particularly potent. “Talk to Me,”
for example, has Tricky’s paranoid growl creeping under
Martina’s sweet, heartsick warble, while layers of ominous sound
and irregular beats gurgle menacingly in the background. On
“Carriage for Two,” Tricky’s voice percolates through layers of
plaintive guitars. His barely-there whisper, “Black girls are
beautiful,” sounds predatory and terrifying, while above him
Martina sings, “God bless the child.” “Broken Homes,” which
opens with a gospel choir, has the subtle incantatory power of
“Makes Me Wanna Die,” the best song on “Pre-Millennium
Tension.”

Of course, angst is currently little more than a highly marketable
commodity, but Tricky’s wild-eyed misery and Martina’s soulful
blues are like nothing else in pop music. His music is explicitly
political — on “Money Greedy,” he repeats over and over,
“Waiting on government lines, I’ll take what’s mine, you trample
on my soul.” But unlike most rappers, Tricky shows us a soul
that’s internalized the degradation of the ghetto. His persona is
never that of a “gangsta” or an activist; he’s more like the broken
man mumbling profundities under his breath on the subway.

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Fugazi
END HITS | DISCHORD

BY MARK ATHITAKIS | Looking for a band name that wasn’t
going out of style any time soon, Ian MacKaye’s post-Minor
Threat outfit agreed on Fugazi, a Vietnam-era military term for
“fucked-up situation.” In the 10 years that followed, the
indomitably independent Washington, D.C., quartet has focused
on showing precisely where those situations are: in the financial
centers, in the government, in relationships, in music. In
yourself, too, should you care to look hard enough. But while it’s
the no-quarter theorizing that’s gained them massive respect, it’s
the music itself that makes the message hit its targets: Tight as
clenched fists, loud as car wrecks, predictable as the Asian stock
market, “End Hits” is Fugazi at its fiercest yet most
approachable.

Their patented quiet-loud dynamics are more controlled than
ever and rooted in a surprising amount of hook-happy
songwriting; if the band had any interest in such things, “Place
Position,” “No Surprise” and “Caustic Acrostic” could do some
chart action. But the hooks and lockgrooves are just places for
the band to hang its outrage. MacKaye barks at global
conglomerates on “Five Corporations” with a fervor that marks
the best hard-core punk (which he defined way back when). And
as for Guy Picciotto, Fugazi’s Sensitive Guy, he’s staring death in
the face and spitting back: “Yawn! Yawn! Yawn! I can’t stifle my
boredom!” he yelps defiantly, giving those fucked-up situations
all the disrespect they deserve.

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Various Artists
GODZILLA: THE ALBUM | SONY

BY GEOFF EDGERS | Most movie soundtracks fall into one of two
camps: There’s the Motown/CCR dose of instant nostalgia ` la
“Forrest Gump,” or the lumping of a dozen seemingly unrelated
new songs — as on “Godzilla: The Album” — whose only mission
is to stick somewhere to the charts. Trouble is, these days the hit
list changes faster than a James Cameron budget. How is Sony
supposed to know Ben Folds has been cold since he teetered in his
chair on “Saturday Night Live”? Or that Green Day is so, well,
1995?

Several of the 13 songs here — not counting the two tracks from
the “score” — are pleasant enough. The Wallflowers do a loyal
version of David Bowie’s “Heroes” (picture the look on Bowie’s
face when he realizes that almost every 13-year-old boy in the
free world thinks Jakob Dylan wrote it), and there are new songs
from Rage Against the Machine and the Foo Fighters. Green
Day’s offering, a very slightly remixed “Brain Stew,” reminds
me that I still think the chords were stolen from Chicago’s “25 or
6 to 4.” The best song on the album, Michael Penn’s “Macy Day
Parade,” is a grinding pop tune with a tinge of gospel, buried
between songs by bands named Fuel and Days of the New.

Incidentally, two other “Godzilla” discs are out on
GNP/Crescendo, music Akira Ifukube recorded for the
charmingly low-budget Japanese monster flicks starting in 1954.
But if the marketing push on the movie is any indication, this is
the one you’re going to hear about.

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Natalie Merchant
OPHELIA | ELEKTRA

BY CYNTHIA JOYCE | Long before bands like the Sundays or the
Cranberries made it fashionable to affect speech impediments
when singing, Natalie Merchant had the diction thing down.
Chopping off the ends (and sometimes the beginnings) of her
words like some French class flunky (remember “Peace Tain”?),
Merchant’s trademark combination of big ideas and baby talk
suggested that these were the thoughts of a wise and sometimes
weary old woman being processed through an innocent child’s
mind.

It’s too bad we can barely hear those big ideas on “Ophelia,”
Merchant’s second solo album. A collection of songs written
from the various imagined perspectives of a woman with
multiple personality disorder (and thus a rich fantasy life),
“Ophelia” is an even more contemplative affair than her previous
work. Long on concept, it’s unfortunately short on the buoyant
rhythms that could carry you through even the most melancholy
of songs from “Tigerlily.” The album (and accompanying video)
appears to be an opportunity for Merchant to indulge her
thespian tendencies, but the music itself amounts to little more
than pleasant background music, a soundtrack for her wild
imagination. The inclusion of unconventional instruments, such
as the Renaissance tenor recorder on the “Ophelia” reprise and
the Wurlitzer on “Frozen Charlotte” and “Effigy,” adds drama,
but the heavy arrangements make Merchant’s lilting voice sound
as if she were drowning in a sea of session musicians.

There are a few tracks, however, that feature the same spare
piano accompaniment and tight turns of phrase of Merchant’s
best work. One of those, the upbeat “Kind and Generous,” opens
with a series of “oooh oooh whoas” that bear a disturbing
resemblance to Olivia Newton-John’s “Have You Never Been
Mellow.” Certainly Merchant has been, but never more so than
on this record.

John Milward is a New York freelance writer.

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