"Back Numbers," Dean & Britta
Call it loft rock. "The Back Numbers" shows the extremely stylish duo of Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips to have weathered the dissolution of their former band Luna with a surplus of style and a surfeit of languor. Luna fans know what to expect: warm guitar tones, Wareham's wry vocals and Phillips' sex kitten purr, and rhythms that seem to hover rather than move. Ex-David Bowie producer Tony Visconti ups the chic factor even further with a spacious mix that finds room for ripples of strings and keyboards. With their whispered melodies and perfectly controlled backing, songs like "Say Goodbye" and a cover of Donovan's "Teen Angel" call to mind the cool clarity of Scandinavian design. "Back Numbers" is an easy album to admire, as the overall air of sophistication goes down as easy as a martini at midnight, but the unceasing sangfroid doesn't make it easy to love.
Favorite track: "The Sun Is Still Sunny"
"Dangerous Game," Mary Weiss
Mary Weiss helped change popular culture. As the lead singer in the Shangri-Las, Weiss was part of the first wave of girl groups that established, with songs like "Leader of the Pack" and "I Can Never Go Home Anymore," that young women were just as capable of rock 'n' roll attitude as men. Weiss dropped out of the music biz in the late '60s -- her lessons having been absorbed by performers like Laura Nyro and Janis Joplin -- but now this pack leader is back with her first solo album. Aided by Memphis garage rock stalwarts Reigning Sound, "Dangerous Game" sounds exactly like what it is, a girl-group record beefed up with raucous, ringing guitars and heavy beats that would've been unseemly back in the buttoned-down days of beehive hairdos and pillbox hats. "Dangerous Game" is great, if slightly retrograde, stuff; songs like "Cry About the Radio" show that Weiss still has the head, heart and voice for tough, vital rock 'n' roll. The Ramones would've been drooling over this one.
Favorite track: "Don't Come Back"
"We All Belong," Dr. Dog
I'm never one to look down my nose at an album for being fun, but this album is so enamored of its own joie de vivre that it risks inconsequentiality. Beatles-inspired melodies and crafty touches -- like the descending guitar and vocal harmonies on "Keep a Friend" and the way "Ain't It Strange" morphs from a piano ballad into a bulky guitar epic -- keep these Philadelphia youngsters' sophomore full-length from floating away, if only just barely. But the bland, almost puritan vocals and nearly complete lack of tension or drama ensure that the album has all the heft of a birthday balloon. Dr. Dog has the formal skills down, but as of yet, anything emotionally or sonically fraught seems like just another sonic tool; "We All Belong" sounds like it has nothing at stake.
Favorite track: "Alaska"