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  Listen Up! 2/1/02 Listen Up!

Friday, Feb. 1

The Pentangle, "Sweet Child," Castle Music. The second album by Pentangle was a two-record set, one live, one studio. Now it's back in print, augmented by enough extra tracks to fill two CDs. The live disc is what I'm playing this morning, and it sounds great. Pentangle viewed folk music as a wide swath of possibility, a field that incorporated English traditional song, blues, and jazz with equal love. Hence, we get blue notes bent behind modal vocal melodies, while the bass and drums add jazzy rhythms. I'm divided about Jacqui McShee, who handles the majority of vocals. She's not bad, but she's so much less interesting than the instrumentalists, or even Bert Jansch's intriguing voice, that I think of her as the weakest link in a very strong line-up. On the other hand, it's so cute to hear her very British tone applied to American Negro spirituals.

Headstrong, "Headstrong," RCA Records. Hey, it's another bad modern rock band, with all the stop/start/fast/loud/rock/hip-hop/scream/rap/bullshit that implies. Nice album cover, though, with two little kids in a boxing ring with a referee looming over them.

South, "From Here On In," Kinetic Records. Hey, it's another dreamy Brit-pop band that sounds like the Verve or Oasis without the hooks. You know the drill, vocals that kinda float, with arpeggios on the guitar, light-weight rhythm section, and keyboards holding chords in the background. I don't even know if these guys are British or not, but they don't interest me enough to find out.

Various Artists, "Superrappin: The Album," Grove Attack. The front cover says this album is "74 minutes of brand new undergroup hip-hop from rap's new generation." There are 18 cuts from 18 different artists on it. The album came out in 1999. I've never heard any of these names before, which means they're still way underground three years later. Until I picked the CD cover up, I didn't even know it was a compilation. Every song sounds very much the same, rigorously avoiding hooks, entertainment, and musical invention in favor of a very direct, straight-forward rhythmic direction which allows the rappers to stay in the pocket but never lets them get creative. Once upon a time, musical undergrounds existed because the mainstream was opposed to innovation; now musical undergrounds exist to provide a home for the most conservative musical values you can find. Every genre is restricted by rigid rules, and once you move outside them, you're either selling out or creating a brand new genre.

Nathaniel Merriweather Presents Lovage, "Music to Make Love to Your Old Lady By," 75 Ark Records. A complete waste of time from Dan the Automator, the least interesting DJ that loves to cross over between rap, rock, and lounge. Really, you almost forget the music is on, except every once in a while you wonder how something this banal could ever have been released.

Fu Manchu, "California Crossing," Mammoth Records. Fu Manchu aspires to Kiss-like levels of rock, but they make the fundamental mistake of liking no other kind of music but Kiss-like rock. And, they think it's too unmanly to listen to pop music, which is the central element of Kiss-like rock that separates the good bands from the bad ones. What? You thought maybe it had something to do with musicianship? Clearly, the guys in Fu Manchu can wield their axes better than the guys in Kiss ever could, but they aren't up there at the virtuoso levels of Led Zeppelin, or Ted Nugent, or Bad Company, all of whom also wrote better songs than anything on here. Fu Manchu does understand the need for guitar riffs, but they don't know what separates memorable guitar riffs from random collections of chords thumped with the appropriate rhythmic power. The secret is either in instrumental skill that is beyond them, or in the embracing of bubblegum-styled pop hooks, which they consider below them. The last great band in this style was Redd Kross, who also couldn't play this well, but had way better songs.

--Steve Pick



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