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  Listen Up! 2/7/03 Listen Up!

Friday, Feb. 7

Various Artists, “Yellow Pills Vol. 2,” Big Deal Records. Nine years ago, this collection of obscure power-pop influenced material at least had the virtue of documenting a nascent revival of sorts. Now, it just sounds like a collection of mostly forgettable songs from a bunch of bands seriously lacking personality. Crank up the guitars, and meander your way around a few basic melodic motifs nipped from Big Star, Badfinger, and the Raspberries. There are standouts, to be sure, but not so many as to justify listening to the whole album.

Zwan, “Mary Star of the Sea,” Reprise Records. Lew tells me Billy Corgan has one idea and he’s used it up entirely. I think Lew’s not paying attention. There are real songs here, genuine melodies developed and augmented by tight ensemble playing and carefully crafted arrangements. Now, Corgan’s voice is a little tough to take after a while, but I’m used to him after all these years, so I forget about it a lot of the time. Rene Saller said she thought these songs would sound better sung by Courtney Love, and I agree with that, but that’s not what we have. Instead, we have an actual pop/rock record with a chance of commercial success that’s worth getting behind. I’ll take that in 2003.

Various Artists, “O Christmas Tree,” Rounder Records. I’m not sure why we’re playing a Christmas record here in early February, though it is snowing outside, so some of these songs are appropriate. There are some tremendous vocal performances on this album. Alecia Nugent, whoever she is, knocked me out with the purity of her singing on “Beautiful Star of Bethlehem,” a durn pretty song I’d never heard before. I’m a sucker for good Christmas music, and these bluegrass folk have put together a nice album.

--Steve Pick


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