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  Listen Up! 2/26/02 Listen Up!

Tuesday, Feb. 26

Cousteau, "Cousteau," Palm Pictures. My wife really digs these guys. My editor at the Riverfront Times likes them. Steve Scariano, VV personnel honcho, likes them. Me, I can easily take them or leave them. Actually, it would probably be easier to leave them. Here and there, they stumble into a melodic hook that's quite charming; each time they do it, it's with the simplest, sparsest set of notes dropped into a short pattern that's downright irresistible. But, mostly, they don't turn out anything memorable, and they do it in a portentous manner. The singer has a voice that shouldn't bother me - after all, David Bowie used this exact same voice to great effect for years - but it doesn't invite me further into the music. (All right, I'll admit "Last Good Day of the Year" has sucked me into it, with that little Bacharach-style trumpet hook, and the Walker-Brotherish melody.)

Chic, "The Very Best of Chic," Rhino Records. It's so hard to believe I ever derided these guys as just another disco band. First of all, it's hard enough to believe I ever hated disco, but I went along with the mass-cult mindset of the late 70s backlash back in the day. Ever since I realized my mistake, I've been trying to make up for it by being completely open to the possibilities that enormously popular music could be enormously brilliant music, that repetition is not an inherent flaw, and that rhythm is a perfectly acceptable thing to concentrate one's attention upon. Anyway, never mind disco itself, because Chic were always so much more than just a disco band. Yes, they had that groove, the solid four-square thump that got them played in the clubs that once upon a time dominated every spare room in a strip mall or hotel in the U.S. But, the movement in these rhythms, whether from Tony Thompson's hi-hat, or Bernard Edwards' unbelievable elastic basslines, or Nile Rodgers' masterful chicken scratching guitar licks, was so much more complex than any of their peers were doing. The songs were sometimes better than others, with "Good Times" perhaps the ultimate culmination of their combination of hook with groove, but they never made an unlistenable record. A true compilation of the very best of Chic would have to include their productions for Sister Sledge and Diana Ross, among others, but this is a fine collection of the stuff they released under their own name.

Kasey Chambers, "Barricades and Brickwalls," Warner Bros. Records. Chambers has a nice twangy alto, with just the right amount of nasality, to conjure up proper country music credentials. She writes in the form, though sometimes tweaks it out into slightly more pop/rock directions, and rarely missteps. That she just as rarely flies is a bit of a problem, but I'll take a fine genre piece with few mistakes any day of the week. Nothing here is as good as "The Captain" was on her last album, but "Barricades and Brickwalls" and "Runaway Train" are growing on me, adding a nice sultry burn to the rhythms behind her distinctly straight-toned delivery.

Motorhead, "No Remorse," Castle Music. Whereas Motorhead once sounded like the fastest, loudest, and hardest rock band possible, they sound considerably less radical in this world of nu metal. But, these old records still sound lively, still sound engaged with entertainment and sex and humor, while most of the bands that have come along to pass them in speed and volume just sound sludgy. Lemmy's growl still stands as a pure representation of rock'n'roll pleasure, especially in the context of the deft chord changes and guitar hooks these guys effortlessly plied for so many years.

--Steve Pick



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