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  Listen Up! 5/27/04 Listen Up!

Thursday, May 27

Teena Marie, “La Dona,” Cash Money Records. I’m glad Teena Marie is back and I’m gladder that she’s picking up right where she left off and I’m gladdest that she’s actually selling again. All that said, I’m just as indifferent to the actual music as I ever was. All I ever really truly loved was “Square Biz,” one of the greatest records of 1981, if I recall the year correctly. Beyond that, I learned to dig the over-the-top histrionics of “Fire and Desire,” her seemingly endless duet with Rick James. Everything else goes in one ear and out the other, with the occasional jazz harmony and interesting rhythm track sloshing around in the middle for a minute or two. This album is long, it’s never great, and it’s never bad. If you’re a fan, you’ll love it. None of her acolytes – and there have been many, including some I do love, like Nikka Costa – have done anything that sounds quite like the original. But, I don’t see it converting anybody new.

The Magnetic Fields, “I,” Nonesuch Records. Ah, Stephin Merritt, one of the great songwriters, engaging recording artists, and most limited vocalists of our time. Strangely, when he gives his songs to other people, as he does in outfits like the Sixths, they aren’t half as interesting to me. So, somehow, his unceasing supply of clever melodies and knock-em-in-the-head hooks requires his rumbly, narrow range to deliver to best effect. Go figure. He also succeeds at making ramshackle cheap instrumentation sound lovely. I don’t know how he does it, but I’m happy with the results. This album doesn’t have the high points of “69 Love Songs,” nor does it wander wide afield of a basic pop structure to each song. All that means is it’s merely another damn good thing to listen to in this world.

Black Sabbath, “Paranoid,” Warner Bros. Records. Newly remastered to make this stuff sound as in your face and powerful as it ever will, this CD is reminding me that there really is absolutely no good reason to try to enjoy these guys. I have come to the conclusion that Ozzy’s solo material is at least pleasurable – “Crazy Train,” hell yeah! – but the Sabbath stuff that made it all possible remains as ham-fisted and clumsy as anything in the history of rock’n’roll. Yeah, I’ll give you Tony Iommi’s guitar tone, which is dirty and thick, but the stuff he plays with that sound just sounds like extremely low-rent versions of the really talented late 60s guitar icons. And, rhythmically, I can’t get my body to move this stiffly, and, dammit, I’m a pretty pathetic dance machine myself.

--Steve Pick

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