Paul Simon, Radiohead and Green Day Lead New Releases


Reviews of Paul Simon, Radiohead, Green Day and more
Posted Oct 3, 2000 at 12:00am
Paul Simon You're the One (Warner Bros.)

On his new album, You're the One, Paul Simon lowers the conceptual heat that typically surrounds his projects. After the South African and Brazilian journeys of, respectively, Graceland (1986) and The Rhythm of the Saints (1990) -- and the foray into musical theater on Songs From the Capeman (1997) -- it must have seemed like the right time for a more straightforward collection of songs. "Somewhere in a burst of glory/Sound becomes a song/I'm bound to tell a story/That's where I belong," Simon sings on the new album's opening track, and the comfort and command he displays throughout You're the One demonstrate that he's right.

Of course, "straightforward" is a relative term. Musically, the eleven songs here center on guitar-bass-percussion arrangements, with occasional keyboards, strings and wind instruments providing additional texture. In Simon's way, the melodies are lucid, simple in the best sense of the term. The album's overall impression is of quietness and introspection. (CONTINUED)

Radiohead Kid A (Capitol)

The first track on Radiohead's fourth album is called "Everything in Its Right Place." Actually, nothing in the song sounds like it is in its proper place. An electric piano marches in arrhythmic circles, crisscrossed by the wheeze of an asthmatic synthesizer and intrusive bursts of machine babble. The watery croon of singer Thom Yorke seeps in and out of earshot like whale song. And the words, such as they are, just hang in the air like comic-strip thought balloons: "Yesterday I woke up sucking a lemon. . . . There are two colors in my head. . . . What is that she'd tried to say?"

This is pop? Radiohead are a rock band: guitarists Jonny Greenwood and Ed O'Brien, bassist Colin Greenwood, drummer Phil Selway and Yorke on voice and lyrics. The British group's first three albums -- Pablo Honey (1993), The Bends (1995) and OK Computer (1997) -- are all classic-rock thrillers, sparkling adventures in the radical-populist tradition of the Beatles in the late 1960s; the early, galactic-rock Pink Floyd; and R.E.M. (pick any era). But Kid A is all blur. It is a kind of virtual rock in which the roots have been cut away, and the formal language -- hook, riff, bridge -- has been warped, liquefied and, in some songs, thrown out altogether. If you're looking for instant joy and easy definition, you are swimming in the wrong soup. (CONTINUED)

Green Day Warning (Reprise)

Used to be you could count on Green Day to report from the front lines of teenage wasteland, suburban division, with punk-prankster anthems about dope, deadbeats and masturbation. But no more. Warning, the California trio's sixth album, invites the question: Who wants to listen to songs of faith, hope and social commentary from what used to be snot-core's biggest-selling band?

Now a wealthy family man pushing thirty, singer-guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong has understandably shifted his perspective to the world outside his basement. He's also begun to take himself more seriously. The problem is, he can't muster the same excitement for his more mature themes, whether he's a cranky parent peeved by aggressive marketing ("Fashion Victim") or an aging adolescent whining about too many rules ("Warning"). When he declares he's still "marching out of time to my own beat" on "Minority," he sounds unconvincing.

The once-giddy melodies now settle for midtempo jangle or novelty (the accordion-driven cabaret of "Misery"). Armstrong recast himself as a balladeer in 1997 with "Good Riddance (The Time of Your Life)," and the best tune on Warning picks up where that left off. On "Macy's Day Parade," a gorgeously subtle string arrangement underpins lyrics that pine for "a brand new hope." Green Day as the new Bread -- who knew? (GREG KOT -- RS 851)

Various Artists Muggs Presents Soul Assassins II (RuffLife/Ruffnation)

Cypress Hill producer DJ Muggs serves it up hard and dark on this sequel to his 1997 Soul Assassins project -- song titles include "Armageddon," "Heart of the Assassin" and "Razor to Your Throat." Helping him out this time are keep-it-real mike kings like GZA and Dilated Peoples, and solid performances dominate. With a guitar riff stalking his deliberate flow, Xzibit grimaces his way through the hip-hop-rock track "You Better Believe It." "Don't Trip" finds B-Real's nasal delivery complemented by a wavering track with breathy female vocals. The invariably heavy mood gets monotonous, though -- Goodie Mob declares that "This Some'n To" is "somethin' to ride to," but the track's doom-and-gloom strings and bleak testimony make it feel more like a forced march. Muggs' considerable beat-making skills carry the day, but you can't help thinking that maybe he should get out more. (KATHRYN FARR -- RS 852)

Robbie Williams Sing When You're Winning (Capitol)

Robbie Williams, England's top entertainer of the moment, pulls from pop's past like a hip-hopper samples a groove, chasing lavish contemporary beauty. Known for crowd-pleasing shenanigans onstage, the former boy-band bad boy turns into a craftsman within the protective studio womb. On his second U.S. album, Williams and collaborator Guy Chambers achieve an audio spectacle showcasing their melodic wit and stylistic valor. The opening "Let Love Be Your Energy" is the essence of power pop -- a huge hook, even larger rock symphonics, and fat, flowery sonics to shake your soul. The Oasis inflections from Williams' debut are gone, replaced by a theatrically earnest cry. Layering Barry White violins over Frankie Goes to Hollywood throb, "Rock DJ" is Williams' cheeky-dumb party anthem, while "Better Man" sings a sweet-ballad sequel to his "Angels." In "Kids," Williams raps his own pop biography; no one but this twisted star could rhyme "Sean Connery" with "sodomy" and then "ornithology," and have it all describe his aesthetic symbology. (BARRY WALTERS -- RS 852)

Roni Size/Reprazent In the Mode (Island)

For a few years in the late Nineties, people were saying that drum-and-bass was going to be the new sound of the underground, if not pop itself. Things didn't quite turn out that way -- and Roni Size clearly doesn't care. On his latest release, In the Mode, Size and his crew, Reprazent, are more concerned with stretching the parameters of the genre on their own terms than with making it accessible to the TRL crowd. Shot through with uncut techno and hip-hop, the grooves on this seventeen-track CD are hard, propulsive and irresistible. Cameos by the Roots' Rahzel, Rage Against the Machine's Zack de la Rocha and Method Man boost marquee value, but the standout tracks in this disc -- including "System Check" and "Who Told You" -- boast stunning rhymes that are spit by the group's own MC Dynamite. The true star of this collection, though, is Size's delicate balancing act of vibe and aesthetic. In the Mode is macho without the asshole quotient, cool without contrivance. (ERNEST HARDY -- RS 852)

Badly Drawn Boy The Hour of Bewilderbeast (XL/Beggars Group)

Intimate, low-light guitar riffs; fuzzy lyrics about candles and waterfalls; spindly, spidery melodies -- Badly Drawn Boy plays sensitive white-boy blues for white boys who really oughta know better. The Boy, also known as Manchester's Damon Gough, sounds like Elliott Smith's English cousin, or Nick Drake's almost-upbeat nephew. Like Drake, he's mastered the art of evoking melancholy without slathering on too much sentimentality. Bewilderbeast could be music for bummed-out backpackers: Gough's lyrics are loaded with nature imagery, and during "Stone on the Water," the spinning and twirling acoustic riffs and rambling piano lines are occasionally interrupted by an effect that sounds like a loon on golden pond. Just when the album verges on becoming unbearable folk poesy, Gough makes an aural joke about his own pretensions, ending the blinkingly upbeat "Fall in a River" with the sound of a splash into an icy spring. But even that might not put out these sweet, gently burning songs. (PAT BLASHILL -- RS 851)

Talib Kweli and Hi Tek Reflection Eternal (Rawkus)

Talib Kweli and DJ Hi Tek's debut album is a place where a shout-out from Nelson Mandela and a scorching Xzibit cameo seem equally at home; this is the rare socially aware hip-hop record that can get fists pumping in a rowdy nightclub. Kweli, known for his work with Mos Def under the name Black Star, exudes the raw-boned intensity of a battle-tested MC. He may meditate on relationship trials ("Love Language"), celebrate his ancestry ("Africa Dream") or even drop touchy-feely verses about tapping into your chi ("Memories Live"), but venomous shots of point-blank lyricism and clever wordplay are always on deck. Hi Tek's colorful tracks match Kweli's versatility, from the buoyant, delicate "Too Late" to the full-blown funk of "Ghetto Afterlife." "Nowadays, rap artists are comin' half-hearted," Kweli alleges on "Too Late," "commercial like pop or underground like black markets." If he's right, Reflection Eternal stands as a powerful exception. (FARR -- RS 852)

The Sea and Cake Oui (Thrill Jockey)

Over the past ten years, the city of Chicago has managed to spew out even more mind-bogglingly awful jazz-fusion dreck than Chicago the band. The Sea and Cake used to be typical Windy City indie diddlers, but on 1997's The Fawn, they started to sculpt their lush keyboards into warm, beautiful songs like "Sporting Life," rocking out with emotion, wit and even a sharp beat. On Oui, the Sea and Cake continue to pursue their instrumental excursions as they evolve decisively into an art-drone groove band. Sam Prekop breathes the delicate melodies of "Afternoon Speaker" and "The Leaf" like a bookish indie boy who's been hibernating with a stack of Joao Gilberto records, and you don't have to notice the words for the emotion to come through. His voice is just another element in the mix, fading behind the pulse of his and Archer Prewitt's guitars and keyboards, John McEntire's drums and Eric Claridge's both-ends-burning bass. With the songful elevation of Oui, the Sea and Cake make the competition sound like Chicago XXIV. (ROB SHEFFIELD -- RS 851)

Dirty Walt and the Columbus Sanitation To Put It Bluntly (Triple X)

Solo albums usually offer band members who are feeling repressed by their regular jobs an opportunity to unload every great idea that has ever crossed their minds. Not so for Dirty Walt, the spastic trumpet player and founding member of Southern California ska-funk institution Fishbone. To Put It Bluntly is an album with a one-track-mind, and as if the title and cover art don't give it away, Walt spends the next hour trying to get everyone to appreciate the fine art of getting blitzed out of your skull. He does a fine job driving the point home on runny funk jams like "Rolling in Many Blunt Ways" and "I Need a Swig." But it may take more than a few hits on the bong to make it through an album that makes the perma-stoned Cypress Hill guys seem subtle in comparison. (AIDIN VAZIRI)

Versus Hurrah (Merge)

As one of indie pop's most cherished acts, NYC's Versus have rarely disappointed over their decade-long existence. With their fourth proper studio offering -- and first full-length for Merge after tenures at Teen Beat and Caroline -- the quartet again reaches a noisy, contagious destination. But what's most evident this time out is that Versus seem at ease and in control. Recorded and produced by the band without any outside meddlers, Hurrah is a uniformly gratifying record. Soothing melodies ("Play Dead," "Shangri-La") rest alongside waves of mutilation ("My Adidas," "Said Too Much") and flat-out discordant rawk ("Frederick's of Hollywood"), offering plenty of interest-sustaining variation. When chief vocalist/guitarist Richard Baluyut sings "have conviction will travel" on "Sayonara," it sounds like a motto the members of Versus have come to live by. Hurrah, indeed. (JOHN D. LUERSSEN)

Rubén González Chanchullo (Nonesuch)

Rubén González couldn't have guessed that a random visit to a Havana studio would revitalize his long-dormant career. On Chanchullo, the pianist's second solo release since the 1997 Ry Cooder­produced Buena Vista Social Club, González once again delves into his trove of tunes from the golden age of Afro-Cuban music, updating Forties and Fifties tunes with his signature improvisational style. The eighty-two-year-old enlists an impressive band (including vocalists Ibrahim Ferrer, Lázaro Villa and Senegalese recording artist Cheikh Lô, as well as tres master Papi Oviedo) which follows him through the descarga (improvisation) of "De Una Manera Espantosa," the smoky bolero of "Isora Club" (which swings into a son montuno) and the charming cha cha cha of "Rico Vaculón." González playfully tweaks meter and melody, spurring his band's soloists on, especially trumpeter Guajiro Mirabal and fellow Buena Vista alums Ferrer and Oviedo. But this recording's star is clearly González, as he proves on the hidden treasure at Chanchullo's end. (MARIE ELSIE ST. LÉGER)

Doves Lost Souls (Astralwerks)

How can they not be from Manchester? The Doves' debut album takes the windswept acoustics of the Stone Roses ("Rise"), psychedelic-folk sadness of the Smiths ("Sea Song") and hypodermic-sharp melodies of Oasis ("Here It Comes"), and rolls it all into one deliriously good package. Because it owes almost everything and nothing to its geographic lineage, Lost Souls is at once nostalgic and sublime, veering from the epic, decadent title track to the crackling, jazz bar score of "A House." The members of the Doves were once in a disco-revivalist dance act called Sub Sub, which had several top ten hits in Britain. But it is only now that they are proving themselves worthy of being heard. (VAZIRI)

Reviews courtesy of RollingStone.com News

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