Alanis Morissette, Under Rug Swept (Maverick Records)
Those familiar with Morissette will recall her '95 debut, Jagged Little Pill, which spawned hits like "You Oughta Know" and "Hand in My Pocket." She followed that release in '98 with Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, and the hit that springs to mind is "Thank U." A year later she cut her MTV Unplugged disc. She's also racked up seven Grammy wins along the way. For her new release, Under Rug Swept, Morissette takes total control, writing and producing it all. Will her success continue?
Hard to say. After repeated listening, I can only report a sense of indifference. There is no ear-grabbing hit here. Though "Precious Illusions" comes close, nothing is on the scale of "You Oughta Know" or "Thank U." Lyrically, she's as strong as ever, pumping in more words per verse than most artists generate over an entire album. Her major concerns, topically, seem to be relationships, how they work, and how they don't.
Problems emerge, however (albeit subtly), in the overall production, which, though clean, is dynamically at a loss. Just flat and lifeless. There's also the problem of Morissette's voice, which is often on the verge of an annoying nasal bleating timbre. One of the ways around this is to multi-track the lead vocal, which is the tack taken on quite a few numbers. And since Morissette produced this herself, there are just as many instances where her voice is solo. She's no nightingale, and her anguished voice can lend credibility to an emotionally draining song. Similarly, it can easily turn a gentle ballad into a grating experience, much like nails across a chalkboard.
In the end, there is nothing promising or discouraging about the disc. Her fans will doubtless be happy to see their heroine once again pressing vinyl. And for those who aren't fans, well, they can take solace in the fact that none of the tunes seem to have that potential for endless airplay.
Related Artists: Jewel, Mary Lou Lord, Tori Amos, Sheryl Crow, Fiona Apple, Garbage
KMFDM, Attak (Metropolis Records)
If industrial-strength rock is something that tickles your fancy, prepare your fancy to be tickled. And who better to do it than KMFDM, whose lineage goes back 18 years and includes 11 albums? Along with founder Sascha Konietzko, the current lineup features Lucia Cifarelli, Raymond Watts, Bill Rieflin, Dorona Alberti, Joolz Hodgeson, and Skold.
Despite the fact that many of the numbers are of the straight-ahead, industrial-rock variety, with crashing guitars, pounding bass and drums, and not much in the way of melody, there are a few songs that stretch the limits of the genre's mold.
"Save Me," for starters, plays like a heavy-metal ballad, and features some interesting dynamics, while maintaining a secure connection to the diesel-machine scheme of things. "Superhero" is an up-tempo number, and with Lucia Cifarelli singing, the tune could easily be at home on a Garbage or Madonna CD.
Though the music, overall, sounds like it would lend itself more to a video-game soundtrack, or a large club in a former communist country, than your living room, it's entertaining nonetheless. "Sturm & Drang" is a riveting number, though it may have you envisioning a skinhead mosh pit gone awry. Likewise, "Skurk," is a throbbing piece, and a defining number for the industrial genre.
If there is still a market for industrial rock, and KMFDM's longevity points to that being the case, then the band has added yet another reason to keep that market open. Though in some spots the sound may feel dated, Konietzko's mastery of the studio prevails.
Related Artists: Ministry, Nine Inch Nails
Baha Men, Move It Like This (S-Curve Records)
If you're unsure who the Baha Men are, then you must be leading a pretty sequestered life. There's their cover of "Who Let the Dogs Out" that peppered virtually every sporting event for the last year or two. And there's their theme to "Stanley," the animated cartoon series on the Disney channel. Prior to that, for 20 years, the Baha Men were performing in the Bahamas and elsewhere, releasing albums, selling big in Japan, but not quite cracking the U.S. market.
Their longevity points to the success of "Dogs" as no fluke, but rather as a reward for continuing to work so hard at something they love. And it's not that unusual for musicians to make it big doing a cover tune after years of no luck with their own material.
The new CD, Move It Like This, exudes the band's exuberance. It's a bright mixture of island rhythms and contemporary hip-hop grooves. Though the sound may seem too squeaky clean to some, it is nonetheless refreshing, free of the gun-toting-gangsta-with-his-gyrating-bitches imagery that seems required of today's hip-hop artists.
And even those who'd like to dismiss the disc as too nice will most likely be swayed. I was. Maybe it's the island backbeat in the numbers, and the infectious toe tapping that inevitably sets in. Maybe it's the authenticity of joy -- these guys are just happy as hell to be playing and really do love what they do. We've been sold on imagery in music for so long, that when something real comes along, it's too easy to dismiss it as a gimmick.
Perhaps adding to the squeaky-clean feel is the production, which is neither overblown or minimalist, though if anything it does lean toward the latter. There are instances where voice modulation tricks are employed (heretofore referred to as "that Cher thing"), but for the most part, the band is subdued and the vocals are up front.
Some have tried to discount the band, but the Baha Men keep plugging away, oblivious to critics and naysayers, just making music for the masses. They've hooked up with the Disney gravy train too, via the "Stanley" show, a song on "Shrek," and sponsorship for their tour. Hitting the jackpot, so to speak, this late in the band's career is almost a Frank Capra moment. And I'm happy for them, just as I'm happy to listen to the disc, while sitting back and pretending the island breezes are wafting over me, as the tropical sun sets in the sky.
More Baha Men
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