ALWAYS Pebbles (MCA 10025)
If producers L.A. and Babyface are the Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis of West Coast R&B, then Pebbles is their Janet Jackson. Good as the analogy is, though, it isn't enough to make "Always" the California equivalent of Jackson's "Rhythm Nation." Granted, this album does boast a similar assortment of issue-oriented dance songs ("Say a Prayer for Me") and gooey love ballads ("Why Do I Believe"). But instead of the muscular insistence of Jackson's music, Pebbles prefers a softer sell, one which takes its strength from subtle soulfulness. And while that hardly keeps the singer from getting nasty when need be -- notice how easily she keeps pace with Salt-N-Pepa on "Backyard" -- it makes for enticingly understated pop.
LISTEN WITHOUT PREJUDICE,VOL. 1
George Michael (Columbia 46898)
Back when George Michael was largely known for lyrics like "Wake me up before you go-go," the idea of treating him as a serious artiste seemed almost laughable. Not any more, though. "Listen Without Prejudice, Vol. 1" is the sort of album that wears its furrow-browed intensity as a badge of honor as it turns the world's problems into pop songs. Yet for all his ambition, Michael mostly avoids trying to save the world with a catchy chorus; instead, what he offers is a mix of melody and empathy as he delivers songs that are as tuneful as they are reflective. Which, frankly, is a better deal for all concerned, since his music is invariably better than his advice.