Queen album cranks out its usual brash sounds
INNUENDO Queen (Hollywood 61020)
If ever an album ended up with exactly the wrong title, it's "Innuendo," the latest effort from Queen. After all, "innuendo" is a word suggesting subtlety and intimation, and as we all know, there has never been anything subtle about Queen. Nor is there here; from the operatic extravagance of the title tune to the choral overkill of "All God's People," the band sounds as brash and overblown as ever. Which is great for those who like their pop intricate, ornate and heavily orchestrated, but anyone in search of a simple melody and a catchy beat would be advised to look elsewhere. It used to be that pre-teen pop singers specialized in musical innocence -- teddy bears, puppy love and the like. Times change, though, and so do kids. Which brings us to Another Bad Creation, six sweet-faced kids whose debut album, "Coolin' at the Playground Ya' Know!," sports a decidedly hard-core sound. These are hip-hop kids, and it shows; "Playground" comes across like a junior edition of Bell Biv DeVoe's "Poison" (no surprise, considering Michael "Biv" Bivins helped produce the album), while "Iesha" balances New Edition-style harmonies with deft raps and def beats. Definitely a group with growth potential.
Tara Kemp (Giant 24408)
Ever wonder what would happen if the truth-in-packaging laws were applied to pop albums? Obviously, that would prevent another Milli Vanilli fiasco from occurring, but what would it do to artists like Tara Kemp? Sure, she handles her own vocals on "Tara Kemp," and sings quite nicely, too, lending luster to ballads like "Too Much" and putting some spunk into "Hold You Tight" and other dance numbers. But to be honest, what ultimately holds this album together isn't the singing, or even the songs -- it's the production, a slick synthesis of house and soul grooves assembled by Jake Smith and Tuhin Roy. Meaning that in a just world, their names would be proudly plastered on the front cover instead of being buried on the back.
ALONE WITH THREE GIANTS
Marcus Roberts (Novus 3109)
When Marcus Roberts says he is "Alone with Three Giants" on his new album, what he means is that these are solo performances devoted to the compositions of Duke Ellington, Jellyroll Morton and Thelonious Monk. Even so, it's Roberts' own voice that dominates this music. That's no mean feat, given the idiosyncratic nature of numbers like Morton's "Jungle Blues" or Monk's "Mysterioso." But as much as Roberts respects the pieces, he also understands that it's only through heartfelt interpretation that they come to life. Which is why the best moments here -- a shimmering "Solitude," the exquisitely shaded "Monk's Mood" -- are strictly personal.