Metallica (Elektra 61113)
If all thrash seems an indistinguishable blur of double-time drums and over-amplified guitar, then you owe it to yourself to hear Metallica's new album, "Metallica." Not only are the songs slower and shorter than on the band's four previous offerings, but they cover a wider stylistic range, from the elegiac orchestration of "The Unforgiven" to the quote from Leonard Bernstein's "America" that ironically opens "Don't Tread on Me." Yet as much as that makes this album more approachable to non-fans, the band's long-term following ought to be even more enamored of its expanded range and sharpened songwriting.
Young M.C. (Capitol 79882)
After writing "Wild Thing" for Tone-Loc and scoring a big hit with his own "Bust a Move," you'd think Young M.C. would understand pop-rap better than anybody. And to be sure, "Brainstorm," his self-produced second album, shows that few rappers can tell a story as adroitly or accessibly. Even so, whether he's delivering a message as subtle as the understated pride-rap "Keep Your Eyes on the Prize" or as blunt as the anti-crack "Life in the Fast Lane," what ultimately carries this album isn't the wordplay but the relatively sample-free groove.
Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians
(A&M 75021 5368)
No matter how much Robyn Hitchcock's reputation with the rock press derives from the oddball surrealism of lyrics, his popular appeal owes more to the charmingly Beatlesque tunes he
concocts to frame his words. Which is why "Perspex Island," his latest recording with the Egyptians, may be his most successful yet. Though the lyrics seem mundane by his usual standards, the music is wonderfully engaging, full of giddy, hypnotic grooves and bright, infectious melodies which make everything from the semi-psychedelic "Child of the Universe" to the ultra-hummable "So You Think You're in Love" absolutely irresistible.
Jean-Luc Ponty (Epic 47378)
When jazz fusion first came into being, the term referred less to a specific style than to the intermingling of different musical disciplines -- something the current generation of fusion artists seems to have forgotten. With luck, though, Jean-Luc Ponty's "Tchokola" will serve as a reminder of what fusion jazz truly could be. Recorded in Paris with a group of West African musicians, the album offers a change in direction for the veteran violinist as well as an opportunity to revitalize his music. Which may be why his playing is fresher than it has been in years, from the cheery makossa of "Mouna Bowa" to the burbling ju-ju rhythms of "Sakka Sakka."