KING'S X (Atlantic 82372)
Heavy metal tends to emphasize aural aggression, while guitar pop puts its emphasis on melodic effervescence. King's X, though, stresses both elements, which is why this Houston-based trio is probably the best unknown band in rock today. It may not stay that way much longer, though, if "King's X" reaches the audience it deserves. Catchy enough to verge on the addictive, the songs here seem almost irresistible, from the tuneful crunch of "Black Flag" to the Beatlesque psychedelia of "Not Just for the Dead." Yet, as irresistible as these songs are, the band never settles for the obvious approach, making its music as memorable as it is distinctive.
Melissa Etheridge (Island 314 512 120)
Contrary to what you might have heard on her last two albums, Melissa Etheridge isn't just another emotionally intense female folk singer -- she's actually the new Rod Stewart. Just listen to the way she leans into "Ain't It Heavy," the "Maggie May"-ish rocker who opens "Never Enough." Etheridge hasn't completely abandoned the balladry that built her reputation as emotionally overwrought, instrumentally understated numbers like "Place Your Hand" or "The Boy Feels Strange" make plain. But with the bulk of the album given over to transparently trendy material like "Must Be Crazy for Me" or the beat-driven "2001," "Never Enough" is often a little too much.