XTC (Geffen 24474)
Taken purely as a matter of craft, the songs on XTC's "Nonsuch" seem wonderfully ingenious, with clever, catchy choruses, artful arrangements and inventive, interlocking counter-melodies. Trouble is, ingenuity for its own sake isn't all that interesting, and the lads in XTC seem incapable of coming up with an alternative. Thus, the album alternates between hollow-but-pretty constructions like "Then She Appeared" or "My Bird Performs," and boorishly obvious message songs like "The Smartest Monkeys" or "War Dance," with little middle ground beyond the pointed and tuneful "Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead."
M.C. Brains (Motown 3746363424)
M.C. Brains may be the name above the title, but the real genius behind "Lovers Lane" is executive producer Michael "Biv" Bivins of Bell Biv DeVoe. After all, what makes raps like "Oochie Coochie" or "Brains Goin' Cra-Ze" sizzle isn't the rhyming, but the way the production wraps the rapper's soft-core sentiment in a hooky, hardcore sound. And even though Brains never comes across as tough as he'd like, Bivins' fondness for cross-pollination -- like bringing in another of his acts, Boyz II Men, to put some R&B flavor in the mix -- assures that the album's sound is always as savvy as it is slick.