'Perverse' resists labels, but Jones has a winner

January 22, 1993|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,Pop Music Critic

PERVERSE

Jesus Jones (SBK 80647)

It could be that the most perverse thing about "Perverse" is the way Jesus Jones refuses to define itself in standard industry terms, either as rock or dance, alternative or popular. True, there are elements of each on hand -- "Get a Good Thing" is driven by the electro-pulse of techno groove, while "Magazine" owes more to the adrenalized rush of thrash. And for every pop-friendly number like "The Devil You Know," there's an arty experiment like "Yellow Brown." But rather than try to mash it all down until the music takes on the character and consistency of paste, the Jones boys let each ingredient stand on its own. That may not earn the band many friends on the marketing side, but it ensures that the songs here will sound just as fresh on the 15th play as they did on the first.

THE JULIET LETTERS

Elvis Costello (Warner Bros. 45180)

What could be more pretentious than a rock album conceived as an epistolary novel? How about one recorded with a string quartet instead of guitars, bass and drums? Unfortunately, that's pretty much what Elvis Costello uncorks with "The Juliet Letters," a collaboration with the Brodsky Quartet that bears the ominous subtitle, "A Song Sequence for String Quartet and Voice." Although it's conceivable that someone could wring a listenable album from this ridiculous premise, Costello is clearly not up to the task. Not only do his lyrical conceits rarely measure up to the music, but his voice blends with the quartet about as well as lemon juice mixes with milk. Add the fact that the album drags on for a seemingly interminable 63 minutes, and you'll definitely want to mark this "Return to Sender."

CHANGES

Christopher Williams (Uptown/MCA 10751)

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Teddy Pendergrass will blush to hear what Christopher Williams does with his "Come Go with Me." Listen to this or many of the other tracks on "Changes," and it's obvious that Williams has Pendergrass' soulful shout and a breathy, "loverman" croon down perfectly. But there's more to his sound than mere mimicry, and the best moments here come when he moves beyond his most obvious influences -- as he does in "Good Luvin'," his bittersweet duet with Mary J. Blige, or on the new-jack-influenced "Every Little Thing U Do." Still, it wouldn't hurt if Williams were to go through a few more changes before delivering his next album.

FRANKIE'S HOUSE

Jeff Back & Jed Lieber (Epic Soundtrax 53194)

Pete Townshend once declared Jeff Beck to be England's most expressive electric guitarist, then paused and added, "It's a pity he has nothing to say." And that's pretty much the problem with "Frankie's House," the all-instrumental soundtrack album Beck recorded with keyboard player Jed Lieber. As a technical exercise, it's amazing; few guitarists can approach the rich, singing tone Beck pulls from the wah-wah pedal in "Cat House," and fewer still can handle a melodic line as gracefully as he does in "Hi-Heel Sneakers." Look beyond his fretboard flash, though, and all the music has to offer is cheap atmosphere and empty effects -- a combination that might be all right as soundtrack fare, but makes for thin listening otherwise.

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