Beauty is in the ears of the beholder

January 29, 1993|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,Pop Music Critic


808 State (Tommy Boy 1067)

Usually, any adjective used as an album title can be safely considered an exaggeration. But not in the case of 808 State's third effort, "Gorgeous." Even though the 808-ers' taste in electronics doesn't quite conform to classical notions of aural beauty -- like many synth-heavy dance acts these days, they adore the buzz of sawtooth waves and the hiss of cheap drum machines -- there's something undeniably luscious about the soundscapes here. Granted, that's more pronounced in the ambient-house overtones of tunes like "Orbit" or the gently burbling "Southern Cross," but there's an equal amount of aural majesty in conventional club material like "10 x 10" or "Europa." And that, in the end, ensures that "Gorgeous" will be worth hearing even when you're not in the mood for dancing.


J. (A&M 31451 7710)

There's no denying that German rapper J. makes a great story. Born in East Germany, fluent in rock and hip-hop (not to mention English), and a ceaseless crusader against German neo-fascism, (that's all the name he uses) was the subject of numerous articles and interviews even before his album, "We Are the Majority," was released in the United States. And though that sort of pre-release publicity is usually death on would-be pop stars -- how can anyone live up to that sort of hype -- J.'s album generally does deliver the goods. True, his raps are better at capturing the cadences of American hip-hop than they are at mimicking the rhyme schemes, and the way his attention shifts from political analysis to sexual abandon can be jarring. But at its best, "We Are the Majority" makes the listener want to think, move and act -- and how many other albums, hyped or un-hyped, can make that claim?


Shonen Knife (Virgin 86638)

Coming on like a cross between the Ramones, the Ronettes and Hello Kitty, the Japanese trio Shonen Knife has been an underground sensation for some time now. And no wonder; it's hard to resist anything as endearing as the way Naoko Yamano sings "I'm going to eat jelly jelly jelly jelly jelly jelly beans" in her Japanese schoolgirl accent. But even if you don't get a kick out of the cultural miscues feeding the trio's worldview, there are other reasons to own a copy of "Let's Knife" -- be it the wacky song titles (e.g. "Tortoise Brand Pot Scrubbing Cleaner's Theme"), the guileless enthusiasm, or sheer joy of singing along to choruses as blissfully catchy as "Uka boo, uka boo, everybody uka boo!"


Dewey Redman (Enja 7073)

Even though Ornette Coleman has long since moved beyond the free jazz style he pioneered in the late '50s, there's still plenty of room to elaborate on that approach. Just listen to how much Dewey Redman finds to say on "Choices." A longtime Coleman cohort (not to mention Don Cherry's sidekick in Old and New Dreams), Redman has no trouble grasping the unfettered linearity free jazz strives for, and strongly evokes the glories of Middle Eastern modality on "O'Besso." But the real prize here isn't Dewey's incisive improvisation, or even the stalwart work of his rhythm section, bassist Cameron Brown and drummer Leon Parker; it's Redman's son, Joshua, whose powerful, impassioned tenor pulls every ounce of lyricism from Jimmy Van Huesen's "Imagination."

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