'Hootie Mack' has the beat but not much else

RECORDS

June 25, 1993|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,Pop Music Critic

HOOTIE MACK

Bell Biv DeVoe (MCA 10682)

What made "Poison," Bell Biv DeVoe's debut, such a killer was its street savvy -- the fact that it was driven not by the usual R&B rhythms, but by hardcore beats. So it makes sense that when it came time to cut the new album, BBD would be obsessed with finding the phattest, freshest grooves around. And "Hootie ZTC Mack" definitely delivers on that front, with most tracks bulging with slow-thumping, EPMD-style rhythms. But what BBD forgot is that beats alone don't do it; it takes strong songs to make this formula work. Here, however, all we get is mostly talk -- sex talk, drug talk, we-bad talk -- fleshed out with a few snippets of melody. And not even the occasional soul-harmony interlude, like the well-sung "Something in Your Eyes," is enough to give this the pop appeal it so sorely needs.

BACK TO BROADWAY

Barbra Streisand (Columbia 44189)

Listening to Barbra Streisand's "Back to Broadway" is like getting a short lesson in the history of the American musical -- but not for the reasons you'd think. Streisand's song selection is fairly wide-ranging, stretching from oldies like "Some Enchanted Evening" and "Speak Low" to a pair of songs from Andrew Lloyd Webber's yet-to-open "Sunset Boulevard," and the difference in the material is instructive. Because while the contemporary stuff concentrates on character, what the older pieces emphasize is melody. And frankly, as much as Streisand brings to recent tunes like "Move On" or "The Music of the Night," it's simply more fun to hear her lavish attention on melodies as memorable as "Luck Be a Lady" and "The Man I Love." Guess they really don't write 'em like that anymore.

CYBERPUNK

Billy Idol (Chrysalis 26000)

Rave fans have been arguing for some time now that techno is the new punk rock, but nobody has ever drawn that parallel as explicitly as Billy Idol does in "Cyberpunk." Instrumentally, his approach is pretty much state of the art, with lots of skronking synths, crunchy guitar and high-torque rhythm to push the music along, but vocal style hasn't changed a whit. Yet rather than undercut his experiment, Idol's old-school attitude actually enhances the results, upping the voltage on "Shock (To the System)," enhancing the menace beneath "Neuromancer," and putting some teeth into "Power Junkie." Looks like Johnnie Rotten was wrong -- punk does have a future, after all.

PSYCHODERELICT

Pete Townshend (Atlantic 82494)

What's the difference between art and entertainment? If you guessed that entertainment takes no effort to enjoy while art makes its audience work, than maybe you're ready for Pete Townshend's arty new album, "PsychoDerelict." For one thing, this is in no way casual listening; not only does the music make its usual demands, but Townshend has linked the songs with bits of dialogue, sketching the story of an aging rocker, his greedy manager and a manipulative music journalist. Squaring the plot with the lyric sheet takes some doing, but those willing to make the effort will not only get more from the music, but ought to enjoy the sly jokes Townshend sprinkles through his musical immorality play.

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