'Paid Vacation' plays to Marx's strength

February 25, 1994|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

PAID VACATION

Richard Marx (Capitol 81232)

Balladry has always been one of Richard Marx's strong points, and "Paid Vacation" makes no bones about capitalizing on that strength. It helps, of course, that he's at his most inspired with "Now and Forever," a tender, acoustic-based ballad with a melody resilient enough to overcome the occasional corniness of the lyrics. But even the rockers sound better when Marx keeps the music on simmer, if only because his voice is more convincing when kept to the relatively low-key dynamics of "Silent Scream" or "What You Want" than when pushing the envelope on tunes such as "Nothing to Hide" or the Eagles-ish "Goodbye Hollywood." Besides, isn't it better to be a soft-rock success than a hard-rock pretender?

IN THE NAME OF THE FATHER

Music from the Motion Picture Soundtrack

(Island 314 518 841)

Pop soundtracks tend to be musical grab bags, offering a bit of this and a dollop of that, often with painfully uneven results. Some put the emphasis on hits and end up losing any sense of the movie; others preserve the cinematic mood but prove hard to appreciate without the pictures. Fortunately, "In the Name of the Father" strikes a near-ideal balance between the two, using the music to convey a sense of the drama while maintaining the kind of listenability pop fans expect. Credit for much of that goes to Bono and Gavin Friday, whose two selections here offer a wry blend of lyrical commentary and electropop savvy. But the real surprise is Sinead O'Connor's "You Made Me the Thief of Your Heart," in which the slow-burning dance groove and vaguely Arabic flourishes bring out the best in her lean, expressive voice.

PRONOUNCED JAH-NAY

Zhane (Motown 6369)

Disc jockey tunes have long been a staple in popular music, if for no other reason than the fact that D.J.s have an understandable weakness for songs praising their broadcast power. However, the D.J. referred to in Zhane's "Hey Mr. D.J." -- the first track on the duo's debut album, "Pronounced Jah-Nay" -- isn't a radio man but a club jockey, and the song perfectly captures the loping bass and infectious groove that characterizes the best club hits. There's plenty more where that came from, too, thanks to such sturdy, bass-thumping numbers as "Vibe" and the near-irresistible "Groove Thang." But what keeps the album from sounding like just another collection of dance singles is the fact that the duo's sound is built around singing, not just riding the beat, and that adds extra resonance to such ballads as the quietly reflective "For a Reason."

ANGELUS

Milton Nascimento (Warner Brothers 45499)

Although Milton Nascimento has long been a star in his native Brazil, he has yet to earn much more than a cult audience in the United States. So it probably won't make much difference as a marketing tool that "Angelus" includes cameos by James Taylor, Peter Gabriel, Jon Anderson, Pat Metheny and Herbie Hancock -- a cast that would turn any other album into an all-star event. That's a pity, because "Angelus" is easily the singer's best album in ages. Blessed with lithe, flowing melodies and rich, jazz-tinged arrangements, its lush lyricism hearkens back to Nascimento's great albums of the '70s. Granted, the fact that he sings mostly in Portuguese may limit his listenership (though he does a lovely English version of the Beatles tune "Hello Goodbye"), his singing is so expressive that following the translation on the lyric sheet sometimes seems redundant.

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