Boyz II Men serves a meaty second platter

September 02, 1994|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

II

Boyz II Men (Motown 314 530 323)

Given the number of heavy-breathing harmony acts that have washed onto the R&B charts in the wake of Boyz II Men's initial success, it would be easy to imagine these four Philadelphians delivering a second album that's just as sex-obsessed as the latest from H-Town or Silk. But "II" not only doesn't find the Boyz running with the pack, but actually shows them adding extra depth and individuality to their sound. It helps, of course, that the quartet is working with top-notch producers like Dallas Austin, Babyface, L.A. Reid and the team of Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis. But as much as these guys might bring to the table -- be it the inviting harmonies of Jam & Lewis' "All Around the World," the classic balladry of Babyface's "Water Runs Dry" or the savvy, street-smart pulse of Austin's "Thank You" -- the main course is always the group's meaty lead vocals and always-tasteful harmony. Frankly, that's feast enough.

WITHOUT A SOUND

Dinosaur Jr. (Sire/Reprise 45719)

It's easy to understand why people compare Dinosaur Jr.'s J. Mascis to Neil Young. Like Young, Mascis is inordinately fond of smoldering, distortion-clotted guitar solos and, also like Young, his dry, whiny voice is something of an acquired taste. As a songwriter, however, Mascis is clearly a force unto himself, and that's one reason "Without a Sound" is unlikely to be confused with Young's latest album. Some of that stems from the fact that Mascis knows how to transform the grungy guitar and slack sarcasm of most alterna-rock into ear-bruising blasts of profundity like "Feel the Pain" or "Grab It." But where Mascis most clearly parts company with Young is with his refusal to go for pretty when noisy is still an option. That's why "Yeah Right" goes out in a blast of dissonance, why "Even You" stays wrapped in its swirl of distortion, and why the album's best moments are those most likely to make your ears bleed.

NO PRIMA DONNA: THE SONGS OF VAN MORRISON

Various Artists (Polydor 314 523 368)

Because he's such a superlative singer, it's sometimes easy to forget that Van Morrison is one of the most interesting and original songwriters in rock today. Fortunately, there's "No Prima Donna: The Songs of Van Morrison" to remind us. Even though the 10 tunes included here barely scratch the surface of Morrison's oeuvre, they do give a fair indication of his range, covering everything from the romantic intoxication of "Crazy Love" (offered in tender understatement by Cassandra Wilson) to the pastoral reflection of "Coney Island" (presented here by a surprisingly poetic Liam Neeson). Perhaps the most impressive thing about this collection, though, is how it underscores the stylistic scope of Morrison's material. Because there's room in these songs for every kind of interpretation, be it as proud and soulful as Lisa Stansfield's "Friday's Child" or as heart-worn and expressive as Marianne Faithfull's gloriously tattered rendition of Madame George."

BACK IN THE DAY: THE BEST OF BOOTSY COLLINS

Bootsy Collins (Warner Archives 26581)

George Clinton may have been the brains behind the P-Funk empire, but Bootsy Collins was clearly its sense of humor. As "Back In the Day: The Best of Bootsy Collins" makes plain, Collins always understood that funk begins with f-u-n, and fun is precisely what this album offers. It's hard to imagine the listener who wouldn't be amused by the sly overstatement of his vocal style, which brings a cartoonish glee to everything from the Casper-the-Funky-Ghost gags in "Stretchin' Out (In a Rubber Band)" to the exaggerated longing in "I'd Rather Be with You." But even more enduring than the humor is the bass-driven power of these jams, most of which are still smokin' even after years in the vaults. So if you missed out the first time on classics like "The Pinocchio Theory" or "Body Slam," here's your chance to catch up.

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