Alice in ChainsAlice in Chains (Columbia 677243)In some...

CD REVIEWS

November 16, 1995|By J.D. Considine

Alice in Chains

Alice in Chains (Columbia 677243)

In some ways, the most impressive thing about "Alice in Chains" isn't that it boasts some of the crunchiest guitar and heaviest riffs Alice in Chains has ever used but that it does so without really sounding like a metal album. It helps, of course, that Layne Staley totally avoids the standard metal mannerisms -- the stentorian shriek, the mock-operatic histrionics -- preferring instead to multi-track his tart, alterna-rock baritone into harmonies so complex it's like hearing the Beach Boys at half speed. Staley's densely layered vocals do much to take the edge off tunes like the brittle, noisy "God Am" or the aptly named "Sludge Factory," and he even adds a parodic pop touch to the brutish thud of "Again." But it's not all Staley; there are moments, as in the growling, semi-acoustic blues of "Heaven Beside You" or the breathless pulse and snaky riffs of "So Close," when he seems the least interesting part of the band. Either way, though, the music is as entrancing as it is unique.

Your Heart Is in Good Hands

Al Green (MCA 11350)

Is it churlish to complain when a great artist puts out a good album? Not when that good album used to be a great one. Earlier this year, Al Green released "Don't Look Back," his first secular recording since 1977's "The Belle Album," and a savvy, HTC soulful update of the classic Hi Records sound. Trouble is, "Don't Look Back" is available only in Europe, meaning that American fans must make do with "Your Heart Is in Good Hands," an album that offers only eight of its European cousin's 13 selections. "Your Heart" does include two new tunes, both of which are aimed at making Green's sound more palatable for contemporary R&B fans, but neither attempt really works. "Could This Be the Love" boasts a slick, sample-laden rhythm arrangement but is lacking on the melodic end, while the title tune is so heavily arranged that Green seems too hemmed in to cut loose. And though there's plenty of classic groove in "Best Love" and "Keep On Pushing Love," dedicated fans will probably prefer the import version -- if they can find a copy. Ozzy Osbourne (Epic 67091)

Even though the "No More Tears" tour was widely billed as Ozzy Osbourne's farewell, nobody really thought that would be the last we'd ever hear of him. To his credit, though, "Ozzmosis" isn't exactly a resumption of the solo career he claimed to be abandoning. True, it does find him working with both long-time guitarist Zakk Wylde and Black Sabbath bassist Geezer Butler, but the music they make is hardly heavy metal in the usual sense of the term. Loud as it is, the band is by no means guitar-dominated; some tracks find Rick Wakeman's semi-symphonic synths dominating the mix, framing Osbourne's vocals with monolithic blocks of sound on the mock-gothic "Perry Mason" and sprinkling fairy dust through the twilight mystery of "My Little Man." It isn't just a shift in instrumentation, though. "Old L.A. Tonight" is a dramatic, piano-driven ballad that could have dropped straight out of the Axl Rose songbook, while "See You on the Other Side," with its funk-lite pulse and treated guitar, sounds like something straight out of the new-wave '80s. In fact, if it weren't for the old-school crunch of "My Jekyll Doesn't Hide" and "Thunder Underground," you'd almost think this was a different Osbourne altogether.

Return of the Rentals

The Rentals (Maverick/Reprise 46093)

Like all great pop jokes, "Return of the Rentals" never lets on that it's kidding. From the mock-futurist look of the packaging to the way the arrangements play off such vintage "modern" sounds as Moog synthesizers and wordless, Philip Glass-ian harmony vocals, the album seems so much a throwback that it really does seem like the return of some long-lost band. Of course, that's hardly the case, as the core of the Rentals consists of Weezer bassist Matt Sharp, along with Petra Haden, Pat Wilson and Rachel Haden of that dog. But it isn't the group's straight-faced approach to the Rentals' myth, or even the hilarious send-up of Soviet Modernism in the album art and video, that makes "Return of the Rentals" worth owning; it's the songwriting. From the insidiously catchy "Friends of P." to the delightfully dark "Brilliant Boy," the Rentals' material is unremittingly melodic, the sort of thing likely to leave most listeners humming delightedly despite the dense layers of synth snarl and guitar fuzz. Here's hoping the Rentals return again soon.

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