Ministry (Warner Bros. 45838)
Although Ministry built its reputation on the industrial music circuit, there's more metal than machinery in the sound of "Filth Pig." Between the shuddering crunch of guitars in "Reload" and "Game Show," and the tortured vocals that flesh out "Crumbs" and "Lava," the music certainly sounds like modern metal, but it's the lumbering, animal menace of the rhythm section that confirms the resemblance. For the most part, Ministry's metal groove avoids the thrash-and-burn of speed-obsessed bands like Slayer, opting instead for the slow-churning grind of Type-O Negative and its ilk. That brings added intensity to the buzzing guitars and heavy bass of "Useless" and lends an almost hypnotic intensity to the title tune's central riff. There are faster tunes as well, and if "Dead Guy" or "Brick Windows" never quite reach the sort of velocity thrash bands consider cruising speed, TC they offer enough rhythmic momentum to keep the album from dragging. Still, the album's must-hear track has to be "Lay Lady Lay," which uses droning synths, throbbing bass and a strangulated vocal to turn Bob Dylan's best-known love song into a brutal burlesque of pop romance. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll drive your neighbors crazy.
La Bouche (RCA 66759)
The trouble with a lot of European dance pop groups is that they have more rhythm than blues -- that is, that there's not enough soul in the singing to make the beat matter. La Bouche, by contrast, has soul to spare; it's the beat that seems lacking on "Sweet Dreams." Listen to Melanie Thornton work her way through the likes of "Fallin' In Love" or "Do You Still Need Me," and it's clear that she has the voice of a classic soul singer. Blessed with power, tone and an impressive interpretive ability, she makes the most of the occasionally cliched melodies, even kindling a spark of soul in retro-disco fluff like "Shoo Bee Do Bee Do (I Like That Way)." But apart from "Tonight Is the Night" (recorded when Thornton was part of another group, Le Click) and the searing "Be My Lover," the rhythm tracks are so tepid that the music never comes to a boil. And frankly, if La Bouche can't claim your booty, it will never have a shot at your soul.
The Songs of West Side Story
Various Artists (RCA 09026-62707)
When musicals were translated from the stage to the screen, Hollywood acted on the assumption that if there were more stars on the marquee, there would be more customers in the theater. So there is a precedent of sorts for the star-packed lineup of "The Songs of West Side Story," which finds the musical remade with a cast that includes Phil Collins, Aretha Franklin, Salt-N-Pepa, Trisha Yearwood, Chick Corea, All-4-One, Wynonna and the late Tejano star Selena. But as was often the case with Hollywood musicals, star-power assembled for "The Songs of West Side Story" ultimately eclipses the material itself. Sometimes, as with Brian Setzer's take on "Jet Song" or the Salt-N-Pepa/Jerky Boys version of "Gee, Officer Krupke," it's because the songs play second fiddle to the artists' own shtick; at other times, as with Selena's rhythm-machine-driven "A Boy Like That" or the appallingly over-arranged "America" offered by Natalie Cole, Patti LaBelle and Sheila E., the score's charm is lost in an attempt to "modernize" the music. (Although, to be honest, many listeners will be disappointed by the liberties Little Richard didn't take with "I Feel Pretty.") As a result, the album's few real highlights, like Phil Collins' understated rendering of "Somewhere," get lost in the excess.
Marta Sebestyen (Hannibal 1392)
Marta Sebestyen may not be a household name outside her native Hungary, but as anyone familiar with Deep Forest's "Marta's Song" can attest, she has one of the world's most stunning voices. She also has an amazing ear, and it's that aspect of her talents that shines brightest in "Kismet." A collection of some of her favorite folk songs, the album draws not just from the Hungarian tradition, but also from the music of Ireland, India, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Romania, Greece and Tatarstan. It's a heady mix, but because Sebestyen so clearly understands the connections between these cultures, the melodic threads weave easily into a strong and lustrous fabric. Who else could have imagined folding the Greek Epirotiko "Eleni" into the Irish emigration tune "Leaving Derry Quay," or would have combined melodies from Bashkiria, Hungary and Tatarstan as deftly as she does in "If I Were a Rose (Ha En Rozsa Volnek)"? It helps, of course, that she has such gifted accompanists as violinist Zoltan Lantos and multi-instrumentalist Nikola Parov, but it's Sebestyen who ultimately holds center stage in these songs. A truly remarkable recording.