Looking EastJackson Browne (Elektra 61876)Between their...

CD REVIEWS

March 07, 1996|By J. D. Considine

Looking East

Jackson Browne (Elektra 61876)

Between their over-earnest politics and under-developed melodies, Jackson Browne's last few albums have left all but his most devoted fans ready to consign him to has-been status. It's no wonder, then, that "Looking East" is being touted as a comeback of sorts. From the soaring melody and country rock pulse of "Some Bridges" to the bluesy backbeat and sly, sweet vocals on "Culver Moon," these new songs are clearly cut from the same cloth as classic Browne tunes like "Running on Empty." Even so, the album is hardly a step back for Browne. Rather than sweep away the politics of his recent work, the songs here are just as topical and provocative as those on his last few albums. What sets them apart is the approach he takes. For one thing, he's as eager to entertain as he is to make a point, as with "Information Wars," which uses the familiarity of catch-phrases and jingles to point out how advertising blinds us to the TC mendacity of major corporations. But the best songs here merely translate the soul-searching intensity of his early work into political terms, as when the title tune describes political empowerment in terms of a personal awakening, a notion that ought to resonate with listeners regardless of their politics.

The Gray Race

Bad Religion (Atlantic 82870)

"This is just a punk rock song," goes the chorus to "Punk Rock Song," and modest as the sentiment is, it would be hard to imagine a neater way to sum up Bad Religion's no-frills aesthetic. Apart from a few brief guitar solos and an occasional shift in tempo, the songs on "The Gray Race" rarely deviate from the basic verse/chorus formula of punk, building each song around well-cranked guitar riffs and simply harmonized refrains. But don't be fooled by the simplicity of the music's surface, for these songs have more to offer than a jolt of adrenalized melody. It isn't just that Bad Religion is willing to take on big issues in its songs, be they as obvious as the problem of overpopulation ("Ten in 2010") or as subtle as the amount of energy wasted on fashionable activism ("Empty Causes"); there's also a certain poetry to the way the band conveys its ideas. Who could possibly resist lines like "Hey teacher, arrogance is bliss" (from "Nobody Listens") or "Like fools we trust the delivery/But it's all just drunk sincerity" (from "Drunk Sincerity")? No wonder Bad Religion remains the thinking fan's punk rock band -- few albums offer as much food for thought or music for moshing as "The Gray Race."

The Promise

John McLaughlin (Verve 314 529 828)

A couple of decades ago, an album like John McLaughlin's "The Promise" would have been big news. With a lineup including luminaries Jeff Beck, Michael Brecker, Paco De Lucia, Al DiMeola, David Sanborn and Sting, it would have been billed as a fusion jazz supersession and hyped as the crossover event of the year. Instead, it slipped into the stores with minimal fanfare, pegging its fortunes to the quality of the music, not the celebrity of the guest stars. A wise move, that, because what makes "The Promise" worth hearing isn't the depth of its guest list, but the breadth of McLaughlin's stylistic range. He does a little bit of everything here, moving easily from the adventurous organ-trio approach of "Thelonius Melodius" to the flamenco fusion of the DiMeola/De Lucia romp "El Ciego," and from the Indian-flavored improvisation of "The Wish" to the feisty, full-out jazz/rock of the Sting-powered "English Jam." Yet for all the ground he covers, McLaughlin never seems out of his element; if anything, the category-defying rambles "Jazz Jungle" and "Shin Jin Rui" rank among his best work on record.

Loops of Fury

Chemical Brothers (Astralwerks EP 6174)

Repetition may be the key to modern dance music, but you have to do more than just repeat the beat. What makes the Chemical Brothers EP "Loops of Fury" so fascinating is the ingenuity with which it avoids such stasis. Even though each of the four tunes included here could be reduced to a mere handful of rhythmic components -- the "loops" of the title -- the listener is never left with the sense that the music is stuck on auto-repeat. A lot of that has to do with the way the Brothers shuffle and cut the elements in each mix, adding a bit of turntable scratch here, dropping the bass line out there, so that there's a genuine sense of ebb and flow to the arrangements. But the best thing about "Loops of Fury" is that for all the sampling and programming that went into these grooves, the music somehow still feels like the work of a live band -- and that's a trick few mixers have ever mastered.

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