The Great Southern Trendkill (EastWest 61908)
According to Edison, invention was 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. Judging from the sound of "The Great Southern Trendkill," Pantera sees heavy metal in similar terms, although instead of perspiration, the Texan quartet substitutes sheer speaker-shredding aggression. Yet as much as Philip Anselmo howls like the damned and guitarist Dimebag Darrell keeps his amps cranked to 11, "The Great Southern Trendkill" actually represents a step forward, melodically, from the group's last album. Granted, that may seem a meaningless distinction to those unable to get beyond the title tune's album-opening burst of noise -- to quote Anselmo, "WUAAAAAUUUGGHHHHHH!" -- but anyone who manages to stay the course will find that there's more to the band's sound this time around than the usual wall of noise. Some of that has to do with the way drummer Vinnie Paul has assumed a sonic parity with Dimebag, laying enough of a foundation on tunes like "13 Steps to Nowhere" to allow the guitarist to indulge his taste for sonic shrapnel. Mostly, though, the broadened palette evident on this album suggests that, like Metallica, Pantera has learned that a lighter touch now and then makes the heavy riffs seem that much heavier -- as when the band moves from the dark psychedelia of "Suicide Note Pt. I" to the frenzied thrash of "Pt. II."
Blue Clear Sky (MCA 11428)
There's such an ease to George Strait's best work that it's tempting to think he could do this stuff in his sleep. Unfortunately, with "Blue Clear Sky," it sounds like he has.
Slipping from calm confidence to near catatonia, Strait sleepwalks through eight of the album's 10 tunes, rousing himself only for the brokenhearted balladry of "She Knows When You're On My Mind" and the spirited Western swing of "I Ain't Never Seen No One Like You." What went wrong? Although it's tempting to blame the relentless pace of Strait's release schedule, which has had him pumping out at least an album a year for the last decade, the real culprit is probably this album's pop-oriented material. For all the well-crafted uplift built into "Do the Right Thing" or the title tune, those songs are just prefab pap, far too empty and glib to suit a singer of Strait's down-home honesty. And while it would be easy to imagine one of those good-looking Stepford cowboys on TNN selling the imitation Garth Brooks of "Carried Away," Strait seems lost in its vast emptiness. But that's typical of the problems clouding "Blue Clear Sky," for in trying to make Strait seem like every other contemporary country hit-maker, the album undercuts the very qualities that made him special in the first place.
Music from the Motion Picture Soundtrack (Warner Sunset 46254)
Moms turn their leftovers into casseroles; record companies turn theirs into soundtracks. Or so it would seem with the all-star score from the much-hyped tornado flick, "Twister." Although the roster suggests an album guaranteed to blow listeners out of their seats -- Van Halen, Shania Twain, k.d. lang, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and a reunited Stevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham -- the music itself seldom gets up enough steam to make them sit up and take notice. Although a few selections, such as Van Halen's energetic "Humans Being" and Tori Amos' dense-yet-compelling "Talula," could actually pass for singles, most would be lucky to qualify as B-sides. (Nicks and Buckingham's "Twisted" virtually screams "bonus track.") Ultimately, it's the unremitting mediocrity of tracks like Soul Asylum's forgettable "Miss This" or k.d. lang's tepid torch song "Love Affair" that flattens this album.
'The Truth About Cats and Dogs'
Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (A&M 314 540 507)
To paraphrase Forrest Gump, a good soundtrack album is like a box of chocolates -- the best selections are sweet and surprising enough to make you overlook the occasional clunker. "The Truth About Cats and Dogs" is just such a soundtrack. It may not boast an all A-list lineup, as recognizable names like Sting, Suzanne Vega and Al Green are flanked by such lesser-knowns as Paul Weller and Ben Folds Five, but the music is delightful from start to finish. It helps that some of the selections have an aura of familiarity, from Dionne Farris' sassy remake of "For Once My Life" to Sting's dancehall-inflected rethink of "The Bed's Too Big Without You," but there are plenty of memorable new tunes, too. Vega, for one, makes quite a comeback with the haunting, hummable "Caramel," while Al Green reminds us of his enduring vitality with the engaging trifle "Give It Everything." Add in such delightful discoveries as "Bad Idea" by Ben Folds Five, and "The Truth About Cats and Dogs" definitely seems a soundtrack worth sampling.