Everything But the GirlWalking Wounded (Atlantic...

CD REVIEWS

June 06, 1996|By J.D. Considine

Everything But the Girl

Walking Wounded (Atlantic 82912)

Popular music is full of songs about broken hearts and breaking up, but rarely does it offer the sort of depth and detail Everything But the Girl delivers with "Walking Wounded." Less a concept album than variations on a theme, its songs examine the tangle of emotions that spring up when romantic bonds are severed and present a picture far closer to real life than the usual refrain of "poor, pitiful me." As if trying to show that the end of love is also a many-splendored thing, as the spurned lover in "Before Today" decides "I don't want a phone that never rings. I want your love, and I want it now," the protagonist of "Single" is racked with doubt: "Do you want me back? . . . Do I want you back?" Tracy Thorn's mellow, melancholic voice is the perfect vehicle for these monologues, sad enough to make the heartbreak lyrics seem credible, yet with enough sweetness to ensure that there's wit and humor in there, too. But it's Ben Watt's backing tracks that ultimately give the album its edge, reworking the thump and flutter of jungle and house music into the perfect modern soundscape. Whether it's as itchily compelling as the burbling dancebeat beneath "Wrong" or as warmly nostalgic as the dreamy guitar in "Mirrorball," the music is a perfect distillation of modern pop -- and will leave you smitten just as surely as the lyrics will break your heart.

Def Leppard

Slang (Mercury 314 532 486)

Pop metal may have gone the way of the dinosaurs, but that hasn't kept Def Leppard from stomping across the landscape yet again. That's not to say the band doesn't know times have changed; "Slang" is nothing if not a desperate attempt to update the Def Leppard formula. But for all the effort that went into giving the arrangements a modern rock veneer -- from distorted, Nine Inch Nails-style vocals on "Truth?" to sampled Indian instruments on "Turn to Dust," to shimmering U2-style guitars on "Where Does Love Go When It Dies" -- it's good old-fashioned songwriting that gives the album its most listenable moments. So even though there's a lot of fun to be had with the title tune, a hip-hop flavored update of "Pour Some Sugar on Me," the most memorable hook comes with an utterly conventional tune, the classic power-ballad "All I Want Is Everything." Granted, credit // for some of that belongs with the lyrics -- who can resist a line like "All I want is everything/Am I asking too much?" -- but the bottom line is that this kind of high-octane balladry has always been what this band does best. And no amount of trend-chasing will change that.

Soundgarden

Down on the Upside (A&M 31454 0526)

Its Seattle heritage may have left Soundgarden lumped in with the grunge movement, but "Down on the Upside" suggests that the band's real roots lie in the psychedelic sound of the '60s. It isn't just a gentle wash of sound that frames the dreamy melody of "Zero Chance" or the abstract sounds that slither through the slow churn of "Never the Machine Forever"; it's also the way such tracks as "Dusty" and "Burden in My Hand" recall the classic psychedelia of Cream's "Wheels of Fire" or Led Zeppelin's "III." Of course, as the lumbering "Rhinosaur" makes plain, there's still plenty of room for Soundgarden's usual blend of heavy rock virtuosity and alterna-rock aggression. But the most interesting tracks are those that push the band's old approach into new directions, until the loping, angular "Never the Machine Forever" ends up recalling early P.I.L., while the dark, droning guitars of "An Unkind" transform the blues in ways Led Zeppelin never would have dreamed possible. Definitely more upside than down.

Gloria Estefan

Destiny (Epic 67283)

Even though "Destiny" boasts Gloria Estefan's first English-language songs since 1991's "Into the Light," there's no denying the Hispanic influence on her new album. From the Spanish guitar obbligatos supporting the verses of the title tune to the brass and percussion that propel "You'll Be Mine," it's clear that Estefan's material draws heavily on the depth and breadth of the Latin music tradition. But rather than merely pay tribute, as she did on her "Abriendo Puertas," Estefan is staking her own claim to the music. In the process, she has forged a sound that is more striking and original than anything she has done in her career. "Path of the Right Love," for instance, pulls an extra degree of emotional power from the percussion that slowly percolates beneath its melody, while "Along Came You (A Song for Emily)" uses its vaguely exotic instrumentation to make the song seem larger than just Estefan's fondness for her daughter. And though it's true that not every song here works as well as it could (for all its energy, "Higher" seems slightly hackneyed), on the whole, "Destiny" marks an impressive step forward for Estefan.

Pub Date: 6/06/96

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