Cheap TrickSex, America, Cheap Trick (Epic/Legacy...


August 29, 1996|By J.D. Considine

Cheap Trick

Sex, America, Cheap Trick (Epic/Legacy 64938)

Kiss isn't the only '70s band with a brand-new buzz. Cheap Trick is also on the comeback trail this year, a much-deserved revival sparked in part by the ambitious retrospective "Sex, America, Cheap Trick." For the hardcore, the four-CD set is a treasure trove of rarities and unreleased material, ranging from demos and non-LP B-sides, to such oddball cover versions as Bob Dylan's "Mrs. Henry" and the Velvet Underground medley "Waiting for the Man/Heroin" (with vocals by bassist Tom Petersson). There's also a wealth of band recollections in the accompanying booklet, plus an affectionate, info-packed essay by critic Ira Robbins. But as much as the packaging may appeal to long-time fans, the music is strong enough to make any listener reconsider this band's standing. After all, there's more to Cheap Trick than "The Flame" and the live "Budokan" album. There was, for instance, a wonderfully subversive quality to such early fare as "ELO Kiddies" and "Southern Girls," and an almost proto-alternative edge to material like "Surrender" and "Auf Wiedersehen." And even though the band's popularity dipped between 1979's "Dream Police" and 1988's "Lap of Luxury," this set makes clear that the quality of its music barely declined at all. A long-overdue reminder of just how great this band could be -- and still is.

Moss Elixir (Warner Bros. 46302)

Could anyone but Robyn Hitchcock have written a lyric like "She was sinister but she was happy/Like a chandelier festooned with leeches"? Maybe, but it's certain that no one else could have found those words a melody as appropriate as the one Hitchcock gives "Sinister But She Was Happy," one of a dozen engagingly surreal songs included on his 15th album, "Moss Elixir." Hitchcock's morbid whimsy has been widely celebrated, and rightly so; few writers since Edward Lear have taken as playful approach to language and the grotesque. But Hitchcock is also a first-rate tunesmith, and it's that element of his charm that comes most to the fore in "Moss Elixir." His songs are not just tuneful, but irresistibly so, spinning their choruses so seductively that it's hard not to hum along. And that's true whether he's playing off the classic cadences of English folk balladry, as he does in "Heliotrope" and "The Speed of Things," or updating the melodic tradition forged by the Beatles, as he does in "Beautiful Queen" and "De Chirico Street."

Sir Mix-A-Lot

Return of the Bumpasaurus (American 43081)

If nothing else, Sir Mix-A-Lot deserves credit for having a sense of humor. After all, "Return of the Bumpasaurus" opens with an excerpt from a Chris Rock routine making fun of Mix-A-Lot's hit "Put 'Em on the Glass." But then, it also takes a sense of humor to deal with Mix-A-Lot's constant bragging about his genius for sex and violence. Sure, he can be clever at times, putting down a gangsta wannabe in "Ainsta" or describing himself as the ultimate girl-toy in "Playthang," and it's easy to imagine how "Bark Like You Want It" could be great fun in clubs. But Mix-A-Lot's wit also has its nasty side, which comes to the fore in such less-than-entertaining efforts as "You Can Have Her" or the anti-crossover rap "Aunt Thomasina." Still, the most annoying thing about "Return of the Bumpasaurus" isn't Mix-A-Lot's meanness or occasional misogyny, but the album's general lack of memorable music. Apart from the chant-along chorus to "Buckin' My Horse" and the phat synth rumbling beneath "Bumpasaurus," most of the sounds here are decidedly second-hand, adding no fresh flavor to the bass-derived sound Mix-A-Lot has peddled from the start. A few more albums like this, and don't be surprised if the Bumpasaurus ends up extinct.

Fiona Apple

Tidal (Work 67439)

Just as Jewel suggests a younger, callower take on the folkie compassion Tracy Chapman made her name on, so Fiona Apple seems to offer an alterna-rock gloss on the jazzy confessionals ,, that were once Nina Simone's specialty. So even though none of the songs on "Tidal" quite qualify as jazz or blues tunes, almost all are flavored by that sensibility. A lot of that has to do with Apple's vocal style, which is full of bent notes and languorous, elongated phrases, but it's also underscored by the sultry, sophisticated sound her backing band provides -- particularly the fluid pulse and cool asides provided by drummer Matt Chamberlain and vibraphonist Jon Brion, respectively. But if "Tidal" is long on ambience and mood, it comes up a tad short on songs. Although Apple makes the most of her melodies, the truth is that her tunes are generally fairly slight. "Criminal" has a dark, soulful groove reminiscent of early Laura Nyro, and "Sleep To Dream" is intoxicatingly beautiful, but the rest of the album relies more on the sizzle of Apple's performance than on the strength of her material.

Pub Date: 8/29/96

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