RushTest for Echo (Atlantic 82925)With all the stuff about...

CD REVIEWS

September 19, 1996|By J.D. Considine

Rush

Test for Echo (Atlantic 82925)

With all the stuff about modems and modern media on the lyric sheet, some fans might expect to find Rush experimenting with the computerized crunch of techno or industrial music in "Test for Echo." Instead, the band's sound is surprisingly conservative this time around, downplaying synth tricks and multiple overdubs in favor of lean, guitar-based arrangements. Many songs, in fact, rely on a sort of riff-based writing style that harks back to the band's early days. Of course, that slightly retro writing strategy shouldn't be taken to mean Rush has abandoned the pop-friendly approach it has been refining since "Signals," for the songs here are as tuneful and tightly structured as ever. From the urgent momentum of the title tune to the soaring majesty of "The Color of Right," these tracks invariably emphasize the vocal melody, relegating the instrumental interplay to the background. But in a way that gives the band the best of both worlds; the likes of "Time and Motion" and "Virtuality" are full of intricate interplay while avoiding any sense of self-indulgence. So what the listener comes away with isn't a sense of Rush's technical acumen, but an appreciation for the band's ability to make tuneful, challenging music.

New Edition

Home Again (MCA 11480)

There was something inevitable about the New Edition reunion, especially given the deep slumps into which the individual members' solo careers had sunk. But there was no reason to have expected the reunion album, "Home Again," to be as good as it is. Granted, it doesn't hurt that this is the super-expanded New Edition, including both Bobby Brown and Johnny Gill, as well as Ralph Tresvant, Ricky Bell, Mike "Biv" Bivins and Ronnie DeVoe. But it isn't the assembled star power that carries the album so much as it is the strength of the material. New Edition was always about cooperation, not solo spots or star turns, and supporting all those voices puts a lot of pressure on the songwriting. But the album's best songs have no trouble meeting that challenge. For one thing, there's plenty here for these six to harmonize on, whether in the silky, sophisticated style of "I'm Still In Love with You" or in the more free-flowing fashion of "Oh, It Feels So Good"; for another, this older and wiser Edition is able to work a groove with greater authority, as "Something About You" makes plain. Who'd have thought New Edition would really deliver something new?

Suzanne Vega

Nine Objects of Desire (A&M 314 540 583)

Even though she was originally lumped in with the '80s folk revival, Suzanne Vega is no more a "folk singer" than Paul Simon is. So don't worry about the odd array of sounds she's assembled for her fifth album, "Nine Objects of Desire," because though these songs may sound different from her earlier efforts, they feel very much the same. Naturally, a lot of that has to do with her ability to be both tuneful and conversational in her songs, a gift that gets put to excellent use in the wryly observed "Stockings" and the oddly meditative "Honeymoon Suite." But there's also a chameleon-like quality to the writing that allows her to appropriate new musical styles without losing her artistic sense of place. So "Thin Man" takes on a tropical lilt (with echoes of Steely Dan in the keyboards), "Caramel" melts into languid, bossa nova cadences, and "No Cheap Thrill" flirts with calypso rhythms throughout its Runyonesque verse. No wonder, then, that Vega's "Nine Objects" sounds so desirable.

The Cardigans

First Band on the Moon (Mercury 314 533 117)

Between the girlish sweetness of Nina Persson's voice and the soft-focus splendor of the instrumental arrangements, it's tempting to peg the Cardigans as just so much ear candy. But beneath the lush textures and soothing melodies of "First Band on the Moon" lies an astonishingly perverse pop sensibility. How better to describe a song like "Heartbreaker," in which the lilting melody and Persson's kittenish delivery disguise the self-effacing horror of a boy toy's inner life? Or "Lovefool," which turns a woman's pathetic plea for love into a giddily upbeat pop tune? It isn't just that the band has a flair for high-concept sarcasm; its easy-to-swallow sound makes it that much more unlikely that casual listeners will even sense the degree of subversiveness at work in these songs. Still, though the utter deadpan of Persson's performance on "Losers" and "Happy Meal II" will make it easy to miss the music's real point, it's hard to imagine the rock fan who won't be in hysterics after hearing the group's dreamy, cotton-candy cover of Black Sabbath's "Iron Man."

Pub Date: 9/19/96

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