ZZ TopRhythmeen (RCA 07963 66956)Being serious students of...

CD REVIEWS

September 26, 1996|By J.D. Considine

ZZ Top

Rhythmeen (RCA 07963 66956)

Being serious students of the blues, the members of ZZ Top know that the term "funky" doesn't just refer to a style of music. So even though there's a lot of musical funk in the blues rock of "Rhythmeen" -- plenty of sizzling fatback drums, deep-fried boogie guitar and smoke-cured singing -- there's quite a bit of the other kind, too. As befits the blues tradition, most of this stuff is strictly of the nudge-wink variety, as in "Hairdresser," where Billy Gibbons rasps, "She's hip to the latest bob/She give a good lather job."But given how deliciously lubricous the music is, there's no need for the band to be any more explicit than that. From the hip-shaking intensity of "Bang Bang" to the hypnotic pulse of "My Mind Is Gone," the music on these tracks is so intrinsically expressive that we'd get the point even if Gibbons were singing in Cantonese. Drummer Frank Beard deserves particular credit for that, as his playing not only gooses the groove along but occasionally acts as a hook in itself. Still, it's hard not to have a soft spot for the Top's wordplay. After all, how many bands can you name that would use "Burkina Faso" (the country formerly known as Upper Volta) as a song lyric?

Blackstreet

Another Level (Interscope 90071)

There's no such thing as tenure on the pop charts, and nowhere is that more obvious than in R&B. When new jack swing was in its ascendancy, Teddy Riley seemed like the man with the Midas touch, turning everything he produced into gold, if not platinum. But as the music evolved, new jack sounded old, meaning that Riley's rep was no longer so sure-fire. That doesn't mean he's lost his touch, though. In fact, as the new Blackstreet album puts it, he's taken his skills to "Another Level." It isn't just that the singing is first-rate, augmenting silken harmonies with heartfelt asides and gospel-schooled exhortations; the material Riley has assembled gives his group more than enough to work with. "Fix," for example, offers a near perfect balance between melody and rhythm, as Blackstreet works lush four-part vocals over a percolating beat (built in part from a sample of "The Message"), while "I Wanna Be Your Man" manages to convey all the class and sophistication of a Motown oldie while keeping the beat completely current. And though the album's most obvious star turn is "No Diggity," which boasts a rap by Dr. Dre (though the beats are all by Riley), perhaps the most impressive selection is "(Money Can't) Buy Me Love," a scintillating slow-jam rethink of the Beatles tune.

Weezer

Pinkerton (DGC 50072)

It used to be that "power pop" put its emphasis on the pop end of the equation, using loud guitars to frame the delicate beauty of bright, Beatlesque melodies. For bands like Weezer, however, it's the power part that matters most. Although the songs on the quartet's sophomore effort, "Pinkerton," are certainly tuneful enough, it would probably take an "Unplugged" performance to LTC get a real sense of how hummable the material is. As it stands, what we hear are roaring guitars, whooshing synths and bashing drums -- a great rock and roll noise, but one that tends to obscure not only much of the melody but a good bit of Rivers Cuomo's singing. That's not to say the album is without obvious hooks -- "Why Bother?" and "Pink Triangle" are as instantly appealing as alternarock gets -- just that the band makes its listeners work to hear them. But that approach has its points, since there's something thrilling about hearing a strong, sing-along chorus emerge through the din of "The Good Life."

John Parish and Polly Jean Harvey

Dance Hall at Louse Point (Island 314 524 278)

Getting top billing on a rock album isn't always just a matter of simple star power. The reason "Dance Hall at Louse Point" is credited to John Parish and Polly Jean Harvey instead of the other way around is that the music is more his than hers. He wrote all the music and plays all the instruments; she merely provided the words and singing. But it isn't just the division of labor that differentiates this from the typical P.J. Harvey project; there's also a different musical sensibility at work. Harvey's music tends to lead with its hips, stressing sinuous rhythms and pelvic bass lines, while Parish's compositions opt either for the metronomic thrum of the Velvet Underground or the loose ebb and flow of folk and blues. That leaves some tracks, such as "City of No Sun" or the cover of "Is That All There Is?", feeling arch and brittle, dry in a way P.J. Harvey's music never is. Others, though -- "That Was My Veil" and, especially, "Civil War Correspondent" -- are imbued with a fire and brilliance that belies the delicacy of the playing. In all, a difficult album, but definitely with rewards of its own.

Pub Date: 9/26/96

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