BabyfaceThe Day (Epic 67293)For a man who makes hit...

CD REVIEWS

November 07, 1996|By J.D. Considine

Babyface

The Day (Epic 67293)

For a man who makes hit records as easily as other people make sandwiches, Babyface doesn't have much truck with the hard-sell. In fact, the sound he delivers on his new solo album, "The Day," is so soothing and understated that listening to it is almost like having someone whisper in your ear -- except, of course, that you almost always end up humming along. Even when the groove is insistent, as on the rap-flavored "This Is for the Lover in You," the sound stays soft around the edges, using strings and a well-harmonized chorus to cushion both Howard Hewett's exuberant cameo and L.L. Cool J's typically crisp wordplay. Hewett and L.L. are hardly the album's only guest stars; Stevie Wonder turns up for "How Come, How Long," Eric Clapton sits in on "Talk to Me," and both Kenny G and Mariah Carey contribute to "Everytime I Close My Eyes." But it isn't star power that carries these songs -- it's melodic ingenuity. Babyface may not be the most original writer around ("Talk to Me," for instance, is remarkably reminiscent of the Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth"), but he's certainly effective, reeling in listeners with each hook as effectively as any angler. So whether the song is as slow and sweet as "When Your Body Gets Weak" or as perky and upbeat as "Simple Days," the result is as appealing. Billy Breathes (Elektra 61971)

Given the kind of devotion Phish has developed through its live shows, it shouldn't be surprising that music industry pundits would have the band pegged for some kind of commercial breakthrough. But as nice as it would be to see "Billy Breathes" sell millions, it's hard to imagine the album actually turning Phish into a household name. As with "Hoist," the band's last studio album, "Billy Breathes" is built not around jams but solid, well-constructed tunes, with catchy choruses and intricate, engaging arrangements. What they lack, though, is the irrepressible melodic bliss that made "Hoist" such a present surprise. Instead, what the band goes after is a sort of tuneful melancholy, not unlike what the Beatles evoked through much of "Rubber Soul." While that lends a breathtaking lyricism to the likes of "Waste" and "Talk," it doesn't provide the kind of musical presence most listeners expect in a hit single. Then again, that's probably just as well, because by emphasizing the quiet, reflective character of these songs, Phish ends up giving its audience more to listen to, since the best of these songs boast depths no one could possibly plumb in a single hearing. And isn't artistic success better than the commercial kind?

Robi Rob

Robi Rob's Clubworld (Columbia 67830)

Although the death of David Cole didn't shut down production for C+C Music Factory, it did give Robert Clivilles (the other half of the group) cause to reconsider his options. So he dug deep into his roots and came up with Robi Rob, the musical persona behind "Robi Rob's Clubworld." As the title suggests, the album is 100 percent dance music, but not the soulful, rap-flavored kind C+C was known for. Instead, Robi Rob's crew is working the Latin side of the groove, cranking up the heavy percussion that powers "Robi-Rob's Boriqua Anthem" and pushing that beat into overdrive. So what he ends up with is a sound as hypnotic as any club hit, but with an earthy immediacy that makes the bass and drums seem hot-wired to your hips. It helps that he has a great group of guest vocalists fleshing out the tracks, bringing in everyone from Technotronic alum Ya Kid K to Panamanian dancehall hero El General. But the vocals are just icing on the cake; the heart of this album lies in the grooves, and there's enough power there to leave anyone with a taste for dance music entranced.

William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet

Music from the Motion Picture (Capitol 37715)

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