Spice GirlsSpice (Virgin 42174)In Britain, the big thing...

CD REVIEWS

February 13, 1997|By J.D. Considine

Spice Girls

Spice (Virgin 42174)

In Britain, the big thing about the Spice Girls is their credibility. Even though these five sassy, stylish and sexy singers have been packaged as assiduously as any mass-market teen sensation, what they're being sold as is a sort of grass-roots alterna-pop rebellion, as if Bananarama had been crossbred with Nirvana. This is anti-establishment pop, and so the CD booklet for "Spice" is sprinkled with such semi-provocative slogans as "Freedom Fighters!" "Spice Revolution!" and "It's A Girl Thang!" But it's more likely to amuse than radicalize, because the Spice Girls' appeal lies not to the group's image or ideology, but pop instincts. Simple, catchy and well-crafted, these songs are perfect singles fodder, as sweet and addictive as Hershey kisses. Admittedly, these songs aren't especially deep -- "Wannabe," for instance, actually includes the lyrics "I wanna, I pTC wanna, I wanna, I wanna, I wanna really/Really really wanna zigzig ha" -- but the melodic pleasures to be had from the smooth soul of "Say You'll Be There," the tremulous balladry of "2 Become 1" or the aggressive groove of "Who Do You Think You Are" more than compensate.

The Offspring

Ixnay on the Hombre (Columbia 67810)

Haircuts to the contrary, what "punk rock" has come to mean in mainstream rock terms is, simply, "hard, fast and tuneful" -- a definition that would have applied as easily to the first Ramones album as it does to "Ixnay on the Hombre," the latest from the Offspring. Forget the attitude fueling the apathy anthem "All I Want" or feeding the sarcasm of "Cool to Hate"; what really gives this album its edge is the way these songs marry the blunt propulsion of punk to simple, sing-along verses and chorus. That's obvious enough in "All I Want," where the hooks hurtle by at breakneck pace, but it's just as much a factor in the slow and insistent "Way Down the Line." In fact, there's a surprising amount of stylistic breadth on the album, as the group moves from the stylized funk of "I Choose" to the haunting arabesques of "Me & My Old Lady" without ever diluting its essential sound. Add in a few tuneful and punchy rockers, such as "Mota," and "Ixnay" makes it quite clear that the number of hits on "Smash" was no fluke.

Various artists

The Best of Fat Possum (Fat Possum/Capricorn 314 534 130)

It would be hard to dispute the argument that Fat Possum is the most important blues label in operation at the moment. By drawing on talent still to be found in the juke joints of rural Mississippi, the label has not only reaffirmed the blues' vitality but has shown that the style is still capable of producing mesmerizing performers. To that end, "The Best of Fat Possum" makes a wonderful sampler, an ideal way to introduce neophytes to the pleasures of R.L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough and Cedell Davis. It would, for instance, be hard to imagine the blues fan who wouldn't be entranced by the hypnotic rhythms of Burnside's "Snake Drive," or haunted by the ache implicit in Kimbrough's "Sad Days, Lonely Nights." Even the label's lesser talents shine brightly here, as Dave Thompson puts a fresh twist on the classic Albert King approach with "Hey Moma," and Paul Jones brings something of the rough-edged charm of vintage country blues to the electric "Rob & Steal." Still, the title is a tad misleading, for if this really were the "best" of Fat Possum's output, there'd be more of Burnside and Kimbrough and a lot less of the Jelly Roll Kings.

Nerf Herder

Nerf Herder (Arista 18954)

Let's be honest about it -- Nerf Herder is a joke band. Not in the can't-play-a-lick sense of the term, mind; these three may never be mistaken for Rush, but they do at least know their way around their instruments. No, these guys are jokesters in the traditional sense, meaning that "Nerf Herder" boasts some of the funniest songs this side of "Weird Al" Yankovic. But unlike Yankovic, the ++ Herders aren't parodists. Instead, the humor in their songs comes from the dry wit of the lyrics. "Sorry," for instance, starts out as a typical love-gone-bad tune ("Sorry we broke up, sorry I missed you...") only to turn into a bizarre spurned-lover burlesque, while "Nosering Girl" has great fun playing off all known alternachick cliches ("She was the kind of girl you would give up eating meat for..."). But the album's standout tune has to be "Van Halen," a heartfelt fan's lament that goes from outright adulation ("I bought 'Van Halen I'/It was the best damn record I ever owned") to outraged betrayal ("Is this what you wanted? Sammy Hagar?!?") in a few short choruses. At last, a novelty act whose charm doesn't wear out after the second hearing.

Pub Date: 2/13/97

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