Ben Folds FiveWhatever And Ever Amen (550 Music 67762)By...

CD REVIEWS

March 20, 1997|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

Ben Folds Five

Whatever And Ever Amen (550 Music 67762)

By almost any accounting, Ben Folds is not your typical alternarocker. For starters, he plays piano, not guitar, and acoustic piano at that. Moreover, the sound he gets with his trio, the inexplicably named Ben Folds Five, has more in common with old-school pop rockers like Billy Joel than with grunge gods or techno wizards. Maybe that's why "Whatever and Ever Amen," the BF5's latest, seems such a breath of fresh air. It helps, of course, that the music is so exuberant -- if the two-fisted playing on "One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces" doesn't have you pounding the table in a pianistic equivalent of air guitar, nothing will -- but the real charm in Folds' material is that the melodic polish never takes the edge off his lyrics. So "Song for the Dumped" expresses the dump-ee's sentiments with hilarious frankness (rants the chorus "Give me my money back/Give me my money back/ You [expletive]"), while "Kate" vies for the listener's heart as much with witty, love-struck lyrics as with its perfectly crafted power pop chorus. But the album's best moments -- particularly "Battle of Who Could Care Less" and the Rundgrenesque "Fair" -- offer deeper pleasures by far, as Folds folds lush vocal harmonies and insightful narratives into his ingenious pop structures. An exceptional album.

T.D.F.

Retail Therapy (Reprise 46489)

According to the music press, techno and its offshoots are destined to be the Next Big Thing. As proof, some pundits have pointed out that even Eric Clapton has climbed onto the bandwagon, contributing anonymously to the new album by T.D.F. But if the group's debut, "Retail Therapy," does reflect the shape of things to come, techno's future looks a lot like mood music's past. It isn't just that most of the album's tracks carry a pulse so weak that it's tempting to call for a pacemaker; there's also a distinct lack of focus to the tunes here. "Angelica," for instance, doesn't go much deeper melodically than the arpeggiated rhythm guitar figure that sets the stage for Clapton's acoustic guitar noodling, meaning that what we get isn't a song so much as bad imitation Earl Klugh. Nor does it help when T.D.F. team leader Simon Climie (of Climie-Fisher fame) brings in vocals, for the best "What She Wants" can manage is to sound like a Babyface reject -- minus the melody, of course. Even the token attempts at Chemical Brothers-style aggression fail to generate any reaction. If this is T.D.F.'s idea of therapy, the industry is sicker than we thought.

Charlie Parker

Yardbird Suite (Rhino 72260)

Even jazz novices know that saxophonist Charlie "Yardbird" Parker was one of the music's greatest innovators. What they're often less sure of is how to get a handle on his considerable (and considerably convoluted) discography. Not only did Parker record for a number of record companies, but some of his most famous early solos -- such as "Groovin' High," "All the Things You Are" and "Hot House" -- were recorded under Dizzy Gillespie's name. Fortunately, the double-CD "Yardbird Suite" makes it easy to get an accurate overview of Bird's genius. Drawing from the full breadth of Parker's career, it starts off with such early efforts as "Salt Peanuts" (with Gillespie), "Now's the Time" and "Ornithology" -- the building blocks of be-bop. From there, it follows his recording career as he moved from Savoy to Dial to Clef, offering a far wider range than any other anthology, as well as such classic tracks as "Chasing the Bird," "Scrapple from the Apple," "Parker's Mood" and "Confirmation." Hard-core fans may quibble that the set gives short shrift to ambitious later efforts like "Bird with Strings," but on the whole, it would be hard to imagine a better introduction than this.

Various Artists

Club Cutz 2 (RCA 66957)

Although it took over a year to hit the charts, the 1995 anthology "Club Cutz" did have one hit worth waiting for: Los Del Rio's "Macarena (Bayside Boys Mix)." No doubt the marketing minds behind that album are hoping for similar (if somewhat speedier) success with "Club Cutz 2," but to tell the truth, they'd be better off investing their promo budget in lottery tickets. Like its predecessor, "2" relies heavily on synth-heavy Eurodisco hits, and the best tracks -- Clubland's ecstatic, gospel-fired "Gimme Love Gimme All," for instance, or Alison Limerick's darkly compelling "Where Love Lives" -- offer a well-crafted mix of pop smarts and dance-floor savvy. But too many of these tunes rely either on stale gimmicks (as with Scatman John's "U-Turn"), lame raps (Le Click's "Tonight Is the Night") or tired retro moves (Cie's "Set Me on Fire"). The album's most inexplicable inclusions are a pair of disco oldies. Sure, both Evelyn "Champagne" King's "Shame" and Odyssey's "Native New Yorker" are great singles, but their disco rhythm arrangements seem a little dated next to faster, synth-driven fare like Dream World's "Movin' Up" or Layla's "All My Dreams (Don't Ever Leave)."

Pub Date: 3/20/97

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