Boyz II MenEvolution (Motown 314 530 819)For a quiet storm...

CD REVIEWS

October 02, 1997|By J.D. Considine

Boyz II Men

Evolution (Motown 314 530 819)

For a quiet storm album to succeed, it needs both storm and quiet -- that is, there must be some emotional intensity burning beneath those mellow melodies. There are moments on the new Boyz II Men album, "Evolution," that could be textbook examples of how to get that balance right. In another group's hands, the dulcet beauty of the Jimmy Jam/Terry Lewis tune "4 Seasons of Loneliness" could easily have turned saccharine, but the Boyz convey the tartness of romantic regret while still savoring the full sweetness of its melody. Likewise,Babyface's mushy "A Song for Mama" is given a reading that's rich with filial devotion without ever seeming greeting-card cute. Emotionally charged balladry isn't the only trick these Men can manage; "Can't Let Her Go" pulses with a rhythmic urgency that goes beyond its Sean "Puffy" Combs production. Still, there's far less funky stuff than balladry on the album, and gems, like "Can You Stand the Rain," where the a capella harmonies are so rich it's hard to believe there's not a band hidden in there, are distressingly rare. Far more typical are "Never" or "Girl in the Life Magazine" -- songs that stress sentimentality but are so low on actual emotion there's no chance of a real "quiet storm" erupting.

Forest for the Trees

Forest for the Trees (Dreamworks 50002)

Because his music takes such a similar stream-of-consciousness approach to sound manipulation, Forest for the Trees mastermind Carl Stephenson seems a lot like Beck. Which is only fair, since Stephenson co-wrote "Loser" and helped produce Beck's "Mellow Gold" album. But no matter how much the two might have in common, "Forest for the Trees" is hardly just some "Odelay"-me-too. Stephenson is far less inclined to exult in the sort of calculated cheesiness Beck adores; instead, his vice is bringing unlikely combinations of sound together. "Dream" is perhaps the most ingenious example, weaving hip-hop beats, skirling bagpipes, soul harmonies and Indian classical music into an awesome sonic tapestry, but that's hardly the only track on the album to draw successfully from disparate sources. "Algorithm," for instance, seasons its dream-like drone with sprinkles of sitar, TV static and heavy metal guitar, while soft, spacy synths, hyper-distorted guitar and martial drums swirl through the mildly psychedelic "Tree." Granted, Stephenson doesn't quite have Beck's ear for hooks, but his flair for texture makes "Forest for the Trees" worth getting lost in.

Elton John

The Big Picture (Rocket 31453 6266)

It's a shame that Elton John's "The Big Picture" was too far along in the production pipeline for his record company to have added "Candle in the Wind 1997" to the release. Not only does that put him in the awkward position of having a hit single that is not on his latest disc, but it gives listeners one more reason not to buy the album. Not that the extra help was needed, as the 11 songs that are included present John at his self-dramatizing worst. Even though John wrote them all with longtime collaborator Bernie Taupin, the material is so stagey and contrived it could easily be mistaken for cast-offs from some recent Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. "Live Like Horses" is particularly bad on that front, as its soliloquy-style lyrics bring out singer's hammiest excesses (love the way he sings ". . . moves beneath me like a riv-ah!" in the first verse) at the expense of the melody, but it's hardly the only offender. Far more distressing are "Recover Your Soul" and "Love's Got a Lot to Answer For," where the listless arrangement and desiccated melody convey just enough of John's original strengths to remind us of what it's missing. Not a pretty picture.

Fat Boy Slim

Better Living Through Chemistry (Astralwerks 6203)

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