LL Cool JPhenomenon (Def Jam 314 539 186)Who says you...

CD REVIEWS

October 23, 1997|By J.D. Considine

LL Cool J

Phenomenon (Def Jam 314 539 186)

Who says you can't go home again? LL Cool J does exactly that throughout "Phenomenon," forever revisiting or referring back to the songs of his youth. "Don't Be Late, Don't Come Too Soon" is built atop the bones of the Norman Connors hit "You Are My Starship," "Candy" brings in New Edition's Ralph Tresvant and Ricky Bell to quote from "Candy Girl," and even the album's title tune owes its hook to the Grandmaster Melle Mel classic "White Lines." That's not to say that Uncle L has taken the Puffy Combs approach to hit-making, reworking whole choruses into new singles; "4, 3, 2, 1" may credit a sample from the Beastie Boys' "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right to Party," but there's no obvious musical debt in its reggae-inflected groove (in fact, the sample is just a very enthusiastic "Yeah!"). However much these tracks might hark back to the hip-hop of Cool J's youth, their overall sound and sensibility is entirely contemporary, from the gospel-ized groove of "Father" to the nastily hypnotic groove of "Another Dollar." Even better, LL's rhymes are rough-edged and gritty enough to more than hold their own against such guests as Busta Rhymes, Method Man and the Lost Boyz.

Green Day

Nimrod (Reprise 46794)

Let's be honest -- by the time Green Day hit the scene, the whole notion of originality in punk rock was a moot point. After all, how could any band seem fresh and unimitative a dozen or more years after the Sex Pistols shocked the world's pop fans? So it's kind of unfair to complain that "Nimrod," the latest Green Day disc, is derivative in the extreme. Sure, "Scattered" sounds like a faster, crunchier version of Squeeze, "Redundant" like a slower, crunchier rendition of the Who's "Substitute," and "Hitchin' a Ride" is like half a dozen Clash songs, only, um, crunchier. But who cares? Bands like Green Day aren't about originality; they're about energy, attitude and hooks -- and "Nimrod" has all three in spades. Never mind if the attitude seems a tad secondhand at this point, or that the best hooks will leave older listeners wondering where, exactly, they were swiped from. (Which old Blondie songs does "Uptight" owe its melody to?). Only a true nimrod would let such things get in the way of enjoying a punk rock album, right? Yeah, right.

Portishead

Portishead (Go! Beat/London 314 539 189)

Back when trip-hop first hit the scene, it was assumed to be just a spacy, moody spinoff of the London electronic dance music scene. But if Portishead's sophomore effort is typical of the genre, it's anybody's guess how club-goers could be expected to dance to such gloomy grooves. Between the listless thump of the rhythm tracks and the melancholic mannerisms of Beth Gibbons' desiccated soprano, "Portishead" makes Joy Division's legendarily depressing "Love Will Tear Us Apart" seem like a party record. Even though Portishead takes full advantage of dance music's electronic arsenal -- there are samples and drum loops on every track, and even regular doses of turntable scratching -- such efforts are invariably undercut by the group's adoration of the dreary, from the soporific sorrow of "All Mine" to the spooky, horror-show synths in "Humming." Granted, there are times when Gibbons' tremulous voice takes on an air of true tragedy, as in the trombone-sweetened "Mourning Air" or in her tart, teasing intonation of "Only You." But those moments come too occasionally to make "Portishead" in any way compelling.

Duran Duran

Medazzaland (Capitol 33876)

Back when punk rock strove to skewer the most pompous elements of rock and roll,concept albums were sneered at for being preeningly pretentious and needlessly ambitious. Of course, there's nothing wrong with albums that reach for the stars; the problem lies with concept albums that have trouble reaching beyond the cover art typography. Unfortunately, Duran Duran's "Medazzaland" belongs in the latter category. However much Simon LeBon and the boys might go on about pop culture clutter and joys of owning their own "Electric Barbarella," sad fact is that even the best writing here is just bad imitation David Bowie, as with "Fashion" clone "Be My Icon." Worse, an appalling amount of the album tries to get by on little more than texture, propping up the title tune with a cleverly treated vocal narrative, and letting the fake Middle Eastern-isms of "Buried In the Sand" stand in for an utter lack of melody. So even though the album's sounds are often awesomely inventive, their total lack of content ensures that "Medazzaland" almost never dazzles.

Pub Date: 10/23/97

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