DJ music that rivals traditional songwriting


October 29, 1998|By J.D. Considine Pop/rock Aerosmith

Fat Boy Slim

You've Come a Long Way, Baby (Astralwerks 66247)


Mysteries of Funk (Columbia 69552)

In the early days of disco, DJ music was fairly simple. All a DJ really did was manipulate the music with turntables - scratching, mixing, cross-cutting and the like.

But as time went on, some DJs wanted to add to the music they played, and so began working with drum machines, synthesizers and editing devices. At first, these additional elements were used only in remixes, but eventually DJs began making new music of their own.

These days, the term "DJ music" is almost misleading. Although most of the DJs who make records also spin them, the sound and spirit of what they do makes them more like composers or bandleaders than mere disc jockeys. Because even though its approach is still based on manipulating pre-existing recordings, the best DJ music is every bit as catchy and creative as that generated by traditional songwriting.

Fat Boy Slim's "You've Come a Long Way, Baby" is a case in point. Unlike old-school DJs, Slim - a.k.a. Norman Cook - has his roots in rock, having been a member of both the Housemartins and Beats International. He built his first big single, 1996's "Going Out of My Head," around a guitar hook sampled from the Who's "I Can't Explain" and draws from a similar vocabulary for much of his new album.

But what makes tracks like "Kalifornia" or the irrepressible "Rockafeller Skank" so catchy isn't that Slim's sampler plunders so freely from guitar rock; it's that his sampled-and-looped constructions maintain a rock-style song structure. Even when he shifts to hip-hop sources, as on "You're Not from Brighton," his fondness for standard song structure makes his grooves that much more pop-friendly.

Not all DJs take such a simple, straightforward approach. Compared to Slim's music, Grooverider's new album, "Mysteries Funk," is almost jazzily abstract, relying less on tuneful repetition than on trance-like rhythms and cool, harmonically complex instrumental textures.

Grooverider earned his reputation on London's drum 'n' bass circuit, and most of the tracks on "Mysteries of Funk" are driven by typically frenetic breakbeats. But rather than pump that pulse into a rhythmic juggernaut, Grooverider lets the beats ebb and flow, giving the music an inviting fluidity.

Grooverider's music isn't pop in the same sense as Fat Boy Slim's singles, for even when he adds a vocalist to the mix, as on "Rainbows of Colour," he downplays the easy accessibility of traditional verse/chorus songwriting. Instead, the best moments here - "Where's Jack the Ripper?" for example, or "Cybernetic Jazz" - evoke a soundscape of such richness and warmth that listening to the album is as pleasurable as a mini-vacation.

Fat Boy Slim: ***

Grooverider: ***

A Little South of Sanity (Geffen 25223)

Given the fact that Aerosmith's new live album, "A Little South of Sanity," consists of older material recorded for the band's last label, it might be tempting to dismiss the double-disc set as a mere contractual obligation. Which it may well be. But hard rock fans would be making a big mistake if they ignored the album because of it. For one thing, the album's set list reads like a greatest hits collection, from "Dream On" to "Amazing." For another, Aerosmith sounds better than ever here, playing with a precision that equals the studio recordings and bringing unparalleled vitality to the material. Even if you've heard "Sweet Emotion" or "Walk This Way" a million times, the versions here will have you happily hitting the repeat button.

*** 1/2

J.D. Considine


Isola (RCA 07863 67730)

Ahhhh, there's rain on the window, Kent on the stereo and every reason not to get out of bed in the morning. "Isola," the first English-language release from Sweden's most popular rock band, is a gorgeous cycle of songs about dreams, blue cellophane and frozen grass, full of haunting images, such as winter hiding in the white skin behind a wristwatch. Kent is getting lots of comparisons to Radiohead with this textured and complex disc, but the Swedish band is more accessible and less artsy in its arrangements. In fact, don't let all those morose Scandinavian symbols fool you; such songs as "Lifesavers," "Things She Said," "Bianca" and "Elvis" offer hope through one of music's most inspirational qualities: beautiful, catchy melody. *** 1/2

Greg Schneider


Human Nature (Oxygen 90004)

Seems they can still do magic. It's been 15 years since America last saw the Top 40 charts, but with its latest release, "Human Nature," the group seems to reconnect with its golden past. Mellow, folksy and largely acoustic, the album succeeds in offering up catchy, light pop songs worthy of any AC radio play. From the opening riff on "From a Moving Train" to the smooth lull of "Whispering," the songs are as easy a listen as "Daisy Jane" and "Lonely People." America's trademark sound and distinctive harmonies are ever-present, from "Wheels are Turning," with Dewey Bunnell's straightforward vocals giving it a "Tin Man" feel, to Gerry Beckley's rock opera-ish "Overwhelming World Suite," with its Beach Boys-style harmonizing. A magical creation indeed.

*** 1/2

Lori Sears

Pub Date: 10/29/98

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