Luscious Jackson's attitude adjustment is all for the better

CD REVIEWS

August 05, 1999

Luscious Jackson

Electric Honey (Capitol 7243 4 96084)

There's a joke going around about a pair of post-modernist hipsters whose fondness for ironic jibes causes them to fall madly in love. Eventually, though, the two break up, because neither could utter "I love you" without sounding sarcastic.

For a while, it looked as though the Luscious Jackson story would run along similar lines. After busting out of the hippest of New York boho scenes (drummer Kate Schellenbach was originally a Beastie Boy), the group demonstrated an uncanny ability to make music that was pop-savvy without being pop-sappy.

Yet even at its catchiest, the typical Luscious Jackson song would maintain a winking distance from the pop aesthetic it exploited, acting as if there were something shameful about having such good hooks.

Now, with "Electric Honey," the trio delves even deeper into the pleasures of pop -- and this time, completely without irony. From the jangly, well-harmonized chorus to "Ladyfingers" to the tuneful, high-gloss funk of "Summer Daze," the album is overflowing with hummable choruses and shake-your-booty grooves.

It is, by far, the most boldly commercial album of the band's career. All that catchiness may leave some fans wondering: What's the catch?

There is none. They really do mean every pop-friendly note on the album. To paraphrase the chorus from "Ladyfingers," baby, they got heart.

That's not to say the trio has turned stupid on us -- far from it. "Fantastic Fabulous," for instance, is a wicked sendup of the kiss-kiss insincerity of celebrity scenesters, with a lyric that would have been as appropriate to Andy Warhol's scene as it is to today's Viper Club crowd. Even better, the Luscious ones draft Blondie's Deborah Harry to add a little funky chic to the knowingly mocking groove.

But even as they make fun of such things, the women in Luscious Jackson never quite remove themselves from the equation -- hence "Space Diva," a song that takes a few swipes at divahood while somehow embracing both the sound and the image. Luscious Jackson may be singing about guilty pleasures, but none of the three sounds as if she's feeling especially guilty.

Perhaps that's why the group takes such shameless pleasure in the exuberant melodicism of songs like the slinky "Sexy Hypnotist" or the buoyant, party-hearty "Nervous Breakthrough." All told, Luscious Jackson has never sounded sweeter. ***

-- J.D. Considine

Country

Matraca Berg

Lying to the Moon and Other Stories (RCA 67792)

As a songwriter, Matraca Berg is famous for her ability to evoke flesh-and-blood characters in credible situations. So it's no shock that "Lying to the Moon and Other Stories" is full of slice-of-life material, from the abandoned wife dealing with post-breakup disasters in "The Things You Left Undone" to the wistful grandmother who finds herself wishing she didn't have such vivid memories of "Back When We Were Beautiful." But the fact that she sings as well as she writes -- sometimes, even better -- comes as a pleasant surprise. There's a lustiness to her voice in "Back in the Saddle" that makes the lyric buck like a bronco, while the vulnerability she brings to "Lying to the Moon" would break almost any heart. First-rate. *** 1/2

-- J.D. Considine

Humor

'Weird Al' Yankovic

Running With Scissors (Volcano 61422 32118)

The reigning king of song parodies is back, and with plenty to say. It's been three years since "Weird Al" Yankovic's last release, and you could safely say he's been following pop culture over the duration. His current release, "Running With Scissors," offers an impressive mix of clever parodies and original tunes. From the opening track, "The Saga Begins," with its plot-telling of the current "Star Wars" flick set to the tune of Don McLean's "American Pie," to "Grapefruit Diet," a parody of the Cherry Poppin' Daddies' "Zoot Suit Riot," the weird one pulls all the right musical strings with his crafty lyrics. It appears that Weird Al's mastered the poetry even better than the accordion. ***

-- Lori Sears

Pop/rock

Lyle Lovett

Live in Texas (MCA 11964)

Anyone who thinks Lyle Lovett is still a country singer need only cue up "Penguins," the first track from "Live in Texas," for proof to the contrary. As the drums and bass lay down a funky bottom, the horns parry and jab while the backup singers harmonize soulfully. Nashville never sounded so cool. Later on, Lovett and his Large Band do dust off their country licks, including some deft Western swing for "That's Right (You're Not From Texas)," but that no more defines his sound than does the gutsy blues groove in "Wild Women Don't Get the Blues." Truth is, Lovett is a songwriter first and foremost and is lucky enough to have a band that can follow his ideas into any genre. This live set testifies to the strengths of both man and band. ***

-- J.D. Considine

Len

You Can't Stop the Bum Rush (Work 69528)

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