Jimmie's Chicken Shack tries to mix energy with melody

CD REVIEWS

August 26, 1999|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,Sun Pop Music Critic

Jimmie's Chicken Shack

Bring Your Own Stereo (Rocket 314 546 382)

It's funny how technology changes our perceptions. In the early days of recording, the sound of a gramophone seemed so pale in comparison to live music that it was treated more as a novelty than an accurate representation.

Over time, as studio technology improved and recorded music became more ubiquitous than live performance, people came to think of live music and records as two distinct entities. For some acts, the recorded sound took such prominence that bands resorted to all sorts of trickery in order to duplicate the sounds set down in the recording studio, while for others, the raw, visceral quality of a live performance was considered vastly superior to anything the artist could put on disc.

Jimmie's Chicken Shack seemed to belong to the latter category. No sooner did the Baltimore-based quartet burst onto the scene than it became known for its ultra-energized live sets. No surprise, then, that the group's early indie recordings simply attempted to capture that magic on CD.

But what works onstage isn't always what works on disc, and even after Jimmie's Chicken Shack went national with "Pushing the Salmonella Envelope" in 1997, the gap between live Jimmies and the recorded version remained.

Perhaps that's why "Bring Your Own Stereo" finds the Jimmies trying to reinvent themselves for the folks at home. No longer does the group waste time on the gnarled, dissonant riffs that have traditionally turned club crowds into a huge, heaving mosh pit; this time around, the Jimmies want to leave us with something to hum, and that makes "Bring Your Own Stereo" a very different kind of album.

For one thing, it's determinedly, almost pugnaciously, melodic. That's not to say the Jimmies have wimped out and gone pop on us -- the band is neither as subtle nor as sweet as genuine pop-rockers tend to be -- so much as they've decided to channel the ferocious energy of their live show into tuneful, sing-along hooks.

In other words, they've decided to pummel us with melody. From the goofily exuberant "Ooh" to the sledgehammer-insistent "Do Right," the Jimmies do their darnedest to pound each hook home -- even if the end result offers more power than pop.

A shame, really, because the band has too much brain to rely on mere brawn. So what if those smarts are often squandered on dumb jokes like "Trash" (a Jerry Springer Nation anthem if ever there was one); there's enough intelligence, both lyrically and melodically, in the likes of "Spiralling" and "Fill in the Blank" to make this listener wish the Jimmies could find an easier way to bridge the gap between their live show and a mass radio audience. ** 1/2

Pop/rock

Christina Aguilera

Christina Aguilera (RCA 07863 67690)

Funny thing about teen idols these days. Even though the boy bands do their best to come off like stud puppies, their hits tend to be primly romantic. By contrast, the girl singers offer a show of innocence, but owe their chart standing to tunes that positively drip innuendo. That dichotomy is painfully evident on "Christina Aguilera." Despite the 18-year-old diva's nice-girl image, the murmured asides of "Genie in a Bottle" and heavy-breathing inference of "When You Put Your Hands on Me" suggest that Aguilera's producers have no doubt about "What a Girl Wants." Trouble is, Aguilera herself seems almost oblivious to the nudge-wink undercurrent in these songs, making this the worst sort of Lolita-pop. **

Mobb Deep

Murda Muzik (Loud 63715)

Who says gangsta rap is strictly a West Coast phenomenon? True hip-hop O.G.s know that Schoolly D and Boogie Down Productions articulated the gangsta aesthetic long before NWA made the scene, and acts like Mobb Deep do much to carry on that East Coast gangsta tradition. But what makes "Murda Muzik" a killer release has less to do with the duo's tough-talking routines than with the way the Mobb lays its laconic rhymes over lean yet complex rhythmic beds. From the nervous twitch of "Streets Raised Me" to the slow-and-steady thump of "Adrenaline," Mobb Deep keeps its music profoundly physical, so that the implied violence of the lyrics is supported by the sonic intensity of the instrumental tracks. In other words, this crew really does rock it like they talk it. ***

Macy Gray

On How Life Is (Epic 69490)

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