INXS (Atlantic 82151)
Mainstream rock rewards many things -- strong voices, resilient melodies, insistent rhythms -- but subtlety isn't one of them. So how is it, then, that INXS has managed such enormous success making such subtle music? Listen to "X," the band's latest, and none of the songs are particularly overt in their pop appeal. Sure, "By My Side" boasts the same sort of melancholy swing "Tear Us Apart" had, while "Suicide Blonde" builds a giddy momentum from its rhythm guitars and blues harp, but the band never beats us over the head with such devices. What the sextet emphasizes instead is atmosphere and drama, musical devices that draw the listener in before ensnaring him or her. And though it takes longer than some of the more obvious pop approaches, the resulting pleasure is considerably more enduring.
Judas Priest (Columbia 46891)
Age is rarely kind to heavy metal acts. Perhaps the only thing sadder than watching a once-great group try to recapture the glories of old is watching veteran rockers make fools of themselves in pursuit of eternal youth. Yet so far, Judas Priest has done neither. It's amazing, really -- even though this band has spent more than 20 years on the metal circuit, "Painkiller" is state-of-the-art metal, a breathtaking display of sonic intensity. There's nothing subliminal about these songs; Priest's sound is hard, fast and in-your-face, as ferocious as any teen-age thrash act. But where these vets really have an edge is in the writing, for Judas Priest understands that it's the songs, not the playing, that make the difference. A killer of an album.
THE GETO BOYS
The Geto Boys (Def American 24306)
Perhaps the best argument against music censorship is the unwarranted attention such controversy brings to mediocre music. Take, for instance, "The Geto Boys," an album that stirred up a hornet's nest for Def American records when the owners of a CD-manufacturing plant took exception to its lyrical content and announced they wouldn't touch the album. Are the raps here offensive? Sure they are -- like a growing number of hard-core rappers, the Geto Boys see angry language and ugly images as an essential part of their artistic expression. But does that make them worth hearing? In this case, no, and had it not been for the pre-release controversy, it's doubtful anyone would have paid any attention whatsoever to the album.
Queensryche (EMI 92806)
If heavy metal strikes you as the musical equivalent of professional wrestling, perhaps it's time you had your ears opened. Even though the members of Queensryche stick close to metal's musical vocabulary, constructing "Empire" out of blaring guitars, thunderous drums and high, heroic vocals, the music this Seattle-based quintet generates boasts all the imagination and intricacy of art rock. Sounding at times like a smarter, tougher version of Rush, the band balances its adventurous arrangements and considerable instrumental skill with strong, memorable melodies, making "Empire" an unexpected delight.
Here are Radio & Records' best-selling records for the week ending today:
1 Phil Collins, Something Happened on the Way to Heaven, Atlantic
2 George Michael, Praying For Time, Columbia
3 Maxi Priest, Close To You, Charisma
4 Janet Jackson, Black Cat, A&M;
5 Nelson, Love and Affection, DGC
6 James Ingram, I Don't Have the Heart, WB
7 Righteous Brothers, Unchained Melody, Verve/Polydor
8 Paul Young, Oh Girl, Columbia
9 Dino, Romeo, Island
10 Taylor Dayne, Heart of Stone, Arista