SHAKING THE TREE
Peter Gabriel (Geffen 24326)
There is a difference between a "Greatest Hits" collection, and a "Best Of" compilation, and few albums make that point more clearly than Peter Gabriel's "Shaking the Tree." Sure, it has hits -- "Solsbury Hill," "Shock the Monkey" and "Sledgehammer" are all included -- but the album's greatest strength is that its 16 selections go beyond the expected to show just what makes Gabriel's work so special. And though his songs are often demanding, whether ethnic experiments like the wondrously hypnotic title tune or haunting ballads like the remade "Here Comes the Flood," they reward the listener in ways more accessible pop never manages.
GONNA MAKE YOU SWEAT
C+C Music Factory (Columbia 47093)
It's hard to say why dance music combines are so eager tembrace the industrial when naming themselves -- do they really see their recordings as just so much product? But the only thing that's mechanical about C+C Music Factory is the name; the music generated by producers David Cole and Robert Clivilles on "Gonna Make You Sweat" is strikingly soulful and absolutely infectious. Of course, it doesn't hurt that many of these songs are powered by a voice as incendiary as Zelma Davis', but the real hook here is the originality of the writing. Which is not to say that C+C are above borrowing a bit -- sampling, after all, is the sincerest form of flattery -- but even the most obvious quotes never compromise the music's muscular groove.
PILLS 'N' THRILLS AND BELLYACHES
Happy Mondays (Elektra 60986)
Even though England's hyper-trendy Manchester Sound iusually described as a unified entity, there are actually two distinct approaches at work. On the one hand are psychedelic guitar bands like the Stone Roses or Chameleons UK; on the other are synth-driven dance acts like 808 State or A Guy Called Gerald. But the best Manchester acts are those which play both sides to the middle, like Happy Mondays. Flip through the group's third album, "Pills 'N' Thrills and Bellyaches," and you'll find everything from house-style electrobeats to gritty slide guitar -- sometimes even in the same song. Yet the music is neither arty nor affected; from the ragged "Grandbag's Funeral" to the infectious "Kinky Afro," the Mondays deliver absolute ecstasy.
Mandy Patinkin (CBS 45998)
On Broadway, singers have always been told to sell the songbut few ever go to the extremes Mandy Patinkin demonstrates in "Dress Casual." It isn't just that he resorts to the hard-sell with every chorus; when it comes to putting a lyric across, the guy is a regular Crazy Eddie. He does more voices in three minutes of "Tchaikovsky" than Peter Ustinov uses in an entire year, while his "Pal Joey" suite will make most listeners yearn for someone more sedate -- Robin Williams, say. Casual? Not hardly. But that's show biz!