INTO THE LIGHT
Gloria Estefan (Epic 46988)
Gloria Estefan has never been known as one of pop music's deepest thinkers, having built her career around material that avoids issues deeper than dancing or romancing. But "Into the Light" is a very serious album, indeed. Obviously affected by last year's near-fatal bus accident, Estefan now addresses everything from faith to fatalism to family ties. Although that does lead her into some interesting new ground musically, like the gospel lite of "Coming Out of the Dark," Estefan's earnest, upbeat lyrics are long on cliche but short on inspiration. As result, the album's best moments (apart from the witty "Sex In the '90s") are simply the same sort of love songs she did before she turned serious.
The O'Jays (EMI 93390)
Anyone who thinks you can't teach an old act new tricks obviously hasn't listened to the O'Jays recently. Sure, their new album, "Emotionally Yours," opens with "Don't Let Me Down," a song boasting the same kind of sophisticated harmonizing that marked the group's Philly Soul glory days. But from there, the O'Jays try a little of everything, be it rap ("Respect," featuring a Heavy D-style rapper called the Jaz), new jack swing ("Lies"), even a bit of gospel (one of two versions of the title tune). As always, the singing is exquisite, while the production is slick, beat-savvy and song-centered -- in other words, everything a great O'Jays album should be.
Divinyls (Virgin 91397)
At first blush, it's easy to imagine that the Divinyls' "I Touch Myself" is just another kinky love song. Yet what comes across in singer Christina Amphlett's delivery isn't lust so much as it is absolute passion; when Amphlett thinks of her lover, she can't help what comes next. That sort of unself-conscious passion is all too rare in rock and roll, but it's the heart and soul of "Divinyls." Whether through the snaky sensuality of "Lay Your Body Down" or the gut-level insistence of "Bless My Soul (It's Rock-n-Roll)," this album has spirit enough to touch any rock fan.
BLOOD, SWEAT & NO TEARS
Stetsasonic (Tommy Boy 1024)
It's no idle boast when the members of Stetsasonic declare themselves a "hip-hop band." Unlike other rap acts, this group augments its scratching and sampling with live drums and a decidedly cooperative approach to rapping, and that gives "Blood, Sweat & No Tears" an unmistakable ensemble groove. And that's equally true whether Stetsasonic is dropping science on a rap like "Corporate America," adding an unexpected twist to a story like "Speaking of a Girl Named Suzy," or simply kicking it old-style as on "Go Brooklyn 3."