Great White (Capitol 95330)
Other hard rock acts might grow bigger and more bloated with each passing album, but not Great White. If anything, the music on "Hooked" is so lean and mean it makes the stripped-down sound of "Twice Shy," the group's last album, seem almost ornate. Granted, the group still has a weakness for mushy sentimentality, as soppy ballads like "Lovin' Kind" demonstrate, but elsewhere the band is strictly business. Whether backing Jack Russell's Zeppelinesque vocals with gritty slide guitar in "Congo Square" or getting down to boogie basics with "Call It Rock and Roll," Great White gets the job done with a minimum of fuss. Now if only the group would do something about its sexist taste in cover art. . . .
NIGHT RIDE HOME
Joni Mitchell (Geffen 24302)
Say what you will for Joni Mitchell's way with words, it has always been the music that ultimately made her songs matter, both the crisp, conversational melodies and their lithe, carefully shaded accompaniment. Nor has that changed any, for "Night Ride Home" is far more persuasive as pop than as poetry, and not just because "Slouching Towards Bethlehem," Mitchell's attempt to rewrite W. B. Yeats' "The Second Coming," is overreaching and unnecessary. Fact is, Mitchell says more in the loping, jazzy rhythms of "Cherokee Louise" or the dreamy harmonies of "The Only Joy In Town" than any lyric sheet ever could. And in the long run, that's what makes this clean, well-crafted album her most satisfying work in years.
NEW JACK CITY
Original Soundtrack (Giant 24409)
Although Mario Van Peebles' film may not quite play that way, the soundtrack to "New Jack City" certainly comes across as a modern-day remake of "Superfly." But instead of having a single artist act as the score's Greek chorus (a role Curtis Mayfield filled for "Superfly"), "New Jack City" relies on a host of voices. That may add a wider range to the music, but it tends to weaken the album's focus, as all-purpose love songs like Johnny Gill's "I'm Still Waiting" rub up against the gritty specificity of Ice-T's "New Jack Hustler." Still, the best moments -- Keith Sweat's achingly sensual "(There You Go) Tellin' Me No Again," or 2 Live Crew's tough, topical "In the Dust" -- more than make up for it.
Enigma (Charisma 91642)
It's odd enough to construct a dance song as a meditation on the life of the Marquis de Sade, but "Sadeness" goes one step further by working Gregorian chants into the mix. Audacious? Irreverent? You bet -- and completely irresistible. But that's just part of the inspired madness the German combo calling itself Enigma gets into with its debut album, "MCMXC a.D." From the spacey sprawl of "The Voice & the Snake" to the operatic excesses of "Callas Went Away," the music here is as enticing as it is idiosyncratic.