Rolling Stones (Rolling Stones 47456)
It's silly to worry whether "Flashpoint," the new Rolling Stones live album, is worth buying. Naturally, a live album offers only music, and like every other Stones outing of the last two decades, music was never the point of the Steel Wheels/Urban Jungle Tour. Rather, the idea was to celebrate the wonderfulness of the World's Greatest Rock and Roll Band (TM); all else was just glitter and special effects. So it hardly matters that the arrangements are clean and uncluttered, that Mick Jagger cracks jokes between songs or that Eric Clapton phoned a solo for "Little Red Rooster." There's no good reason to own this -- unless you really want a version of "Sympathy for the Devil" that uses drum machine instead of congas.
Roxette (EMI 94435)
Let's get this straight from the start: Roxette is not the new Abba. Sure, the duo is Swedish, features male and female voices and has a knack for irresistibly melodic material. But Abba was a pop act, whereas Roxette -- as demonstrated on "Joyride" -- is strictly rock and roll. That's certainly true of the vocals; Marie Fredriksson's full-throttle approach adds real heat to "Hotblooded" while her incredible dynamic range puts power behind ballads like "Spending My Time." From the catchy chorus and crunchy guitars of "Small Talk" to the bass-driven bounce of "Soul Deep," "Joyride" is a trip you won't want to miss.
Lenny Kravitz (Virgin 919610)
It's not exactly an insult to say that the trouble with Lenny Kravitz's new album, "Mama Said," is that we've heard it all before. After all, Kravitz isn't repeating himself, he's repeating others -- John Lennon on "Stand By My Woman," Stevie Wonder on "Always On the Run," the Chi-Lites on "It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over." To his credit, Kravitz is never slavish in his imitation; there are no overt quotes, no Rich Little-style vocal impressions. And though it might seem a little silly for someone so young to be so deeply mired in the past, look at the bright side: "Mama Said" already sounds right for Classic Rock radio.
THE FIVE HEARTBEATS
Music from the Motion Picture (Virgin 91609)
Whether or not you find the soundtrack to "The Five Heartbeats" a true tribute to the soul sound of the '60s depends on how carefully you listen. From a vocal perspective, the album is a marvel; in addition to a searing cameo by Patti LaBelle, there are sterling performances by the Dells, After 7 and the L.A. Mass Choir. On the other hand, the production is maddeningly uneven. "Baby Stop Running Around" boasts the full punch of vintage soul instrumentation, but "Nights Like This" and "Are You Ready for Me" synthesize their neo-Motown groove, which greatly cheapens the sound.