Instrumental work ignites Van Halen's latest album



Van Halen (Warner Bros. 26594)

Unless you're particularly predisposed to junior high school sex jokes, it's unlikely you'll find much of interest in the lyrics to Van Halen's new album, "For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge." But if you're listening to this album for the words, you've already missed the point. After all, the strength of this group has always had less to do with what the frontman said than what the guys behind him played, and that's as true with Sammy Hagar as it ever was with David Lee Roth. Thus, though Hagar's keening vocals may help focus the music's melodic edge, particularly on conventionally tuneful numbers like the soaring "Right Now," it's the instrumental work -- especially Edward Van Halen's virtuosic, note-splattering guitar work -- that ultimately ignites this album.



Aaron Neville (A&M; 75021 5354)

There are plenty of singers who could deliver a credible version of a funky blues like the Neville Brothers' "Angola Bound," and even more who could offer a credible "Ave Maria," but only one who could do equal justice to both songs: Aaron Neville. Thus, it's hardly a surprise to find him entertaining both extremes on his new solo album, "Warm Your Heart" -- leaping effortlessly from soulful grit to angelic supplication is something of a Neville trademark. But "Warm Your Heart" isn't content with confirming the obvious, and so the album's most interesting moments take Neville's exquisitely expressive voice into entirely new territory, from the R&B; revisionism of "Everybody Plays the Fool" to the polished L.A. pop of "That's the Way She Loves."


Daddy Freddy (Chrysalis 21844)

As pop music gimmicks go, Daddy Freddy's got a pretty good one; according to the Guinness world records people, he's the fastest rapper on earth, capable of more syllables per second than anyone. But even the best gimmicks can wear thin, so it's probably just as well that "Stress," the Jamaican-born rapper's U.S. debut, devotes less time to his motor-mouth routine than to establishing catchy, repetitious grooves. Unlike a lot of "ragamuffin" rap, Daddy Freddy's work tends to play down the reggae-based style's impenetrable patois and sing-song cadences; in addition to drawing heavily on rap standards, he also cops a bit of Led Zeppelin's "Black Dog" for "Daddy Freddy's In Town." Derivative, but fun.


Sam Phillips (Virgin 91617)

Most performers apply a studio sheen in hopes of polishing their sound, grinding the edges down so that everything seems safe and accessible. Sam Phillips, on the other hand, uses studio effects to sharpen the edge on her songs, which is why the lush soundscapes of "Cruel Inventions" are as unsettling as they are addictive. It isn't simply that Phillips has an ear for interesting sounds; both she and producer T-Bone Burnette understand how a slick string passage or a haunting percussion treatment can subtly twist the mood of an arrangement. Thus, the album's best moments, like "Lying" or "Tripping Over Gravity," are wonderfully ambiguous, offering all the melodic appeal of classic pop as well as the intellectual challenge of art music.

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