Petty's low-key songs carry sharp messages


Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (MCA 40317)


Like Bob Dylan, Tom Petty has one of rock's best deadpans, a drawling, laconic delivery which, on record, seems to carry all the menace of a floating log. But just as floating logs sometimes turn out to be alligators, Petty's seemingly affectless singing can conceal quite a bite. That's certainly the case with "Into the Great Wide Open," his latest with the Heartbreakers. As the album ambles through its mid-tempo ballads and low-key rockers, Petty's sly tunefulness almost lulls the listener into accepting these songs at face value. Listen closely, though, and beneath those amiable melodies lie biting insights into American life, from the raucous "Out In the Cold" to the wry title tune.



Aretha Franklin (Arista 8628)

Go by the album credits, and Aretha Franklin's "What You See is What You Sweat" looks like a pretty good album. Not only are there duets with both Luther Vandross and Michael McDonald, but the song selection ranges from a remake of Sly & the Family Stone's "Everyday People" to two new songs by Burt Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sager. So why doesn't it sound as good as it looks? Partly because the duets don't work out quite as planned and partly because the new songs don't amount to much -- but mostly because, like too many of Franklin's recent albums, it tries so hard to be everything to everybody that what we get from "What You See . . ." is not very much at all.


Alice Cooper (Epic 46786)

Remember when Alice Cooper was rock's ultimate bad boy, playing with snakes and cutting the heads off baby dolls? Seems kinda quaint compared to today's troublemakers, doesn't it? Maybe that's why he's gone camp on us, slowly turning into pop music's answer to Vincent Price. Of course, Price never shared writing credits with Nikki Sixx or Desmond Child, but Cooper has -- and that's why "Hey Stoopid," despite its demonic dementedness, seems so smart. Songs like "Die for You" or "Might As Well Be On Mars" may not have the implied menace of oldies like "Only Women Bleed," but they're just as catchy (and better sung, to boot), making this the most listenable thing he's done in years.


Music from the Motion Picture (QWest/Warner Bros. 26643)

With Ice Cube getting top billing, you'd think the soundtrack album from "Boyz N the Hood" would rank as some of the finest gangsta rap ever. Well, think again, homes. There are a few slammin' tracks sprinkled through the album, including offerings from Ice Cube (the snarling "How to Survive in South Central"), Yo Yo (a ferocious "Mama Don't Take No Mess") and Monie Love (the witty "Work It Out"). But because the album seems so much more eager to appease the pop audience than deliver the goods to rap fans, it ends up with far more bark than bite.