Paul McCartney/Carl Davis (EMI Classics 54371)
Tempting as it is to joke that this is where "the cute one" becomes "the classical one," Paul McCartney's "Liverpool Oratorio" is quite earnest about its aspirations. Recorded with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and a first-rate set of soloists (including Dame Kiri Te Kanawa), it arrives with all the trappings of a serious orchestral work -- except, of course, the dissonance and abstractions usually associated with contemporary classical music. Instead, its linear structure and tuneful, text-oriented vocal lines have far more in common with the musical theater, emphasizing approachable melody over compositional structure. It's not likely to make Beethoven roll over, but it should turn heads among McCartney's pop audience.
Live albums tend to be a waste of money, offering little more than tepid recapitulations of songs most fans already have, but not "Weld," the new double-album from Neil Young & Crazy Horse. Solid as the song selection is, which ranges from classics like "Cinnamon Girl" to recent ravers like "Farmer John," what makes the album matter is the incandescence of the performances. Sure, Young and band know how to bludgeon a riff, but for all the ear-shredding intensity of rockers like "Welfare Mothers," both the best moments are generally more subtle, as with the gentle "Cortez the Killer" or the heartfelt "Tonight's the Night." There's also a version called "Arc Weld," augmenting "Weld" with 30 minutes of orchestrated feedback that will delight any noise maniac.
HOUSE PARTY II
Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (MCA 10397)
Just as the sequel is better than the original movie, so too is the soundtrack to "House Party II" an improvement over its predecessor. Granted, it helps that the second soundtrack boasts a higher percentage of superstars, thanks to a lineup augmenting Kid 'N Play's contribution with tracks by Bell Biv DeVoe and Ralph Tresvant as well as rappers Eric B & Rakim. But the real difference is simply a matter of melodies, as this album pumps up the volume of hits with unstoppably tuneful offerings like Wrecks 'n' Effects' P-Funk-powered "Ready or Not" and Tony! Toni! Tone!'s fabulously funky movie theme, "House Party (I Don't Know What You Come to Do)."
Nirvana (DGC 24425)
Like fellow Seattle rockers Soundgarden, the members of Nirvana are connoisseurs of clangor, able to pull the most exquisite noise from their amplifiers. Even so, it isn't the roar of guitars that kicks "Nevermind" into overdrive, so much as the way frontman Kurt Cobain merges that glorious grunge with an equally enjoyable set of melodies. And that's what makes this album so heavenly, from the raging chorus of "Lithium" to the shifting dynamics of "Smells Like Teen Spirit."