George Michael and Queen (Hollywood 61479)
On the surface, "Five Live" seems little more than a simple tribute album, in which George Michael and the surviving members of Queen pay homage to the late Freddie Mercury. Listen closely, though, and between songs, you can almost hear Michael thumbing his nose at Sony Music. How so? Because in addition to a spirited and soulful duet with Lisa Stansfield on "These Are the Days of Our Lives" and a hammy (even by Queen's standards) rendition of "Someone to Love," Michael also manages to include a couple numbers of his own, including his "Killer/Papa Was a Rolling Stone" medley. And since he never did deliver his promised album of cover tunes to Sony -- a company he has since sued for release of contract -- it would seem that for him, "Live"-ing well is the best revenge.
THE GRAND TOU
Aaron Neville (A&M; 31454 0086)
Because Aaron Neville sings so beautifully, his fans are likely to forgive him anything -- even an album as bland and unfocused as "The Grand Tour." After all, once you've heard him work his magic on the languorous choruses of "Betcha By Golly Wow" or apply his angelic falsetto to the nostalgic refrain of "These Foolish Things," it's easy to overlook his rock-by-rote rendition of "You Never Can Tell," or the way he and Linda Ronstadt bleach the color out of "Song of Bernadette." Still, only those who've always dreamed of seeing Neville reinvent himself as an middle-of-the-road crooner will be tempted to take this "Tour" more than once.
Primus (Interscope 92257)
Let's be honest. Some bands know how to write songs and some bands don't, and Primus sits firmly in the latter category. So it's probably a good thing that none of the numbers on "Pork Soda" ever attempt much in the way of melody, because that would only distract listeners from the trio's real strength: Its instrumental ability. Between Les Claypool's slap-happy bass, Larry Lalonde's note-splattering guitar and Tim Alexander's clattering percussion, Primus manages to make the sort of noise that doesn't need to be justified by a clever lyric or catchy chorus, and the best moments here, like Lalonde's shriek-and-moan solo on "Hamburger Train" or Claypool's string-popping showcase in "The Ol' Diamond Back Sturgeon" easily bear that out.
HERE COME THE LORDS
Lords of the Underground (Pendulum 61415)
Because rap is such an intensely verbal pop style, casual listeners sometimes assume that the words always come first. Of course, that has never really been the case -- the beat is always at least as important as the rhymes -- and the growing popularity of groups like Lords of the Underground suggests it isn't likely to change soon. Although some of the Lords' wordplay is worth noting ("Grave Digga" is especially enjoyable), this crew's greatest talent is strictly rhythmic. And from the spirited interplay of "Psycho" to the brassy, bass-heavy thump of "Funky Child," it's clear that as long as they control the beat, these Lords will rule.