IT'S ABOUT TIME
SWV (RCA 66074)
Given that the moniker "SWV" stands for "Sisters with Voices," you might think that the trio's debut would be full of flashy, En Vogue-style vocal theatrics. But instead of putting the stress on singing, what "It's About Time" emphasizes are the songs, rightly assuming that a good tune is infinitely more memorable than any amount of vocal embellishment. Too bad there isn't more in the way of strong songs here, though. "I'm So Into You" and "Weak" are obvious winners, while "Give It to Me" and the title tune show hit-potential of their own. But with 15 selections on the album, it would be nice if the hit-to-filler ratio was higher than 1-to-3.
SOUND OF WHITE NOISE
Anthrax (Elektra 61630)
There's no denying that "Sound of White Noise" is an appropriate title for an Anthrax album, inasmuch as there couldn't be a sound whiter or noisier than the thrash-metal riffs this band builds its songs around. Yet no matter how hard the music gets, Anthrax never falls into the cliches that usually trip up thrash acts. It isn't just that the band is smart, though lyrics like those to "Packaged Rebellion" more than bear that out; it's that it knows how to walk the line between impact and overkill, so that the songs never end up as victims of their own bluster. Add in the way new singer John Bush blends in the band's hard-cranking guitars, and it's easy to hear why the album's best songs -- like "Black Lodge" or "Room for One More" -- maintain pop appeal despite their fearsome sound.
THE RAINY SEASON
Marc Cohn (Atlantic 82491)
It's no surprise that Marc Cohn's sound recalls Bruce Hornsby; both are blessed with a laid-back-but-expressive vocal style and a fondness for acoustic piano accompaniment. What's interesting about Cohn's "The Rainy Season" is the way it illuminates the differences between the two. For one thing, where Hornsby often draws on jazz for inspiration, Cohn's roots are solid R&B;, meaning that he's more at home with soul grooves and blues growls, traits he makes the most of on "Paper Walls" and the title tune. But Cohn also knows how to use the emotional impact of blues inflection to underscore the hurt in a lyric, and that lends extra impact to dramatic numbers like "From the Station" and "Mama's in the Moon."
Kiss (Mercury 314 514 777)
FTC Some things never change, and the ear-crushing excitement of a Kiss live show seems to be one of them. Just look at the latest Kiss concert disc, "Alive III." Even though half the band is different since Kiss cut its last live album, there's little difference in its sound: The guitars are still loud and crunchy, the vocals raw-edged and insistent. And the songs? Though there are clearly nods to the band's current catalog, it's hard for recent tunes like "I Just Wanna" to outclass Kiss classics like "Detroit Rock City," "I Was Made for Lovin' You" and the immortal "Rock and Roll All Nite." Besides, even if "Alive III" does sound a lot like "Alive" and "Alive II," how many Kiss fans are going to consider that a problem?