Cypress Hill (Ruffhouse/Columbia 53931)
Looking for a nice, socially conscious rap album? Then don't look to Cypress Hill. It isn't just the polysyllabic profanities sprinkled throughout "Black Sunday," so much as the album's obsession with drugs and violence. Not that these guys see anything wrong; if anything, they openly celebrate their subjects, happily chanting "I Wanna Get High" on "Hits from the Bong" while reminding listeners to "Cock the Hammer" when keeping a "Hand on the Glock." So why listen? Because the album's sound is as irresistible as its content is irresponsible, thanks to B-Real's hypnotic, sing-song cadences and the lazy, bass-heavy loops behind tracks like "Insane in the Brain."
PROMISES AND LIES
UB40 (Virgin 88229)
If all you know about UB40 is what you hear on the radio, it might seem that this British band is a reggae lightweight whose only real talent is an ability to pick marketable cover material. But as "Promises and Lies" makes plain, there's more to the band's sound than that. "Can't Help Falling in Love" may be the most obvious single, but it's hardly the album's only tuneful tidbit -- not when there's material as catchy as "Higher Ground" or "C'est la vie" on hand. And though it's true that Ali Campbell's tart tenor and understated phrasing add pop appeal to almost any melody, UB40's greatest strength is its rhythm section, which grooves as assuredly through the slow-skanking "Desert Sand" as on the dance hall-inflected "It's a Long Long Way."
(Music from the Motion Picture
(Warner Bros. 45345)
When is a soundtrack not a soundtrack? When its various-artists approach leaves it looking more like a compilation album than a movie spin-off. Take "Coneheads," for example. Apart from the execrable "Conehead Love," there's little here that bears any relation to the film or its content. Instead, what we get are a few forgettable alterna-rock tunes from R.E.M. and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, along with some utterly inspired, totally demented cover tunes, including the Barenaked Ladies' unplugged take on Public Enemy's "Fight the Power," and a priceless remake of "No More Tears" pairing k.d. lang with Erasure's Andy Bell. But Slash and Michael Monroe's over-amped grind through "Magic Carpet Ride" is flat-footed and unfunky, while Morten Harket's rendition of "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You" is pointless in the extreme.
Sara DeBell (C/Z CZ064)
Considering that Seattle's best-known musical exports are Muzak and grunge, it makes sense that some demented soul would eventually combine the two. But Sara DeBell's "Grunge Lite" is more than just a genre-jumping in-joke; it's also a wonderfully sly homage to Muzak's calculatedly reductive approach to pop hits. True, the sound is kinda cheesy, as DeBell had to make do with synths and sequencers instead of the strings and horns found in actual Muzak recordings. But her arrangements are dead-on, from her white-bread rephrasing of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" to the perky, Latin-flavored feel she grants "Evenflow." Definitely a work of genius.