FOR THE COOL IN YOU
Babyface (Epic 53558)
Considering the ease with which Babyface concocts hits for others, it shouldn't come as any surprise that his own album, "For the Cool in You," is chock full of hits. What wasn't expected, however, is the musical range he displays within those songs. For the title tune, he comes on suave and soulful; with "Never Keeping Secrets," he shifts to a lithe loverman approach that convincingly mixes emotional intensity with melodic immediacy. "Saturday" finds him working a thumping, new jack groove with pop-savvy aplomb, while "When Can I See You" is the kind of acoustic-guitar tune James Taylor used to write. Yet no matter what style he plays off of, Babyface somehow maintains both his musical identity and his melodic appeal.
The Breeders (Elektra 61508)
Anyone who thought that the success of the Pixies was entirely the work of front man Black Francis should pay close attention to "Last Splash," the new album from the Breeders. Not only does Kim Deal offer plenty of evidence that the Pixies' sound was as much her doing as Francis', she shows that as a songwriter she's just smart and tuneful as he ever was. Granted, her voice isn't particularly polished, but she certainly knows her way around a melody, as the Brian Wilson-ish cadences of "Divine Hammer" or the delectable chorus to "Invisible Man" make plain. But where the Breeders shine brightest is in their ability to assemble disparate parts into a musically cohesive whole, as on "No Aloha," which manages to evoke both punk rock and Hawaiian steel guitar music without actually sounding like either.
VOICE OF JAMAICA
Buju Banton (Mercury 314 518 013)
After the violently anti-homosexual "Boom Bye-Bye" turned Buju Banton into a symbol for everything that was wrong with dancehall music, it seemed unlikely that he would ever be much of a commercial force in America. And though nothing on "Voice of Jamaica" is anywhere near as objectionable as "Boom Bye-Bye," the album has largely gotten the cold shoulder from U.S. listeners. Too bad. Banton may not be much of a role model, but he does know how to work a groove, putting more power behind his rhymes than anyone this side of Shabba Ranks. Even better, the tracks he works with are far more adventurous than most dancehall fare, ranging from the lean, functional thump of "Willy (Don't Be Silly)" to the lush, soul-harmony flavor of "Commitment."
The Soft Boys (Rykodisc 10234/35)
Remember the Soft Boys? Probably not. Arriving on the scene with a songbook full of tuneful nonsense like "Sandra's Having Her Brain Out" and "I Want to Be an Anglepoise Lamp," these English new wavers were way too loopy for American listeners. And by the time we were ready to catch on, the Soft Boys were no more, with singer/songwriter Robyn Hitchcock out on his own while guitarist Kimberly Rew visited the charts as part of Katrina and the Waves. Fortunately, those who missed out the first time can catch up by snagging a copy of the Soft Boys' "1976-81," a career-spanning anthology that covers everything from early novelties like "Wey Wey Hep Uh Hole" and "Ugly Nora" to such latent classics as "Leppo and the Jooves" and "I Wanna Destroy You." Second chances like this don't happen every day, y'know.