'Human Wheels': Nicely spun, but going nowhere


John Mellencamp (Mercury 314 518 088)


In many ways, John Mellencamp's "Human Wheels" is a lot like Bob Dylan's "Desire." Both albums are obsessed with issues of justice and criminality, and their songs flirt with violence as eagerly as they seek redemption from it. Moreover, both albums are built around a funky, folk-rock sound that stresses violin and congas as much as guitar and drum kit. But Mellencamp is not Dylan, and that, in the end, is what keeps "Human Wheels" from achieving the heights of "Desire." Mellencamp is an ace at spinning moody, minor-key melodies, and the sing-along choruses he concocts for "When Jesus Left Birmingham" and "What If I Came Knocking" are among his catchiest in years. But Mellencamp doesn't make his anger as contagious as his hooks, so instead of sweeping the listener into righteous indignation the way Dylan's "Hurricane" did, "Case 795 (The Family)" merely blathers from the soapbox. This is not the stuff of which legends are made.



Mr. Scarface (Rap-a-Lot/Priority 53861)

There's always been enough sense and intelligence behind the Geto Boys' recordings to excuse the group's vulgarity and verbal violence -- and that's been the case whether they're working individually or as a group. But it's hard to find much redeeming social value in "The World Is Yours," the latest solo effort from Mr. Scarface. From his blunt-sucking "Intro" to the gun-crazed "Outro," Scarface tries so hard to seem inflammatory you'd think he was more interested in inflaming his critics than in enlightening his fans. So even though the beats are dope and the rhymes are hard, there's preciously little pleasure to be had here. Unless, of course, you get some kind of vicarious thrill from cheap talk about guns, drugs and women, in which case you probably deserve an album this empty.


Music from the Original Motion Picture (Epic Soundtrax 57144)

Blending rock and rap isn't exactly a new idea, but that doesn't mean there's anything particularly predictable about the cross-pollination that takes place on the soundtrack to "Judgement Night." For one thing, the collaborations here mix acts so imaginatively that there's always some degree of surprise in what results, be it the dub groove Sonic Youth cooks up for Cypress Hill on "I Love You Mary Jane" or the way House of Pain plays off the static structures of Helmet's art-metal crunch in "Just Another Victim." For another, these pairings underscore how little distance there really is between hip-hop and rock. Listen to "Fallin'," for instance, and it's hard to tell which seems more laid-back -- De La Soul's daisy-age rap or Teenage Fanclub's nouveau hippie guitar pop. A real winner.


My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult (Interscope 92258)

If all you know of My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult is the single "Sex On Wheelz ," there's a good chance you think of this septet as the industrial dance equivalent to the B-52s -- campy, trashy and sex-obsessed, but basically harmless. If so, "13 Above the Night" may come as something of a shock. Its sound is dark and dense, dotted with provocative sound-bites and driven by techno-intense synth pulse, and far less pop-friendly than the group's last album, "Sexplosion." But the biggest change has less to do with sound than with sensibility, because where the Kult's sex songs carry on with an aren't-we-naughty smirk, its forays into the essence of evil are nowhere near as light-hearted. And while it's easy to chuckle over a sexy spoof like "Disko Fleshpot," it's hard to find anything amusing about "Delicate Terror" or the title tune.