Ace of Base (Arista 18740) Vocally, Ace of Base comes on as a sort of latter-day ABBA, with two pert-voiced women handling the lead work while the two guys stay in the background. Where this Swedish foursome parts company with its predecessor is in its devotion to the beat, as every melody on "The Sign" is grounded in some form of dance music, be it the lithe, reggae-inflected pulse of "All That She Wants" or the techno-tinged groove of "Young and Proud." And even though the songs tend to be a touch on the frothy side, the blend of melody and rhythm in songs like "All That She Wants" or "Happy Nation" is all but irresistible.
Linda Ronstadt (Elektra 31545)
Linda Ronstadt still has a great ear for pop material. Spend some time with "Winter Light," and you'll marvel that anyone could have missed a melody as wonderful as the one in Brian Wilson's overlooked gem "Don't Talk," or that a song as seductive as Anna McGarrigle's "Heartbeats Accelerating" hasn't already topped the charts. Yet her exquisite taste doesn't quite keep her from trampling a few of these tunes in an ill-advised burst of full-throated bravado (hint: a Bacharach and David song like "Anyone Who Had a Heart" should not be belted Ethel Merman-style). So think of this as being like the little girl with the curl -- when it's good, it's very, very good. And when it's bad, you'll fast-forward.
HAND ON THE TORCH
lTC Us 3 (Blue Note 80883)
Rappers have been trying to build a bridge between hip-hop and be-bop for years, but usually all that means is dropping a few jazz samples into an otherwise standard rhythm loop. That's beginning to change, though, and if acts like Us 3 are any indication, true jazz-rap fusion may finally be at hand. After all, not only do most of the tracks on "Hand On the Torch" build their beats around classic hard bop grooves -- things like Horace Silver's "Filthy McNasty" and Herbie Hancock's "Cantaloupe Island" -- but the group makes sure to leave room for actual instrumental improvisation. Best of all, raps like "I Got It Goin' On" and "Knowledge of Self" have as much merit lyrically as musically. Run, do not walk, to check this out.
SONGS OF FAITH AND DEVOTION LIVE. . .
Depeche Mode (Sire 45505)
Here's chutzpah for you -- mere months after releasing "Songs of Faith and Devotion," Depeche Mode unveils a live album consisting of PRECISELY THE SAME SONGS! That's right, "Songs of Faith and Devotion Live. . ." is nothing more than a song-by-song remake of the original album. Granted, the live version does include crowd noise, applause and occasional grunts of enthusiasm from the band members. And while that may seem more than a little pointless at first, look at it this way -- at $16, it's cheaper than an actual Depeche Mode concert, and no less predictable.