'Various artists' give a variety of quality



Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Atlantic/Interscope 82519)

Given its all-star lineup, which includes the Cure, Nine Inch Nails, Pantera and Stone Temple Pilots, the soundtrack from "The Crow" looks like an alternative rock fan's dream come true. But even though the promise of "new music" is technically true -- none of these tracks has appeared on album before -- most of the selections here sound like B-sides and leftovers. A few, like the Rollins Band's pedestrian cover of the Suicide oldie "Ghostrider," appear to have been moldering in the can for years. That's not to say the album is a total waste of time; Nine Inch Nails' cover of Joy Division's "Dead Souls," for instance, is darkly beautiful and sonically stunning. But taken as a whole, "The Crow" is hardly the bargain it appears.


Various Artists (Epic Street 57135)

As reggae fans in the New York area know, DJ Red Alert is the city's premier dancehall DJ, having helped popularize the style through his groundbreaking weekly show on KISS FM. But it would be hard for listeners elsewhere to appreciate his importance without hearing his show -- unless, that is, they happen to have a copy of "DJ Red Alert's Propmaster Dancehall Show." Although on the surface it looks like just another dancehall anthology, there's a looseness and immediacy to the tracks that make them far more exciting than the usual compilation album fare. Naturally, it helps that some of the style's biggest names are on hand here, including Shabba Ranks, Patra and Red Fox. But some of the most impressive performances come from lesser-known artists like Bobby Konders, the rap/ragga duo Sugabear and Silver, or the amazingly precocious Vicious.


Various Artists (A&M; 69712 4000)

Although it's often assumed that grunge began with Nirvana, the truth is that Seattle's rock underground had already had quite a history by the time "Nevermind" hit the pop charts. Bands like Green River, the Melvins, Malfunkshun and Soundgarden laid the foundation that Nirvana and Pearl Jam ended up building upon, and the tracks collected on "Deep Six" are among the earliest glimmerings of that sound. Granted, it's not always easy to hear the future in these tracks, as the raw, punkish playing Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament offer on Green River's "10,000 Things" is little like what they now play with Pearl Jam; nor does Soundgarden's artsy and awkward "Heretic" have much in common with the meaty mega-rock they make today. But after listening to tracks like the Melvins' raucous "Grinding Process," it's easier to understand how the sound of Seattle came into being.


Various Artists (Thump 4010)

Regardless of how silly '80s nostalgia may seem only four years into the '90s, it would be foolish to ignore its appeal -- particularly when it ends up inspiring collections like "Old School." Although few of the 14 songs collected here ever made much of a dent on the pop charts, singles like George Clinton's "Atomic Dog" or Whodini's "Friends" had a profound influence on rap and R&B; fans. But what makes spending time with "Old School" a real pleasure is the fact that it augments obvious picks like "It Takes Two" by Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock or Teena Marie's "Square Biz" with lesser-known gems like "Mr. Groove," One Way's vocoder-drenched James Brown tribute, Frankie Smith's "Double Dutch Bus" and D-Train's gloriously catchy "You're the One for Me." A great buy if you remember those singles, and essential listening if you don't.

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