SAME AS IT EVER WAS
House of Pain (Tommy Boy 1089)
Considering that two full years have passed since House of Pain took the rap world by storm with the playfully pugnacious "Jump Around," it's easy to understand why some fans would believe the rumors that HoP front manEverlast had died. He didn't, though -- he just ran out of ideas. "Same As It Ever Was," the Celtic crew's sophomore release, is a numbingly monotonous effort, full of repetitious cadences, interchangeable beats and rhymes seemingly pilfered from the Beastie Boys' outtake bin. Limited to a single track, like the driving "On Point," the punchy phrasing, noisy loops and booming, string-bass thump HoP prefers certainly has its appeal. But after 15 sound-alike variations on that formula, "Same As It Ever Was" will leave most listeners wondering if they didn't inadvertently the CD player on "repeat track." Next time, guys, try to remember to bring at least two ideas to the recording studio, OK?
Stakka Bo (Polydor 314 521 089)
Ace of Base isn't an anomaly on the Swedish pop scene; there are plenty of acts over there that understand how to pull pop appeal from the sound of hip-hop and dance hall. Take Stakka Bo, for example. His "Supermarket" offers a large stock of rhythmic ideas, from the airy funk groove of "People (And the Things We Do)" to the smooth, dub-inflected thump of "Living It Up." But it isn't the range of grooves on hand that makes the album so enjoyable -- it's the depth. No, the most satisfying things about this album are the slyly subversive ideas Bo slips into his raps, like the blithe acceptance of social stasis lampooned in "Happy Man" or the cutting critique of consumerism that bubbles beneath the surface ofthe irresistibly catchy "Here We Go." Add in Jonas Von Der Burg's fondness forfleshing out these grooves with jazzy keyboard fills and sax obbligatos, and youmay want to visit this "Supermarket" every day.
SPACE-AGE BACHELOR PAD MUSIC
Esquivel (Bar/None 043)
As pop culture slips into the nostalgia-driven pulse of the post-ironic '90s, we can expect to see a real boom market for oddball artists like Esquivel. This Mexican bandleader (born Juan Garcia Esquivel) specialized in a kind of quirkily modernistic mood music best described as Mancini-meets-the-Jetsons, with brassy, big-band pizzazz offset by sci-fi percussion effects and spacey electric keyboards. Only marginally popular when originally released in the '60s, Esquivel's music has since risen to cult status among the garage-sale set, making the original albums astonishingly hard to find. But "Space-Age Bachelor Pad Music" should be introduction enough for most listeners, offering as it does both a broad sampling of Esquivel's distinctive sound and a strong sense of what cocktail chic revivalists like Combustible Edison are aping.
Blur (SBK 29194)
If all of Blur's "Parklife" was as delightful as "Girls & Boys," the album would be anunending delight. After all, it's not often a pop song blends casual dissonance,a pop-savvy pulse and the kind of chorus that sticks in your head for days with a message as sexually convoluted as this. Unfortunately, though other tracks employ many of the same musical elements, none of them manage quite the same chemistry, veering off instead on such tangents as Gary Numanish synth pop ("Trouble In the Message Centre") or Bowiesque glamarama ("End of a Century"). And while it's possible the lyrical content elsewhere is as interesting as on the single, only terminal Anglophiles are likely to exert the amount of effort required to find out for sure.