NATURAL BORN KILLERS
Original Soundtrack (Nothing/Interscope 92460)
Pop-oriented soundtracks generally tend to work more like albums than like movies. There's no sense of narrative, no real continuity -- just songs, songs, songs. Maybe that's why the soundtrack album for "Natural Born Killers" seems such a revelation. As edited and assembled by Trent Reznor, the dark genius behind Nine Inch Nails, the album mixes music and movie sound bites so seamlessly that listening to it is almost like spending time in the local cineplex. It isn't just that the music echoes the mood of the on-screen action; instead, the songs almost function as a kind of commentary, sometimes fleshing out the action (as with the use of "Ted Just Admit It" by Jane's Addiction beneath the confrontation between Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis in "Sex Is Violent"), at other times illuminating the characters' motives (as with Leonard Cohen's "Waiting for the Miracle). Add new tracks by Dr. Dre, Peter Gabriel with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Reznor's own Nine Inch Nails, and the album almost seems a better deal than the film.
Jan Garbarek with the Hilliard Ensemble (ECM 1525)
Had it been left to music-biz types, the collaboration between soprano saxophonist Jan Garbarek and early-music vocal group the Hilliard Ensemble could easily have turned "Officium" into a campy catastrophe. Done badly, this mix of medieval church music and jazz improvisation could easily have turned into "Kenny G Meets 'Chant.' " Fortunately, that's not the case. Not only does the Hilliard Ensemble take pains to preserve the ascetic beauty of these 14th- and 15th-century liturgical pieces, but Garbarek's tart tone and deft sense of line rarely compromises the music's dignity. If anything, his keen ear for texture and modality enhances the written music, bringing a lightness and vitality to works that too often are treated as dusty relics. A fascinating and richly rewarding album.
MARS AUDIAC QUINTET
Stereolab (Elektra 61669)
If you were to judge Stereolab's "Mars Audiac Quintet" by its cover, odds are you'd look at its fish-eye view of a Moog synthesizer, all decked out in garish day-glo colors, and write off the group as some sort of bizarre retro act. No way. Although the group is occasionally lumped in with such neo-lounge acts as Combustible Edison, Stereolab's sound is too inventive and adventurous to be considered mere revivalism. With its fondness for droning harmonies, blank rhythms and circular, Philip Glass-like melodic structures, the group comes across like an unholy cross between Polyrock and the Velvet Underground. But beneath that arty veneer beats a pop-savvy heart, which keeps such tunes as "Wow and Flutter" or "Ping Pong" from ever seeming too arty or experimental.
SECRET WORLD LIVE
Peter Gabriel (Geffen 47222)
Considering how intensely visual Peter Gabriel's last tour was, a standard concert recording might seem somewhat of a gyp. After all, the music was only half the show, right? Wrong. "Secret World Live" is a wonder to hear, conveying all the energy and charm of his songs without simply rehashing the original renditions. It helps that the recording itself is as polished and pristine as any studio recording (though the packaging does say the album is "based on an original concert," whatever that may mean). But what really makes this "Secret World" worth visiting is the way Gabriel and his band expand and expound on these songs, bringing an almost palpable sexual heat to "Steam" and turning "In Your Eyes" into an 11-minute adventure in rhythmic delirium.