THE BLACK ALBUM
Probably the most pirated album in recent memory, Prince's "The Black Album" has held almost mythical status among record collectors. Originally slated for release in 1987, it was withdrawn just before its release by Prince himself, who claimed to have been disturbed by its obsession with sex and darkness. Needless to say, the announcement (and the news that Prince had paid to have 400,000 copies of the album destroyed) made interest in "The Black Album" so intense that an estimated quarter-million copies of the album made it onto the, er, black market. Now, the album is available through legitimate channels -- though for a limited time -- and those unable or unwilling to buy the bootleg can finally hear what they missed. Those looking for hard-core sex songs may find it a let-down, since songs like "Le Grind" are really no more lascivious than "Erotic City." But the disturbing sentiments expressed in such tunes as the raging "Bob George" or the frankly crazed "Cindy C." (a lustful paean to supermodel Cindy Crawford) remain unsettling even at this remove -- something that suggests "The Black Album" will remain a strange footnote in Prince's career.
Veruca Salt (Minty Fresh/Geffen 24732)
Forget all the money thrown around when the major labels courted Veruca Salt a few months back; the important thing about this quartet isn't the big money it got, but the big sound it makes. Spend some time with "American Thighs," and it's hard not to fall for the group's near-perfect blend of melodic grace and sonic aggression. Granted, some of the charm has to do with the way Nina Gordon and Louise Post pipe angelically over their raging, overdriven guitars, a sound that's often as visceral as it is precious. But what really makes this album worth hearing is the fact that Veruca Salt has more going for it than just that sound, for songs such as "Seether," "Forsythia" and "Number One Blind" combine sturdy, pop-friendly tunes and emotionally incisive lyrics as effectively as any band since Nirvana.
Pete Anderson (Little Dog 40012)
Those who pay attention to album credits probably know Pete Anderson as the producer responsible for Dwight Yoakam's last few albums. But as "Working Class" makes plain, Anderson is an impressive performer in his own right, a singer and guitarist who understands the relationship between country and R&B; as well as anybody in the business. How else could he move so easily from the swamp-rock lament of the title tune (in which he asks "How can you call us working class/When we're not working anymore?") to the finger-picked twang of the bluegrass-inflected instrumental "Somewhere a Long Time Ago"? Or seem equally at home with the bluesy stomp of "Fire" and the Western swing flourishes of "Our Day Will Come"? Yet as much stylistic territory as Anderson covers on the album, he maintains such a strong and consistent musical identity that most listeners will be happy to follow him anywhere.
MWANDISHI: THE COMPLETE WARNER BROS. RECORDINGS
Herbie Hancock (Warner Archives 45732)
Back before he formed the Headhunters and had pop success with "Chameleon," Herbie Hancock made some of the most resonant and ambitious electronic jazz of the early '70s. Working with an ensemble that included trumpeter Eddie Henderson, bass clarinetist Benny Maupin and trombonist Julian Priester, the music Hancock made on albums like "Mwandishi" and "Crossings" captured the sonic depth of Miles Davis' "Bitches Brew," but added an abstract lyricism that at its best evoked the coloristic splendor of Debussy and Ravel. Although long out of print, those albums -- along with their funkier predecessor, the somewhat pedestrian "Fat Albert Rotunda" -- have been brought back into print as the double-CD set "Mwandishi: The Complete Warner Bros. Recordings." Not only will the collection inspire a new appreciation of these long-neglected albums, but they should go a long way toward reminding people of just how great electronic jazz could be.