FURTHER DOWN THE SPIRAL
Nine Inch Nails (Nothing/Interscope 95811)
Considering the care Trent Reznor puts into each Nine Inch Nails recording, it's hard to imagine that he'd like having his work taken apart and put back together by others. But Nine Inch Nails is one of the most regularly remixed acts in alternative music and has just released its second album-length collection of all-star mixes, "Further Down the Spiral." Unlike dance-oriented post-production, which generally just pumps up the beat while keeping the song structure intact, these remakes offer radically reinvented versions of the songs. Reznor's own remix of "Hurt (Quiet)" retains much of the original's melodic content, but the most interesting tracks sound almost nothing like the album versions. Rick Rubin brings in guitarist Dave Navarro to add power-chord punch to his heavily percussive "Piggy (Nothing Can Stop Me Now)," Coil slathers layers of roiling, ear-taxing distortion onto "Eraser (Denial; Realization)," and Aphex Twin adds a clanking, steam-huffing locomotion to "At the Heart of It All."
Bjork (Elektra 61740)
Rock 'n' roll has produced only a handful of truly original performers, but Bjork Gudmundsdottir is surely one of them. It isn't just that the Icelandic thrush occasionally spices her singing with otherworldly whoops and weird growls; there's also her sense of melody, which is at once utterly unconventional and totally alluring. Although "Post," her second solo album, is full of rambling verses and rag-tag choruses, Bjork never loses the listener, handily navigating every unexpected turn and melodic dogleg. Even better, her sense of style is so all-embracing that it seems perfectly natural for her to move from the hi-tech thump of "The Modern Things" to the vintage theatricalism of the pre-rock "It's Oh So Quiet." Toss in a few dark, addictive dance tracks, such as "Army of Me," "Enjoy" and "I Miss You," and "Post" could easily spell relief from the summer's musical blahs.
The Police (A&M; 314 540 222)
It's been so long since the Police broke up that most people think of the band strictly in terms of its albums -- a pretty impressive legacy, but even so they don't entirely do the band justice. Because for all their pop smarts and technical prowess, the Police were players at heart -- even if their gift for instrumental extrapolation was rarely captured in the studio. It did come across onstage, though, and that makes the two concerts included on "Live!" especially revealing. The first show, recorded in Boston in 1979, is a bit raw on the backing-vocal end but features some amazingly fiery playing, particularly on the extended versions of "Can't Stand Losing You" and "The Bed's Too Big Without You." The second disc, from a 1983 concert in Atlanta, is more polished overall (full-time back-up singers had been added by then) but still shows flashes of the old magic, especially in "Message in a Bottle" and "So Lonely."
SCREAMING HEADLESS TORSOS
Screaming Headless Torsos (Discovery 77019)
With a name like Screaming Headless Torsos, you'd think this quintet would specialize in ear-wilting death metal or some other headbanger fare. Guess again. Instead of the expected crunch and clang, what you'll find on "Screaming Headless Torsos" is an adventurous and appealing blend of funk, fusion and hip-hop. Imagine a cross between Living Colour and Rage Against the Machine, and you'll have a sense of just how much ground this group covers in such tunes as "Free Man" and the driving "Graffiti Cemetery." But at their best, the Torsos always manage to take their music one step further, bringing in gloriously unexpected elements, like the hip-hop-meets-be-bop rap in "Word to Herb" or the Afro-Cuban pulse slipped in beneath the fusion fury of "Smile In a Wave (Theme from Jack Johnson)." It's rare that hard rock is this inventive and rewarding.