THE WOMAN IN ME
Shania Twain (Mercury 314 522 886)
Country music has always had its share of powerhouse producers, from Billy Sherrill, whose slick, string-laden recordings defined the "country-politan" sound of the '70s, to Tony Brown, whose R&B-inflected; sound has fueled the ascent of some of today's biggest country stars. But few country producers have made quite the difference Robert John "Mutt" Lange makes on Shania Twain's "The Woman in Me." Best known for his work with AC/DC and Def Leppard, Lange emphasizes the most pleasurable aspects of the music -- the kick of the drums, the sweetness of the fiddling, the rich power of the harmony vocals -- and that only underscores the melodic appeal of songs like "Any Man of Mine" or "Whose Bed Have Your Boots Been Under?" But Twain more than holds up her end, filling "If It Don't Take Two" with such verve and vitality that it's hard not to be swept up in its infectious pulse, and bringing enough melancholy and desperation to "The Woman in Me (Needs the Man in You)" to make it a true heartbreaker.
Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Capitol 32617)
A concept album only works if that concept is carried all the way through to the bitter end. Maybe that's why the soundtrack album to "Clueless" seems such a half-baked affair. It starts off, promisingly enough, as a slice of new wave nostalgia, with the Muffs romping happily through Kim Wilde's "Kids in America," Cracker revving up the Flamin' Groovies' "Shake Some Action," and Counting Crows reanimating the Psychedelic Furs' "The Ghost In You." But that idea is tossed away even before it gathers any momentum, and the rest of the disc is given over to the usual array of leftovers and remixes. Fortunately, selections like Jill Sobule's sly, biting "Supermodel" and Luscious Jackson's spry, soulful "Here" keep the album from seeming a complete loss. But on the whole, "Clueless" really does seem that way.
Shaggy (Virgin 40158)
Unlike some dancehall recordings, where the singsong cadence of the raps is as close as the music to melody, Shaggy's "Boombastic" manages to be as tuneful as it is rhythmically intense. Although some selections, like "Forgive Them Father" and "Finger Smith," emphasize dancehall's droning insistence, most of the album takes a more melodic path, surrounding Shaggy's rapid-fire raps with catchy choruses and hum-along hooks. Some of these, like the hypnotic "In the Summertime" and the gospel-reggae "The Train Is Coming," seem tailor-made for Shaggy's pop-savvy dancehall approach, while more R&B-oriented; material like "Something Different" or "Why You Treat Me So Bad," successfully broaden his artistic bass. All told, "Boombastic" is pretty fantastic.
Silverchair (Epic 67247)
Between Daniel Johns' anguished, powerful voice and the rhythm section's muscular, elastic groove, it's hard to listen to Silverchair without being reminded of Pearl Jam. That's not to say this Australian trio is a bunch of sound-alikes, for their debut album, "Frogstomp," is nothing if not original. Few other acts could hope to equal the itchy intensity of "Pure Massacre" or the brooding physicality of "Israel's Son," performances that successfully marry the emotional integrity of alternarock to the sonic abandon of hard rock; fewer still could back those qualities with songs as tough and tuneful as these. But what really makes Silverchair worth getting into is depth, as the songs on "Frogstomp" somehow reveal new strengths even after a dozen or more hearings.