Morrissey (Reprise 45939)
Like Bob Dylan and Neil Young, Morrissey seems to take a special pride in being perversely unpredictable. But even those who have learned to expect the unusual from him are likely to be taken aback by "The Teachers Are Afraid of the Pupils," the ambitious, 11-minute track that opens "Southpaw Grammar." From the looped orchestral excerpt that opens the song to the densely layered psychedelia that marks its conclusion, "The Teachers" is utterly unlike anything Morrissey has ever recorded. Between its rambling structure and Morrissey's languorous, unearthly singing, it seems less like a song than some deep and disturbing dream. There's something disquieting about the rest of the album, too, although not necessarily for the most obvious reasons. It's one thing to shudder through the "We're going to kill this pretty thing" chorus to "Boy Racer," something else again to endure the two-minute, 20-second drum solo that opens "The Operation." And frankly, by the time the 10-minute "Southpaw" rolls to its conclusion, many listeners will find themselves preferring Morrissey's lyrical indulgences to his band's instrumental excesses.
THE MUSIC OF DISNEY'S CINDERELLA
Various Artists (Walt Disney 608867)
Even though the great Disney animated films continue to sell on videotape, their soundtracks have proven somewhat less enduring. It isn't the songs, though, but the performances, as most of the singing on the original soundtracks sounds corny by contemporary standards. So Disney, ever eager to renew the appeal of old properties, decided to re-record the score to "Cinderella" and give it a modern twist; hence, "The Music of Disney's Cinderella." Granted, the company's taste in vocalists remains reassuringly stodgy, relying heavily on time-tested talent like Linda Ronstadt, James Ingram and Take Six. Pretty as their performances are, though, they offer little in the way of surprise (apart from the Spanish version of "A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes" that Ronstadt tacks onto the end of the album). The only real musical innovation comes from Bobby McFerrin, who works his magic on "Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo," and the team of David Benoit and David Sanborn, whose jazzy medley of "Cinderella" songs is the classiest thing on the album.
SPIRIT OF THE MOMENT: LIVE AT THE VILLAGE VANGUARD
Joshua Redman (Warner Bros. 45923)
It's not just the white-hot fire of inspiration that makes a great jazz performance so memorable; it's also the sense of community such concerts create. There's an intimacy to nightclub performances that too often goes missing when the music is translated to CD, leaving the listeners at home with only half the experience. That's not the case, though, with Joshua Redman's new album, "Spirit of the Moment: Live at the Village Vanguard." Sure the playing is terrific, from Redman's rich, arching balladry in "Neverend" to his deft reinvention of Sonny Rollins' "St. Thomas." His band, too, is impressive, particularly pianist Peter Martin and ace bassist Christopher Thomas, a soloist almost as inventive as his boss. But what lifts this set out of the ordinary is recording so vivid and lifelike that you'll think you're one of the crowd, there to cheer Redman on through the high harmonics at the end of "Remember." For once, you didn't have to have been there.
The Boo Radleys (Creation/Columbia 67249)
Slip the Boo Radleys' "Wake Up!" into the CD player, and it will be only a matter of seconds before you're convinced that it's the product of some bizarre pop time-warp. Maybe it's the Beach Boys-style a cappella that kicks off the title track, or perhaps the lilting, Beatlesque melody that gives "Joel" its memorably melancholy cast. But what really makes the album seem such an anomaly amid most alternarock is its unabashed exuberance. Instead of launching into a 12-song mope or treating the music's pop content with emotionally insulating irony, the Boos leap feetfirst into their music, whipping "Twinside" into a thick froth of guitar overdrive and sweetly harmonized vocals and filling "It's Lulu" with so many sonic pleasures that it's easy to understand how its subject became so obsessed with the pop world. Don't sleep through this one.