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The Memory of TreesEnya (Reprise 46106)Because she's...

The Memory of Trees

Enya (Reprise 46106)

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Because she's so partial to breathy synths and soft, billowing clouds of harmony, Enya's music is so vaporous and ethereal that her albums often sound like the soundtrack to somebody's dreams. What sets "The Memory of Trees" apart, though, is that it augments those insinuating whispers of melody with material that is not merely upbeat but downright infectious. There's an energy to "Anywhere Is" that goes beyond anything Enya has recorded before, a liveliness that makes the regularity of its cadences seem positively hypnotic. Nothing else on the album is quite so insistent (though the surging synths of "On My Way Home" recall the tidal pulse of "Orinoco Flow"), but even so, this newfound rhythmic edge brings an added urgency even to such tunes as the gently swaying "Tea House Moon" or the majestically paced "Pax Deorum." It also makes the music more dynamic and dramatic, and that, ultimately, is what will likely turn "Trees" into a perennial favorite.

Natural Wonder

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Stevie Wonder (314 530 546)

The last time Stevie Wonder made a concert recording, it was 1963, and he was billed as "The 12-Year-Old Genius." These days, he can't claim the same degree of youth, but as his new live album, "Natural Wonder," makes plain, the "genius" part of the equation still holds. It's a different kind of genius this time around, though -- one that supports his melodic invention with enough compositional sophistication to justify the use of the Tokyo Philharmonic on songs like "Pastime Paradise" or the new "Dancing to the Rhythm." Of course, it isn't all lush, orchestral arrangements; there's plenty of primal energy to tunes like "Superstition," "I Wish" and "Higher Ground," and long-time fans will be thrilled to hear how he energizes oldies like "Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I'm Yours." But the album's real achievement lies in showing that there's as much genius evident in the new material as there is in the familiar favorites. And how many performers with history as impressive as his can make that claim?

The Remix Collection

Boyz II Men (Motown 314 530 584)

It's hard not to feel slightly cheated by remix albums. New grooves or no, the fact is you're paying money for songs you already own, and that's almost never a bargain. But to their credit, Boyz II Men have managed to make "The Remix Collection" seem less like leftovers than a real album. Some of that has to do with the fact that the remixes often completely rethink the music's chemistry, pumping "Water Runs Dry" full of retro-soul touches like burbling synths and wah-wah guitar, or adding an odd fusion of modern funk and Southern soul to "On Bended Knee." Mostly, though, the credit lies not with the remix crews but the rappers they brought along for the ride. "Vibin'," for instance, is so dominated by Treach, Craig Mack, Buster Rhymes and Method Man that Boyz II Men almost seem like guests on their own song. But it's "Hey Lover" -- the album's only truly new track -- that owes the most to outside talent. Although the Boyz' harmonizing certainly enhances the music's mood, it's the rap that wins us over, as L.L. Cool J sketches a wonderfully romantic tale of love sought and won.

Saturday Morning: Cartoons' Greatest Hits

Various Artists (MCA 11348)

Have you ever watched Saturday morning cartoon shows and thought, "Boy, this show would be a whole lot better if an alterna-rock band did the theme"? Of course not. But Ralph Sall clearly has, which is why he got almost two dozen acts together to remake 20 themes for "Saturday Morning: Cartoon's Greatest Hits." Some of the pairings smack of real insight, as when Liz Phair and Material Issue take on the Banana Splits' theme, "The Tra-La-La Song," or Frente! resurrects the Pebbles and Bam-Bam song "Open Up Your Heart and Let the Sun Shine In." Having Juliana Hatfield and Belly's Tanya Donelly handle "Josie and the Pussycats" is an impressively apt comment on their careers, and there's a certain warped genius in the way the Reverend Horton Heat links the "Johnny Quest" theme with "Stop That Pigeon" (from "Dastardly and Mutley in Their Flying Machines"). But the Ramones never quite get a handle on "Spider-Man," Sponge wrecks the "Speed Racer" theme, and Mary Lou Lord should never have been let anywhere near "Sugar Sugar."


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