It's a Man's World (Reprise 46179)
Unlike her acting career, which has emphasized grit and realism, Cher's musical career has begun to verge on the cartoonish -- and not just because she cut a duet with Beavis and Butt-head. After such over-the-top hits as "I Found Someone" and "If I Could Turn Back Time," her gale-force delivery made her seem almost incapable of subtlety. But subtlety is precisely what she achieves on her new album, "It's a Man's World." Instead the usual serving of bulked-up powerballads, Cher opts for soulful and understated material this time around, from the sly, simmering pulse of "One By One" to the sweet, sultry sadness of "What About the Moonlight." Some of this shift in style is undoubtedly tactical, inasmuch as the high-gloss rock sound Cher used to favor now seems about as fashionable as a mullet cut, but it makes strong aesthetic sense, as this lower-intensity material emphasizes the burnished warmth of her voice while playing down its brassy edges. So not only can she convey the ache at the heart of Don Henley's "Not Enough Love in the World," but the fact that she holds back through most of Eric Kaz's "I'm Blowin' Away" makes its full-tilt finale all the more explosive. Granted, she does overplay Marc Cohn's "Walking in Memphis," but the astonishingly tender reading she gives James Brown's "It's a Man's Man's Man's World" more than makes up. A welcome reminder of what made Cher a star in the first place.
You Wanted the Best, You Got the Best (Mercury 314 532 741)
Never a band to pass up a promotional opportunity, KISS is commemorating its current reunion tour with -- what else? -- a new live album, the modestly titled "You Wanted the Best, You Got the Best." Unfortunately, the title refers more to the band than the performances, as the album augments vintage tracks from "KISS Alive" and "KISS Alive II" with some less-than-essential previously unreleased material. Sure, it's fun to hear Paul Stanley put his lecherous all into "Room Service," and the strutting "Two Timer" is well-played and catchy, but neither of these newly released tracks adds much to the KISS canon. Of course, the "classics" aren't exactly flawless, either, as Peter Criss' wavering vocal on "Beth" is unlikely to sound as sensitive now as it did when first-generation KISS fans were still in their teens. But "Firehouse," "Calling Dr. Love" or "Rock and Roll All Nite" retain all the air-guitar potency they delivered the first time around, and that ought to be enough to get KISS Army vets back into uniform.
Quad City DJ's
Get On Up and Dance (Atlantic/Big Beat 82905)
Southern bass may not be the most innovative sound around, but what it lacks in originality it more than makes up in hooks. Just look at the Quad City DJ's, whose insanely catchy "C'Mon N' Ride It (The Train)" is only one of the reasons "Get On Up and Dance" is the party album of the summer. Like fellow bass bands Tag Team, 95 South and the 69 Boys, the Quad City DJ's rely on a simple formula -- simple, dance-oriented lyrics, an infectious chant-along chorus and a driving electro-funk groove -- but unlike the others, the QCDJs keep their music from seeming overly formulaic. Some of that has to do with the way the group varies the textures and beats within each jam, so even though the groove doesn't change, the music never seems monotonous. But the QCDJs' greatest advantage lies in understanding that melody is as important as rhythm when cutting singles. So not only does the group take pains to evoke hits of the past (as with the "We Are Family"-style piano part in "Summer Jam" or the host of hip-hop allusions in "The Bass"), but it packs each track with enough tuneful tidbits to ensure that the album ends up as more than mere dance fodder.
Harry Connick Jr.
Star Turtle (Columbia 67575)
The trouble with concept albums isn't that they're pretentious, but that the concepts are usually unspeakably silly. For instance, the unifying theme behind the Harry Connick Jr. album "Star Turtle" is the odyssey of a turtle with a star painted on its shell, which accompanies Connick on a funky tour of New Orleans in order to obtain enough "musical vim" to "save my race." Really. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but it does provide Connick with an excuse to work in a wider-than-usual range of styles, from the gospel-derived groove of "Hear Me in Harmony" to the spacey, second-line funk of "Little Farley," and from the Meters-influenced pulse of "How Do Y'All Know" to the Billy Joel-ish cadences of "Eyes of the Seeker." Trouble is, Connick is a better player than he is a writer, and that makes for thin listening, as the arrangements and solos invariably outshine the songs. By the album's end, it's hard not to pity the turtle, since there's no way he'll save his race with music like this.
Pub Date: 7/11/96