Dreamland (Arista 18930)
If you wanted to be clever about it, you might describe Robert Miles as the techno version of John Tesh (John Teschno?). Like Tesh, Miles specializes in airy, soothing melodies, played on mostly piano and supported by lush, dramatic arrangements. But such a comparison only goes so far; after all, Tesh usually records with an orchestra, whereas Miles' "Dreamland" is almost entirely synthesized. Those synths are a crucial component in the album's techno undercurrent, blending seamlessly with the electronic percussion in "Fantasya" and providing much of the pulse beneath the swirling "Red Zone." But there's more to "Dreamland" than thumping bass and burbling club beats. "Children," which boasts a stately, slow-moving melody sketched out against a backdrop of billowing synths, seems to hark back to the epic grace of Vangelis' "Chariots of Fire," while "Fable" owes as much to progressive rock as it does to techno, what with its Mike Oldfield-ish piano ostinatos and mock-orchestral flourishes. Still, no matter how Miles frames his melodies, what ultimately carries the album is the unexpected synergy between the slow, sumptuous sound of the synths and the metronomic urgency of the beat.
A Tribe Called Quest
Beats, Rhymes and Life (Jive 01241 41587)
Combat has been a part of hip-hop culture since the MC battles that took place in New York in the mid-'70s. But since gangsta rap began grabbing attention, it sometimes seems as if rappers would rather brag about their gats than wage war with words and wit. Thank God, then, for A Tribe Called Quest. No sooner does "Beats, Rhymes and Life" get under way than Q-Tip, Phife and Ali Shaheed Muhammad wade into the fray with "Phony Rappers," a droll dismissal of rap wannabes who "do not write . . . who do not excite." It's an awesome display of verbal agility and rhythmic acuity, but what makes this show of skills most impressive is that the trio keeps cool, calm and collected throughout. But that's typical of what ATCQ does here. Whether they're matching the jazzy saunter of the electric piano in "Jam" or playing off the deep bass and soulful chorus of "Stressed Out," these three exude the kind of quiet confidence that bespeaks true mastery of the music. Maybe that's why they have no interest in the trash-talk typical of so many lesser rappers; as one of the tunes here puts it, it's far better to focus on the music so that you're "Keeping It Moving."
Filthy Lucre Live (Virgin 41926)
There's a line in the Sex Pistols' song "EMI" where Johnny Rotten spits that some "thought that we were faking/But we were all just money-making." That pretty much sums up the spirit behind both the band's reunion tour and its new album, appropriately titled "Filthy Lucre Live." Recorded at Finsbury Park in London, it finds the original Pistols -- Rotten, Steve Jones, Glen Matlock and Paul Cook -- rampaging through every song from their 1977 debut, "Never Mind the Bollocks," plus "Satellite," "Did You No Wrong" and a cover of the Monkees hit "(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone." Does the band sound as terrifyingly anarchic as it did 20 years ago? Don't be silly. Not only does the band seem sluggish by comparison to today's mile-a-minute thrash punks, Jones, Matlock and Cook play with the kind of workmanlike competence that only serves to remind us that the Pistols' instrumental attack owed as much to Slade as to the Stooges. Rotten, though, remains a true original, and his sneering delivery seems just as gleefully contrary now as it did then. He may be, as he says before "God Save the Queen," "fat [and] 40," but he's as entertaining as he's ever been. And if that isn't worth some of your lucre, what is?
The Cox Family
Just When We're Thinking It's Over (Asylum 61809)
Alison Krauss may get the credit for bringing bluegrass back into the mainstream of country music, but even she sings the praises of the Cox Family. And no wonder. Although this multi-generational quartet has deep roots in traditional music, it also has a sure sense of how to make the most of a wide range of material, and it's that combination that makes "Just When We're Thinking It's Over" the stunner it is. It isn't just that the Coxes take on everything from the classic honky tonk of Hank Williams' "I Just Don't Like This Kind of Living" to contemporary Nashville fare, such as "Who's Gonna Pay for This Broken Heart"; they seem equally at home with either kind of song. It helps that the family has no problem working electric guitars and drums into the arrangements as needed, but that adaptability has less to do with the Coxes' sense of style than with the group's respect for the tunes. So even a song as seemingly out of character as Del Shannon's "Runaway" seems perfectly appropriate in their hands.
Pub Date: 8/01/96