Pet Shop BoysBilingual (Atlantic 82915)Considering that it...

Pet Shop Boys

Bilingual (Atlantic 82915)


Considering that it opens with the lyric, "Y una discotecca por acqui?", it's no trick figuring out why the Pet Shop Boys dubbed their latest album "Bilingual." But there's more to the title than such a literal reading would reveal. In addition to playing the word for a pun in "Single" ("I'm single, bilingual" goes the nudge-wink chorus), the Pets also take it as a musical tactic, augmenting their standard synth-based sound with a host of South American sounds. "Single," for instance, kicks into gear with the throbbing intensity of Brazilian afoxe drums (much like those Paul Simon used on "Rhythm of the Saints"), while "Se A Vida E" pulses with the carnival-time excitement of samba drums. Don't take that to mean that the Pets have simply gone global for this outing, though, for there's also plenty of old-school dance pop on hand. "Before" offers a typically winning blend of winsome melody, driving beats and lush, synth-cushioned harmonies, while "Electricity" boasts both a slinky electrofunk groove and the album's best line ("It's the greatest show with the best effects/Since Disco Tex and the Sex-o-lettes"). All told, "Bilingual" translates as a thoroughly intoxicating release.

John Mellencamp


Mr. Happy Go Lucky (Mercury 314 532 896)

Let's be honest: John Mellencamp has never seemed rock and roll's Artist Most Likely To Get a Dance Remix. If anything, his recent releases have moved more toward an old-timey sound, what with all the fiddles and mandolins sprinkled through "The Lonesome Jubilee." So what does it mean to find Mellencamp working with club music whiz kid Junior Vasquez on "Mr. Happy Go Lucky"? Not what you'd think. Rather than change his sound completely, Mellencamp merely reconfigures it, using Vasquez's flair for sound manipulation to put a funky edge on some otherwise old-fashioned tunes. In a sense, it's letting him have his cake and eat it, too, as this collaboration allows Mellencamp to fill "This May Not Be the End of the World" with downhome touches like dobro and fiddle, yet still maintain a totally contemporary feel. Nor do these club-derived grooves feel tacked on, as the rhythmic manipulation in "Jerry" or "The Full Catastrophe" is as central to its basic feel as the strummed acoustic riding beneath Mellencamp's voice. Best of all, there's a freshness to the playing that suggests Mellencamp and company haven't been this jazzed about their music in eons, making this the catchiest, most consistent album of his career.

Ornette Coleman

Sound Museum: Three Women (Harmolodic/Verve 314 531 657)

Sound Museum: Hidden Man (Harmolodic/Verve 314 531 914)

After a decade of working almost exclusively with his electric band, the guitar-based Prime Time, it almost comes as a shock to find jazzman Ornette Coleman releasing two full albums of acoustic music. Even more amazing, both find him working with Geri Allen, the first pianist he's recorded with since some 1958 sessions with Paul Bley. But what ultimately earns "Sound Museum: Three Women" and "Sound Museum: Hidden Man" their landmark status isn't the instrumentation but the conceptual clarity of the performances. Because Allen and bassist Charnett Moffett are such resolutely melodic improvisers, they have no trouble adopting the precepts of Coleman's "harmolodic theory." Even better, the fact that the three are so clearly attuned to one another -- and to drummer Denardo Coleman -- makes it unexpectedly easy to follow the ebb and flow of such tracks as "Home Grown" (particularly the "Three Women" version) and "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" (from "Hidden Man"). As a result, the toughest challenge posed by these albums may be trying to decide which of the two to pick up first.


Beautiful Freak (Dreamworks 50001)


Rock and roll being such an infinitely adaptable style, it was inevitable that it would begin to absorb influences from hip-hop and dance music. What's interesting, though, is how completely it can subsume them. Skip around through the Eels' debut, "Beautiful Freak," and you'll hear samples, turntable noise and funky beats -- but nothing the average listener would count as rap. If anything, it's as if the band were purposely underplaying that side of its sound. There's plenty of sound manipulation on the dreamily infectious "Novocaine for the Soul," for example, as well as a strong fatback undercurrent in the drumming. But what comes across is just a different flavor of the alterna-rock trio sound, not some 311-style rock/rap fusion. Even the spoken segments of "Susan's House" sound like just that -- talking, not rapping. But then, the point of such techno-savvy touches isn't to make the band seem contemporary or club-savvy, but to bring out the best in the material. So whether the band goes for a full range of studio effects, as on the exquisitely arranged "Flower," or downplays the gimmickry as effectively as it does on the title tune, what comes across is the strength of the songs. And that, frankly, is more than reason enough to check out this "Freak."

Pub Date: 9/12/96