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Karen CarpenterKaren Carpenter (A&M; 31454 0588)Had she...

Karen Carpenter

Karen Carpenter (A&M; 31454 0588)

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Had she simply dropped out of the business all those years ago, the unexpected release of her long-shelved 1980 solo album would have been a curiosity at best -- an intriguing footnote to the Carpenters revival that has been gaining ground for the past five years. But because Carpenter died in 1893 of complications brought on by anorexia, it's hard not to find a certain poignancy in "Karen Carpenter." To begin with, it's hard at this distance to understand why the label bosses declined to release the album the first time around. True, the material does tend toward extremes, bouncing between low-key introspection and funk-fed ebullience faster than the average Carpenters fan might expect. But that's hardly a fatal flaw; if anything, it will likely leave modern listeners impressed at her musical breadth. After all, who would have imagined she'd have been capable of something as daring as "If I Had You," which marries jazzily sophisticated vocal harmonies with a high-gloss funk groove as slick as anything Michael Jackson was working with? Or that she could toss off a performance as subtle and soulful as "Last One Singin' the Blues"? Even though there are some clunkers -- she's just a tad too sweet to cut a convincing version of "Still Crazy After All These Years" -- "Karen Carpenter" is a better album than even devoted fans could have imagined.

Marilyn Manson

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Antichrist Superstar (Nothing/Interscope 90086)

It's not often you find an album where the sound itself is nastier than any of the profanities on the lyric sheet, but that pretty well sums up Marilyn Manson's third album, "Antichrist Superstar." Anyone expecting more of the soft-focus perversity that animated the group's cover of "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)" is in for a shock -- not only are the arrangements chockablock with synth noise and industrial-grade distortion, but the vocals are as tortured as anything on a Nine Inch Nails album. There's a similar sense of personal drama, too. "Take your hatred out on me," goes the chorus to "Tourniquet," and much of the album deals with themes of power and desire, masochism and abuse. Rummage around through the lyrics, and you'll find all sorts of nastiness (including a number of things we don't talk about in daily papers), but it wouldn't quite be fair to describe the content as shocking -- not when the music makes Ministry sound like easy-listening fare. No, what Marilyn Manson offers is a full-blown horror show, as detailed and inventive as anything in a Clive Barker novel. And while that will hardly earn "Irresponsible Hate Anthem" or the scabrous "Mister Superstar" a place on the pop charts, it certainly should scare the snot out of mom and dad.

Tool

Anima (Zoo 61422 31087)

In a way, the most disturbing thing about Tool isn't the way its songs plumb the depths of alienation and anomie, but the way Danny Carey's light, clear tenor floats above the semi-metal clangor of the band's guitars. It's a great effect, like glimpsing an angel's wings through the smoke and flames of hell, and it's central to the success of "Anima." Carey doesn't dominate the album; indeed, his voice often seems secondary to the band's instrumental components, which build tension with the ominous determination of fire ants. But when it breaks through the murk, as in the chorus to "Eulogy," it offers an almost cathartic sense of release. Not every song cuts loose like that; the churning "Forty Six," for instance, throbs like a back itch that just can't be reached. But the best tracks, like "Stinkfist" and Jimmy," offer the sort of emotional breadth and dynamic range rarely found in rock and roll.

No Talking Just Head (Radioactive/MCA 11504)

When David Byrne threatened to sue former bandmates Jerry Harrison, Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth for planning an album and tour as The Heads, it sounded like just another squabble among old bandmates. But it actually may have been a favor in disguise, because based on the sound of "No Talking Just Heads," it would be hard to imagine anybody caring about the band had it not made the gossip columns. Given the caliber of the album's cameo vocalists -- a guest list that includes Blondie's Debbie Harry, INXS's Michael Hutchence, XTC's Andy Partridge and Live's Ed Kowalczyk -- that may seem surprising. But even the best singers are only as good as their material, and frankly, without Byrne's songs, The Heads seem pretty faceless. "The King Is Gone" (sung by Hutchence) has a stylish, surly groove that vaguely recalls the feel of "Remain In Light," and the noisily tropical "Don't Take My Kindness for Weakness" (sung by Black Grape's Shaun Ryder) could pass for a contemporary cousin of "Genius of Love." But not even the club-savvy groove and artsy hauteur of the title tune (sung by Harry) is likely to make this album seem like anything more than just empty talk.

Pub Date: 10/10/96


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