Razorblade Suitcase (Trauma/Interscope 90091)
Cynics have two main gripes about Bush. First, they believe that the band owes as much of its success to singer Gavin Rossdale's cheekbones as to his songs, and second, that the band as a whole sounds like nothing so much as a bunch of Nirvana wannabes. "Razorblade Suitcase" isn't going to do much to dissuade them, either. True, the album's packaging almost goes out of its way to downplay Rossdale's hunkiness, but that's a fairly minor point (and besides, there's more than enough of his sullen good looks on display in the "Swallowed" video). As for the music, not only does Bush assiduously imitate the musical vocabulary and dynamics of Nirvana's best-known work, but the band gets an extra degree of verisimilitude by working with "In Utero" producer Steve Albini. To be fair, Albini does take a different approach with this band, giving Rossdale's voice a more pop-oriented presence and pulling some of the heaviness out of the guitars. But the songs -- particularly "Mouth," the howling "Insect Kin" and the moody "Swallowed" -- hew so closely to Kurt Cobain's model you'd think they were cloned. Sometimes, imitation is just the sincerest form of having no ideas.
Le Roi Est Mort, Vive le Roi (Virgin 42066)
If you're like me, about three minutes after you slip Engima's "Le Roi Est Mort, Vive le Roi" into the CD player, you'll be possessed by a single question: What on earth is Greg Lake doing on this album? As it turns out, the answer is "nothing," for the anguished, dramatic tenor gracing the album belongs to none but Enigma creator Michael Cretu. That Cretu has decided to recast Enigma as a vehicle for his own vocal performances is a bit of a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it's nice to hear a stronger sense of structure in the material, and Cretu's melody-driven writing in "Morphing Thru Time" and "T.N.T. for the Brain" adds extra impact to the otherwise ethereal music. But that advantage is mitigated somewhat by the less-than-stellar quality of Cretu's voice. It's not so bad when he works up to the primitivist shout used in "The Roundabout," but the sensitive croon he affects in "Prism of Life" brings the music uncomfortably close to art-rock twaddle. Fortunately, Cretu generally keeps the focus away from his voice and more toward the airy textures and exotic, sampled vocals (particularly on "The Child In Us") that originally earned Enigma its following.
Death Row Greatest Hits (Death Row 50677)
Although the CD is called "Death Row Greatest Hits," a better title might be "Dr. Dre's Greatest Hits." After all, Dre was responsible for 20 of the double-album's 33 tracks, either directly (he produced 14 of the songs) or indirectly (six others are remixes of his original work). That shouldn't come as a surprise, given that Dre was largely responsible for the G-funk sound Death Row rode up the charts; and such singles as Snoop Doggy Dogg's "Gin and Juice," Dre's "Nuthin' But a G Thang," and Dre and Ice Cube's "Natural Born Killers" still rank among the genre's finest. But Dre's departure from Death Row earlier this year doesn't seem to have done his standing there much good. Several Dre-produced hits are represented here through inferior remixes, including Snoop's "Who Am I? (What's My Name)" and Dre's "Let Me Ride," while 2Pac's "California Love" isn't included at all. Adding insult to injury is "Who Been There, Who Done That?", a nasty answer to Dre's "Been There Done That" by the much-aggrieved J. Flex. An impressive collection but hardly the "Hits" album it could have been.
Ima (Perfecto/Kinetic/Reprise 46356)
Anyone who thinks dance music doesn't stand up as sit-and-listen music ought to spend some time with BT's debut, "Ima." Although there's enough rhythmic energy in these tracks to get even the most staid booties shaking, the music does an equally fine job engaging the brain. It helps that BT himself (full name: Brian Transeau) is a one-man band who can make his keyboards sound as rich and varied as an orchestra, but the album's greatest strength is his songwriting. "Deeper Sunshine," for instance, is as rich with melody as it is texture, layering hooks deep within its lush cushions of synthesizer, then goosing the arrangement along with a percussion break spiced with a sample from the Balinese "Monkey Chant." Then there's "Loving You More," which segues from a cool, house-inflected "dub" mix into a hot, vocal-driven version that evokes the opulence of the disco era while delivering a sound as vividly high-tech as the latest electronica. But the album's finest moment is undoubtedly "Blue Skies," a giddily infectious tune that alternately soars and throbs, touching on everything from alternarock to trip-hop as it transforms guest vocalist Tori Amos into a full-fledged diva. Hear it now!
Pub Date: 12/05/96