The Soundtrack (Death Row 90114)
Although critics are raving about Tupac Shakur's portrayal of a heroin addict in "GRIDLOCK'd," what he does on screen is only part of his contribution to the film. Listen to the soundtrack from "GRIDLOCK'd," and you'll also hear him rapping -- doing, in fact, some of the strongest work of his career. Granted, there's not a lot of it; 2Pac turns up on just three of the album's 15 tracks, and only one, the fierce "Never Had a Friend Like Me," is a solo performance. But 2Pac makes up in quality what he lacks in quantity. "Never Had a Friend Like Me" is a passionate declaration of loyalty that recalls the strengths of raps like "Dear Mama," while his duet with Snoop Doggy Dogg on "Wanted Dead or Alive" offers a fascinating contrast in styles, as 2Pac's ragged intensity burns bright against the unhurried confidence of Snoop's laconic delivery. But good as they are, 2Pac's tracks are hardly the album's only highlights. Danny Boy's "It's Over Now" is the epitome of silky soul harmony, the Lady of Rage's "Sho Shot" is a masterful example of gangsta rap aggression, and Eight Mile Road's "Life Is a Traffic Jam" is as effective here as it was in the film. But it's J. Flex's brutally anti-drug "Lady Heroin" that comes closest to capturing both the allure and horror of drug addiction. An exceptional soundtrack.
Freak Show (Epic 67905)
Given that the members of Silverchair are themselves barely the age of high school seniors, it's tempting to make jokes about the relative maturity exhibited by the group's sophomore release, "Freak Show." In all fairness, though, the album would stand as an impressive achievement even if it had been the work of musicians twice as old. True, some of the riffage is a bit on the simplistic side, as with the sledgehammer subtlety of "Roses" and the sludgy repetition of "Slave," and there are moments ("Learn To Hate," in particular) when singer/guitarist Daniel Johns seems a tad too indebted to Kurt Cobain. But those are fairly minor failings overall and do little to diminish the pleasures of those tunes, much less of such exuberantly melodic material as the Indian-tinged country rocker "The Door." Moreover, when Silverchair truly does find its groove, as on the throbbing, resentful "Freak" or the sly, sarcastic "Abuse Me," its blend of lyrical intelligence and melodic muscle makes the band seem much wiser than its years.
Shapes (TriStar 36911)
Any time a Swedish pop act with a female vocalist and a strong sense of melody makes its way into the American market, reviewers invariably end up describing the music as "ABBAesque," as if the term meant "generic Swedish pop." It shouldn't, though, because ABBA's music always had a distinctive sound -- a lesson that comes through loud and clear on Josefin Nilsson's album, "Shapes." Nilsson comes by her ABBA-ness honestly, as all the songs on her album were written by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, the team responsible for "Waterloo," "Dancing Queen" and the rest of ABBA's hits. So it's no surprise that the bouncy "Midnight Dancer" and the bittersweet "We Won't Be Going Anywhere" sound as if they could have come from ABBA's last album, "The Visitors." But "Shapes" isn't just an ABBA album by proxy, for Nilsson brings more to the music than the sort of crystalline clarity Agnetha Faltskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad gave ABBA's hits. Although she sings sweetly enough on "Leave It to Love" and its ilk, the well-modulated power she brings to "Heaven and Hell" and "High Hopes and Heartaches" makes her seem more akin to a powerhouse like Celine Dion.
Help Yourself (Miss Butch 4003)
At first, it sounds like just another old-style blues ballad. The singer has a rich, dark voice and a sure grasp of the Southern soul style, and the setup seems just like any other he-done-me-wrong song. But when Peggy Scott-Adams gets to the chorus of "Bill," it's clear that this is a broken-heart number of a different sort: "I was ready for Mary, Susan, Helen and Jane/When all the time it was Bill that was sleeping with my man." Needless to say, that twist has made the tune a sensation on R&B; radio, and it's no exaggeration to say that "Bill" is by far the most stunning track on "Help Yourself." But to be honest, there's little else on the album that stands out as much. That's not to dismiss Scott-Adams' abilities, for she's a fine singer in the Southern style, with an easy, conversational style and a firm grounding in the blues. But where "Bill" brings an unexpected twist to the spurned-woman blues style, the best the other songs can manage is a well-phrased line or two. So even though there's plenty of good, gritty energy in "Cleaning House" and "Part Time Lover, Full Time Fool," the truth is there's only one "Bill" to be had here.
Pub Date: 2/06/97