Yellow Submarine Songtrack (Capitol 21481)
What's the difference between a soundtrack and a songtrack?
At first glance, the answer seems obvious: A soundtrack is an album of music from a motion picture, whereas a songtrack is a silly word somebody made up. Simple enough.
But in the case of the Beatles' Yellow Submarine, the term "songtrack" actually makes some sense, at least on the marketing end. Because what people tend to remember most about the musical moments from the 1968 feature-length cartoon was the way the animators translated such classics as "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" and "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" into Peter Max-style Technicolor fantasies.
Trouble was, neither of those songs was on the original soundtrack album. Nor, indeed, were such other featured favorites as "Nowhere Man," "With a Little Help From My Friends" or "When I'm Sixty-Four." What the first "Yellow Submarine" album offered was four new tunes, a couple of retreads ("All You Need Is Love," which was originally on "Magical Mystery Tour," and the title tune, which hailed from the "Sgt. Pepper" album), and a big chunk of George Martin's orchestral score for the film.
In other words, "Yellow Submarine" the soundtrack was even less a Beatle album than "Yellow Submarine" the film was a Beatle movie (the voice acting was all done by non-Beatles).
Despite its awkward title, "Yellow Submarine Songtrack" rectifies much of that. No, it doesn't put the real Beatles' voices into the film, but it does restore all their music to the album -- and that's a start.
After all, what made "Yellow Submarine" worth watching in the first place was the way it acted as a sort of visual "Greatest Hits" collection for the band. From the memorable melancholy of "Eleanor Rigby" to the hallucinatory cheer of "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds," the film showed the Fab Four at their most pop-friendly and appealing.
Granted, the film pretty much ignores the rough-and-ready rockers who gave us "She Loves You" and "Twist and Shout." But, hey -- those guys already had two movies ("A Hard Day's Night" and "Help!") in which to strut their stuff. And "Yellow Submarine" does at least make a nod in that direction with George Harrison's gritty, fuzz-toned rejection rocker, "Think for Yourself."
But be warned -- even though this new disc is markedly different from the original "Yellow Submarine" album, it doesn't include any previously unreleased Beatle songs. So if you already have the songs from the movie on other Beatle albums, there's no real need to own the "Yellow Submarine Songtrack" -- unless, of course, you like the convenience of having them all in one package, just like the movie. ***
Days of the New
Days of the New (Outpost 30037)
If your notion of heavy rock insists on towering Marshall stacks, Days of the New main man Travis Meeks is out to change your mind. Because even though "Days of the New" lacks the crunch of Metallica or Pantera, it delivers every bit as much punch, because what Meeks understands is that what matters isn't the size of your amps, but the power of your songs. It helps that Meeks' gruff baritone sparks against the minor key melodies as effectively as Eddie Vedder ever has, but the album's real kick is that Meeks is working with an insanely broad palette. From the orchestral exoticisms of "Weapon & Wound" (think "Kashmir" fused with "Norwegian Wood") to the dark riffage of "Not the Same" (think Metallica meets Pink Floyd), "Days of the New" proves that, with the right attitude, any kind of music can be rightly considered heavy. ***1/2
A Little Bit of Mambo (RCA 07863 67887)
Forget those other Latin superstars trying to muscle their way onto the charts; what you really want is pop appeal on the scale that Lou Bega offers on "A Little Bit of Mambo." Thanks to the blend of hip-hop attitude, Caribbean charm and big-band swing he wields in "Mambo No. 5 (A Little Bit of...)," Bega comes across like a latter-day Louis Prima -- sassy, sexy and totally entertaining. Moreover, he maintains that momentum throughout, moving from the neo-mambo of "I Got a Girl" to the tropical techno of "The Most Expensive Girl in the World" without dropping a beat. Best of all, Bega's macho swagger is supported by the strength of his beats, meaning his music is as fresh and infectious as anything on radio right now. ***
The Dust Bowl Symphony (Elektra 62418)
Nanci Griffith means well, goodness knows. Not only does she do her best to draw our attention to the plight of the less fortunate in the world, but she keeps her music firmly grounded in the traditions of Appalachian music, drawing from the best of the Anglo-Celtic ballad tradition. So why does "The Dust Bowl Symphony" seem so bland and overreaching? Perhaps because this time, Griffith is trying a tad too hard. Although the blend of Celtic sweetness and orchestral sweep brings an almost cinematic grandeur to "Trouble in the Fields," the subtle-as-a-flying-hammer sociology of "It's a Hard Life (Wherever You Go)" isn't helped by being inflated to epic proportions. That's the problem with this album -- it trusts more in the drama of orchestration than in the power of great songwriting. **
Tricky With DJ Muggs
Juxtapose (Island 314 546 432)
Because rap relies so heavily on rhyming, most fans think that the MCs are more important than the DJs. But there was a reason Grandmaster Flash or Eric B. got top billing over the Furious Five or Rakim -- because without a solid musical grounding, it hardly mattered what the rappers said. That music-first aesthetic lies at the heart of "Juxtapose," a collaboration between British trip-hop auteur Tricky and Cypress Hill producer DJ Muggs. True, the album's wordplay can be pretty impressive (check out the rapid-fire flow on "Bom Bom Diggy"), but even the roughest rhymes here take a back seat to the music's rich texture and hypnotic pulse. Just look how much "Hot Like a Sauna" gains power and pop appeal as it is transformed into the frenetic "Hot Like a Sauna (Metal Mix)." ***
* = poor
** = fair
*** = good
**** = excellent