The frightening shortage of good Halloween music

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Monsters, Ghosts, Goblins & Demons

The Essential Halloween Party Collection (Hip-O 314 545 048)

Rob Zombie Presents

The Words & the Music of Frankenstein (Hip-O 021 153 814)

Dracula

Music by Philip Glass, performed by Kronos Quartet (Nonesuch 79542)

Why is it that some holidays seem more musical than others?

There are dozens, if not hundreds of Christmas songs, but can anyone name more than one Easter song? What about Passover? Fourth of July has a host of songs (George M. Cohan's "I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy," to name just one), as does New Year's Day. Even Martin Luther King has its own anthem (Stevie Wonder's "Happy Birthday").

So why is the music for Halloween -- one of the year's biggest party days -- so utterly lame?

Think about it. Apart from Bobby "Boris" Pickett's Boris Karloff-inspired novelty number, "Monster Mash," how many Halloween hits can you name? Certainly not enough to fill an album, and that's the problem with "Monsters, Ghosts, Goblins & Demons -- The Essential Halloween Party Collection."

Scary, it isn't. If anything, the title seems an exaggeration, as "ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggety beasties and things that go bump in the night" are in painfully short supply here. Yes, there are monsters, in the form of "Monster Mash." But instead of ghosts, we get Ray Parker Jr.'s "Ghostbusters." In place of demons, we have INXS doing "Devil Inside." Goblins have been forgotten altogether.

It isn't just that few of the songs have a Halloween theme; some don't even try to be scary. Including Oingo Boingo's "Dead Man's Party" makes a certain amount of sense, being as it has the dead coming back to life and all, but what's so spooky about the band's movie theme, "Weird Science"? What's the fright factor in Rockwell's "Somebody's Watching Me"? Are we really supposed to be unnerved by Napoleon XIV's I've-gone-nuts novelty hit "They're Coming to Take Me Away"?

Sorry. The album is more trick than treat.

If what you want is classic horror, look for "Rob Zombie Presents the Words & the Music of Frankenstein." Instead of the usual music-from-the-movie approach, Zombie also gives us key bits of dialog, condensing the classic Boris Karloff films "Frankenstein," "The Bride of Frankenstein" and "The Son of Frankenstein" into 76 minutes of shrieks, groans and posh-voiced overacting. A true monster of a CD.

"Dracula" may, at first glance, seem in much the same league as "The Words and Music of Frankenstein," with composer Philip Glass going back to Bela Lugosi's "Dracula" to write a new score for the old film. Unfortunately, the pulsing regularity of Glass' score -- performed with pristine clarity by Kronos Quartet -- is worlds away from the creepy, Gothic dissonance most of us associate with horror flicks. It's a lovely album, but unlikely, without the visuals, to give any listener chills.

"Monsters, Ghouls, Goblins & Ghosts": *

"The Words and Music of Frankenstein": ***

"Dracula" : **1/2

Pop/rock

Bush

The Science of Things (Interscope/Trauma 6713)

Electronica may not have been the Next Big Thing the pundits promised, but it certainly shook up the status quo. Just look at all the alt-rockers augmenting their guitar rock with techno-beats. Bush hinted at this direction last year with the club-style remix album, "Deconstructed," but it gets fully into the spirit on the aptly titled "The Science of Things." That's not to say the band has ditched its flesh-and-blood rhythm section, as only "The Chemicals Between Us" relies on loops and programming for its pulse. But the circular repetition of electronic music informs even the live beats of songs like "Mindchanger," "English Fire" and the throbbing "The Disease of the Dancing Cats," creating a sonic juggernaut that pushes Gavin Rossdale's voice to satisfying extremes.

***

Handsome Boy Modelling School

So ... How's Your Girl? (Tommy Boy 1258)

Their names may not mean much in mainstream circles, but "Dan the Automator" Nakamura and "Prince Paul" Huston are two of the most inventive producers in hip-hop. Handsome Boy Modeling Club's "So ... How's Your Girl?" is a collaboration between the two that opens up whole new vistas for the sample-and-loop aesthetic. With vocal cameos by everybody from Sean Lennon to Brand Nubian's Grand Puba Sadat X, and from DJ Shadow to Father Guido Sarducci, the Handsome Boys offer everything from looped Bach to funky blues. But somehow its ultra-eclectic approach results in an enticingly steady groove, regardless of whether the music is as relentlessly propulsive as "Holy Calamity" or as dreamy and soulful as "Sunshine."

***1/2

Creed

Human Clay (Wind-Up 13053)

Nobody ever accused Creed of having an original sound. Between singer Scott Stapp's tortured baritone and the dark, portentous riffage of guitarist Mark Tremonti, the quartet treads much the same ground as Stone Temple Pilots and early Pearl Jam. But having such obvious precedents hardly diminishes the muscular stomp Creed generates throughout "Human Clay." Whether it's the way Stapp's vocals work against the churning, semi-metal guitars of "What If," or the slow-building intensity of the exotic, dramatic "Faceless Man," the band marshals its forces to impressive effect, delivering the sort of well-sculpted sound that almost begs to be blasted from the speakers. So what if there's little this band does that hasn't been done before? With a sound this polished, most hard-rock fans will be happy to hear it done again.

***

Vitamin C

Vitamin C (Elektra 62406)

Talent isn't everything, you know. Sometimes, a little bit of the right attitude means more than a boatload of ability. Consider, if you will, Colleen Fitzpatrick, the artist known as Vitamin C. She's not the greatest singer in the world, nor is she the most original songwriter. Even so, there's something almost irresistible about the club-girl sass she builds into the music on "Vitamin C." "Me, Myself & I" is typical, drawing on a host of verbal and melodic allusions, from the Santana-swiped chorus (which takes from "No One to Depend On") to the Clash homage of the "Should I stay or should I go" rap. It's not all sly, slick dance-pop on the album, however. A true child of the '80s, Vitamin C also offers a smattering of new wave covers, including a gleeful, electro-pop remake of Split Enz's "I Got You."

***

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