Drops of Jupiter (Columbia Records)
Breaking through during the summer of 1999 with the hit single "Meet Virginia," which just missed the Billboard No. 1 slot, Train earned the necessary respect and money to take the next step in progressing as a pop/rock band.
Featuring emotional melodies and lyrics, capable songwriting and precise production by Brendan O'Brien (Pearl Jam and Rage Against the Machine), "Drops of Jupiter" expands on the band's previous effort (the self-titled "Train") by introducing instrumentation beyond that of guitars, bass and drums.
The music won't change the world or the music scene, but to steal a quote from U2's Bono speaking to VH1 about his own band's latest effort, "It might change the temperature of the room." It has a spark that will catch a listener's ear and make him or her pay close attention.
The title track is a warm, emotive tune with wistful lyrics that speak of a soul-search through the cosmos. Enveloped in strings and backing harmonies, lead singer Pat Monahan cries out with lines such as "[She] Reminds me that there is time to change ... [She] Reminds me that there is time to grow."
On "Hopeless," upheld by ethereal harmonies, Monahan sings, "Is anybody waiting at home for you?" A lament for lost love, this ballad will likely be placed on repeat by listeners in the same situation.
"Something More" moves away from the rock/pop of America, across the Atlantic to the shores of the U.K. With instrumentation and sound heavily influenced by the British rock/pop of the '90s and a chorus derived from the masters of songcraft, the Beatles, the song speaks about a longing for something better. Monahan croons, "All the more I want / all the more I need." It is an enchanting piece.
In "Whipping Boy," the distorted wah guitar and low grinding bass build tension around quietly sung lyrics of self-frustration until Monahan crows, almost in self-defeat, "Lay all you want on me / I'll be your whipping boy." This emotionally charged song shows a small punk side in Train that is rarely seen. The band members can play loud and hard when they want to.
***- Parijat Didolkar
Few ever doubted that electronic music was the future of pop. The question was when the mainstream would admit it. (Well after the genre had shed its experimental trappings, it was still considered avant-garde despite itself). But an album as gleefully accessible as "Production" by Mirwais (pronounced MERE-way), the French producer of Madonna's "Music," implies that the future is here and the world is finally at ease with mechanized blips, droning grooves and itinerant smears of sound.
Such sleek, jaunty cuts as "Naive Song" and "I Can't Wait" invoke talking luxury sedans and Internet-ready cell phones, not a robot-run dystopia. Even a number as deliberately dissonant as "Disco Science" is light and infectious. Only the more street-smart tracks, like "Definitive Beat," are glitzy without being endearing or vital.
Thunder and Roses (Arista)
Pam Tillis is a Nashville veteran who has pretty much abandoned country. Though it deals with adult matters, as country music does, "Thunder and Roses" is a pop record, pure and simple.
The so-so material is aimed squarely at women. It's all about losing love, finding love, persevering in love, looking for the perfect man, worrying about getting old and so on - sprinkled with occasional pep talks like "Trying" ("It's about hoping, dreaming, never not believing"). One of the most touching numbers is the only one Tillis had a hand in writing, "Off-White," about a woman prepar- ing for her second wedding.
From start to finish, though, the performances on the album are so tasteful that they tend to be bloodless. And that even goes for the bonus track, "Waiting on the Wind," Tillis' vaunted duet with her father, country great Mel Tillis.
Wicked Grin (Virgin)
If Howlin' Wolf, Salvador Dali and Captain Beefheart went freight-train-hopping across the Dust Bowl in the '30s, the songs they'd have made up around the campfire would sound a lot like the music Tom Waits has been making for 25 years. From that soulful, bullfrog croak of a voice down to the hobo-exotica instrumentation that colors his arrangements and the lurid narratives that thread it all together, Waits is probably the last great American original, and that fact renders much of his music out of reach for interpretation by other artists.
But that doesn't stop John Hammond - an accomplished blues stylist with a catalog dating to the early '60s, and a direct influence on Waits during his formative years - from trying. In fact, Waits produced this collection of covers of his music, even lending his burr-throated vocals to the gospel-tinged "I Know I've Been Changed." The result of this collaboration is a blander shade of Waits, a cut above most middle-age roots mojo, to be sure, but a bit tame compared to the wild-man blues of the originals. - Compiled from wire reports