U2, Insane Clown Posse Lead New Releases

Reviews of U2, Insane Clown Posse, PJ Harvey and more

Posted Oct 30, 2000 12:00 AM

U2 All That You Can't Leave Behind (Interscope)

U2's tenth studio album and third masterpiece, All That You Can't Leave Behind, is all about the simple melding of craft and song. Their first masterpiece, 1987's The Joshua Tree, imagined cathedrals of ecstasy; their second, 1991's Achtung Baby, banged around fleabag hotels of agony. But on All That You Can't Leave Behind, U2 distill two decades of music-making into the illusion of effortlessness usually only possible from veterans. The album represents the most uninterrupted collection of strong melodies U2 have ever mounted, a record where tunefulness plays as central a role as on any Backstreet Boys hit. "I'm just trying to find a decent melody," Bono sings with soulful patience in "Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of," "a song that I can sing in my own company."

Since they shot out of Ireland in 1980, U2 have believed that pop could sing like angels and move like the devil. They have always known devoutly that studio style facilitates meaning. It's why they have always seemed so modern -- this conviction that their sonic play of shades, textures, levels and dissolves amounts to more than an end in itself. This belief has always loomed enormously for U2, from the beat-oriented hummable songs of their first albums, which warmed up New Wave's chilly airs, to the largesse of their War-period arena performances, to their engagement with the geniuses of U.S. roots music, through to their itchy recastings, on Achtung Baby, of transcontinental love and panic. This restlessness reached a high point in 1997, when U2 released Pop, an album dipped in club music and dead set on ironic kicks. (CONTINUED)

Insane Clown Posse Bizzar (Island/Def Jam)
Insane Clown Posse Bizaar (Island/Def Jam)

The Insane Clown Posse are not offensive because they're a homophobic, misogynist and vaguely fascist duo glorifying sex and violence to a point that'd make Jerry Bruckheimer blush -- they're offensive because they're bad. They can't rap, they can't sing, their musical ideas are fifth-hand at best and their lyrics sound like the work of a foul-mouthed sixth-grader. This pair of equally abhorrent albums proves that and then some. The only amusing thing about ICP is that they know all this but never let it stop them. Perhaps it's giving them too much credit, but in essence the idea of suburban kids dressing as ghoulish clowns and spewing incompetent gangsta-rap is rife with satirical possibility. You can't help looking at the lowbrow cartoon and thinking, initially anyway, ICP might've been intended as a joke, a pointed parody of society's celebration of the lowest common denominator. But as the pair have amassed a huge cult of rabid Juggalo followers, it's clear they've either unwittingly become what they set out to lampoon or, sadly, been serious all along. (The third possibility -- that they've managed to keep straight-faced through the entire twisted, satirical charade is too far-fetched to consider.) Regardless of intentions, with Bizzar and Bizaar, the joke's definitely on us. (DAVID PEISNER)

PJ Harvey Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea (Island)

I know it's impolite to put it this way, but sometimes getting laid can really be good for a person. On the recorded evidence -- with no claim to any lowdown on Polly Jean Harvey's actual private life, a mystery as closely guarded as the whereabouts of Saddam Hussein and the formula for Coke -- that's the secret of PJ Harvey's Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea, which even she allows is the happiest-sounding album she's ever made. What she daren't suggest is that it may also be the best.

The shift is first apparent in the music, which is, not to beat around the bush, fast. Way more easeful than the tightly wound, dynamically extreme bluesism of the career-launching Dry and Rid of Me, it's also way livelier than 1995's critical triumph To Bring You My Love, where Harvey's desperate carnality took a sharply metaphysical turn, and 1998's rhetorical question, Is This Desire?, the answer to which was, maybe. While her austere sonic signature remains, the vocals are discernibly more relaxed, the tunes welcoming and even expansive. Listen for shadings on the guitar attack, too -- piano, organ, marimba, is that bandoneon? The album's an up from the first strums of "Big Exit," unquestionably the most rousing opener of her career. (CONTINUED)

Hootie and the Blowfish Scattered, Smothered and Covered (Atlantic)

You have to admit: the idea of Hootie and the Blowfish covering the Smiths' "Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want" is some kind of mind-blower. Morrissey is probably hiding under a couch somewhere right this minute, cringing as Darius Rucker turns the fey Brit ballad into pure Southern-rock corn. Say what you like about the Hootie dudes, but this covers compilation reveals them as an honorable South Carolina bar band that has survived its run-in with pop success by keeping its easygoing humor intact. Some of the selections get sluggish, but when the mighty Blowfish men bang out Led Zeppelin and Bill Withers classics, they prove that if they ever choose to return to their roots, they'll always have a future on the keg-party circuit. And if there's any justice, Morrissey will return the favor with a dramatic interpretation of "Only Wanna Be With You." (ROB SHEFFIELD -- RS 854)

Sticky Fingaz Black Trash: The Autobiography Of Kirk Jones (Universal)

Don't be turned off by the first fifteen minutes of Sticky's solo debut. The initial wave of over-the-top cock-talk and slam pit aggression, reminiscent of his former group Onyx, is just the first chapter in a loose narrative, where Sticky evolves from thug to spiritually enlightened soul to cynical street philosopher. With his untamed growl, he's equally adept at playing the role of pistol-packing bad-ass on "My Dogz iz My Gunz" as he is a reflective, sensitive convict on the touching, R&B-kissed "Baby Brother." He's not afraid to go deep, either. "Money Talks," featuring Wu-Tang Clan's Raekwon, looks at greed from the perspective of filthy lucre itself ("I'm the reason niggas selling drugs to fiends/I'm the reason Mr. Simpson got off clean"), while "Oh My God" is a chat between a morally confused gangsta and the big man upstairs. Sticky's barbed wit abounds throughout, particularly on cuts like "If I Was White" and "Wonderful World," a growling, vitriolic send-up of the Louis Armstrong classic. The mad-faced baldie who instructed hip-hoppers to "Slam" and "Thow Ya Gunz In The Air" in 1993 has clearly expanded the colors on his palette, offering us a well-rounded self-portrait of a man equal parts trash and treasure. (DAVID WOLLOCK)

Godsmack Awake (Republic/Universal)

The elements will be familiar to any Ozzfest attendee: bulldozer bottom with occasional slap-bass reverb, guitars that sound like percussion instruments, and a deranged singer spinning tales of woe and lamentation while dangling precariously from Beelzebub's pitchfork. Boston-based Godsmack aren't nearly as musically adventurous or aggressively misogynist as some of their aggro-rock brethren, which may explain the mainstream acceptance of the quartet's triple-platinum 1998 major-label debut. The formula is repeated on Awake, a collection of muscle-bound hard-rock cliches and unrelentingly downcast, generic lyrics. Singer Sully Erna declares he's "sick of my life" and "all I feel is hate" with a voice born to growl, but his narratives lack the scary specificity of a true head case like Korn's Jonathan Davis. Rivet-gun verses continually shift into droning choruses with vague Middle Eastern shadings, punctuated by wah-wah guitar solos. Though Erna sings that he's "sick and tired of making the same mistakes," Godsmack's carefully calculated music suggests they've never made a rash move in their lives. (GREG KOT -- RS 854)

Dwight Yoakam Tomorrow's Sounds Today (Reprise)

Tomorrow's sounds? Only in the sense that Dwight Yoakam's ninth studio album sounds much like what you might imagine his next greatest hits set, circa 2010, might sound like. Track for track, Tomorrow's Sounds Today sounds remarkably like his last greatest hits album, which means Yoakam's doesn't have that many tricks under his hat, but damn does he do what he does do good. He's a veritable one-man Bakersfield Sound preservation society, managing to not only coax Buck Owens out of retirement again (for a co-write on "The Sad Side of Town" and two duets, "Alright, I'm Wrong" and "I Was There"), but also, with the help of long-time collaborator Pete Anderson, packing enough hot-lick-twang in any given song to carry an entire Merle Haggard album. "Love Caught Up to Me," "What Do You Know About Love" and "A World of Blue," meanwhile, demonstrate once again that Yoakam can pen a better juke-box ready country anthem or weeper than a whole stable of Nashville writers for hire, and sing them better than any Music Row hat act, to boot. (RICHARD SKANSE)

Various Artists Tattoo the Earth: The First Crusade (1500)

Last year, masked avengers Slipknot were Ozzfest second-stagers; this past summer, they co-headlined their own Tattoo the Earth Tour, a metal circus that promised to out-heavy Ozzy's lackluster spectacle at every turn, "metal the way it should fucking be," as Corey of Slipknot says to open "Liberate." Tattoo the Earth: The First Crusade is a live souvenir recorded in Pontiac, Michigan -- all of the rock, none of the beer, sweat and body art (except on the album art), and plenty of "this is from the new album" and "they're cutting our set, we're very sorry, but you kids fucking rule. . . . Come see what's up at the Hatebreed booth." While Slayer's Reagan-era chestnut "Chemical Warfare" is particularly savage, the contributions from back-benchers such as Nothingface, Mudvayne and (Hed)PE show that despite promises, most of Tattoo was just more of the thunderously bland "heavy music" the tour swore it would avoid. Watch out for hooey about warriors and tribes in the liner notes, but celebrate the fact that Slayer ordered a total of seventy-eight pizzas and that one person was "carried away in a Porta-John by a forklift." It doesn't get more metal than that. (JOE GROSS -- RS 854)

The Beautiful South Painting It Red (Ark 21)

Many have lumped the Beautiful South's Paul Heaton in with such forebears as Ray Davies, Paul Weller and Morrissey -- songwriters whose worldview was so Anglocentric that it precluded gaining a commercial foothold in America. It's not entirely understandable, however, given Heaton's preoccupation with such universal themes as love, loneliness and aging. More likely it's Heaton's acerbic take on said subjects that leaves such a bad taste in the mouths of those accustomed to more syrupy sentiments. The weak of heart will find no solace in Painting It Red; Heaton's pen lends an uncommon poignancy to such trials as getting your first gray hair ("'Til You Can't Tuck It In") and failing to rekindle a dying relationship ("Final Spark"). With its modest arrangements, Painting It Red puts the spotlight firmly on the songcraft that made their Carry On Up the Charts: The Best of the Beautiful South the third biggest-selling album in England, and, in a fairer world, would get Heaton and melodist David Rotheray immediately admitted into the pantheon of British songwriters. Though it won't make the stateside splash of which breakthroughs are made, Painting It Red will have longtime fans tickled pink. (MICHAEL ANSALDO)

Southern Culture On the Skids Liquored Up And Lacquered Down (TVT)

Dividing their efforts between forceful R&B rockers and countrified weepers, Chapel Hill's sorely missed Southern Culture On the Skids return after a three year absence with more observations of life below the Mason-Dixon line. After seven albums in fifteen years, some might have wondered if Rick Miller's redneck barfly musings have lost some of their bite, but his reliable tongue-in-cheek wordplay hasn't waned. "Cheap Motels," for instance, benefits from honest, amusing lyrics ("The night clerk's smiling 'cause he's usually stoned") while the horn-heavy "I Learned To Dance In Mississippi" is vibrant New Orleans-styled party music. But the standout here is the shimmering, Byrdsian-riffed "Just How Lonely," expertly sung by bassist/occasional vocalist Mary Huff. SCOTS blows the breathalyzer on duds like "Drunk And Lonesome (Again)" and the self-descriptive "Damaged Goods," but blistering, moonshine ignited Booker T.-isms like "Pass The Hatchet" easily redeem such flaws. (JOHN D. LUERSSEN)

Jane Wiedlin Kissproof World (Painful Discs/Beyond)

As any Behind The Music watcher now knows, being one of the Go-Go's wasn't the vacation it looked like, but the work guitarist Jane Wiedlin has put out after her departure from the group ("Blue Kiss," "Rush Hour,") have hardly been the stuff of dark confession. Neither is Kissproof World, but the record -- Wiedlin's first since she fronted Frosted back in the mid Nineties -- does see the singer/songwriter venturing into darker lyrical territory. "Nobody's perfect," she acknowledges in "Messy," "it's the struggle that counts." "The Good Wife" confronts divorce, while Matthew Sweet drops by to lend vocals to the emotional silence of "He's Not Talking." In other words, bubblegum is sweet, but it's still a bitch when it's stuck to your shoe. Backed by the same power-chord sturm-und-drama she utilized in Frosted, Wiedlin's irresistible warble of a voice sounds happy even when it's talking sad. And for all the sadness on this record, there's plenty of carpe diem going on. A kissproof world it may be, but this older, wiser Wiedlin's still determined to smooch. (HARRY THOMAS)

Photek Solaris (Astralwerks/Science)

In the state of dance music 2000, drum-and-bass has about as much life as Pat Buchanan's presidential bid. Appropriately, revered jungle producer Rupert Parkes, a.k.a. Photek, has shaken things up with his second full-length album, Solaris -- it owes more to techno and house than to drum-and-bass. Kicking off with the rumbling Leftfield-like thump of "Terminus," Solaris jumps from trippy tech-house (the stellar title track) to deep, soulful house numbers like "Can't Come Down" and the exquisite "Mine to Give," which features vocals from Fingers Inc.'s Robert Owens. Only on "Infinity" does Photek revisit traditional jittery drum-and-bass. Despite its variety of styles, thanks to Photek's daring, disciplined production, Solaris never loses its groove. (MATT HENDRICKSON -- RS 854)

John Prine Souvenirs (Oh Boy)

Neck cancer has an upside after all. An accomplished veteran of winking his way through wry lyrics like a folkie jester, singer-songwriter John Prine's vocal cords have survived a serious illness and, hallelujah, transformed him into Greg Allman. So these soft retreads of his best-known works -- created "so I could have my own master recordings," he writes in the liner notes -- have a completely different feel than the originals. In the 1971 version of "Angel from Montgomery," for example, Prine begins on a comic note: "I am an old woman," he sings, gaining solemnity as the narrator's search for meaning in life progresses. Prine's newfangled voice subverts the comedy, but the rest of "Angel" takes on an almost hymn-like tone, sentimental and committed like much of Bob Dylan's "Nashville Skyline." Sacrificed in this new personality is the twinkle in the eye of "Grandpa Was a Carpenter" and other funny Prine songs. But beautiful reinterpretations of "Storm Windows" and "Six O'Clock News" overcome the loss. (STEVE KNOPPER)

Professional Murder Music Professional Murder Music (Geffen)

Formed in 1998 by ex-members of late L.A. rock groups Human Waste Project and Tura Satana, Professional Murder Music seem game to combine heavy rock's glorious past and present, with a twelve-song debut that calls to mind a wide range of influences. The quartet's earnest intensity comes as equally from goth rockers like Bauhaus as it does new-metal prototypes like Helmet, Filter and Tool (and popular, if lesser spawn Korn and Orgy). A throttling stab at the Cure's "A Night Like This" belies the band's mope-pop urges, and with Skinny Puppy's Dave Oglivie as guest mixer on "Your World," PMM throw their hat into the industrial-rock ring as well. If PMM -- a hyphen-rock group if there ever were one -- can synthesize the past and present well enough, it only begs the question of what they can do in the future. It's too soon to tell, but for now the album's dark interplay between programming, real drums and guitars is a step in the right direction. (MARK WOODLIEF)

The White Stripes De Stijl (Sympathy for the Record Industry)

If the Who played "maximum R&B," then you could call the White Stripes' music "minimum R&B": blues-tinged rock & roll scaled back to its most essential elements -- one guitar, a simple drum kit and sneering vocals. The second album by the Detroit couple, De Stijl, is feisty and clever, full of scuzzy garage rock that would fit nicely on a Nuggets compilation between the Sonics and the Standells. Guitarist Jack White's clipped strumming on "Jumble, Jumble" evokes the Sonics' classic "The Witch," while the vaudeville-style "Apple Blossom" echoes Village Green Preservation Society-era Kinks. The Stripes' quirks are more delightfully apparent live, but on songs like "Hello Operator," you can hear how White's knack for phrasing -- both his vocals and guitar lines -- gives the songs the feel of improvisation. And Meg White's drumming is so minimal that it's almost funny: It forces a smile because, like everything about the White Stripes, it proves that you don't need bombast to make a blues explosion. (JENNY ELISCU -- RS 854)

Amen We Have Come For Your Parents (Virgin)

On their sophomore album, We Have Come for Your Parents, L.A. quintet Amen continue to embody the raw essence of the MC5 and the Stooges as they did on their 1999 self-titled debut album. From the opening scream of "CK Killer" Casey Chaos' raw throated vocals lead down the path of rock & roll in its purest, punkest form. The rest of the band (former members of Snot and Ugly Kid Joe) avoid the chunky, low-end enhanced trend of most new metal acts and keep things noisy and cranked to eleven. At times, the sonic onslaught becomes a bit tedious; there aren't much dynamics to the songs, but that's not really the point -- it's all about the unadulterated fury. (JOE HAULER)

Jazzanova The Remixes 1997-2000 (JCR)

The best way to ruin a record collector's day is with a compilation like this. For nearly four years, the Berlin-based DJ and producer collective known as Jazzanova have been releasing ultra-rare remixes to specialty record stores, only to now pull them all together on one conveniently packaged and widely distributed album. The Remixes 1997-2000 collects all twenty of the group's collaborations on double-album form, revealing a faithful devotion to integrating jazz, house, electro, Bossa Nova and dub styles in each piece. Less than great tracks by dance music luminaries like 4 Hero ("We Who Are Not As Others") and MJ Cole ("Sincere") are energized, while even classic acid-funk cuts by the Har-You Percussion Group ("Welcome To The Party") and United Future Organization ("We'll Be Friends") benefit from the sympathetic Jazzanova treatment. (AIDIN VAZIRI)

(October 31, 2000)


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