Playlist

The Godfathers
Birth, School, Work, Death: The Best of the Godfathers

Wire Train
Last Perfect Thing...A Retrospective

Men at Work
Contraband: The Best of Men at Work

Translator
Everywhere That We Were...The Best Of

Nina Hagen
14 Friendly Abductions: The Best of Nina Hagen

Warrant
The Best of Warrant
(Columbia/Legacy)

Our topic: How the passage of time alters (or does not alter) perceptions, as viewed through the prism of the six discs enumerated above. Opinion of the Godfathers circa 1987: a band with one good song ("Birth, School, Work, Death"). Opinion of the Godfathers today: a band with one good song ("Birth, School, Work, Death"). Opinion of Wire Train circa 1986: a pretty decent group that never quite got the right breaks. Opinion of Wire Train today: A couple of tunes are okay, but some of their stuff sounds disturbingly like Modern English. Opinion of Men at Work circa the early Eighties: tolerable Aussie hitmakers whose sense of humor suggests to sympathizers that they may develop into the Kinks Down Under. Opinion of Men at Work today: The chart-toppers sound okay in supermarkets, but the rest of their material no doubt makes even backers regret those Kinks comparisons. Opinion of Translator circa the mid-Eighties: a quartet with a uniquely dark acoustic sound and a handful of strong tracks. Opinion of Translator today: impressive pop that would probably be all over current Triple-A radio were it new. Opinion of Nina Hagen circa the mid-Eighties: a wacky yet adventurous vixen capable of creating interesting work. Opinion of Nina Hagen today: a goofy novelty worthy of a laugh--but why anyone used to take her seriously is an unfathomable mystery. Opinion of Warrant circa the late Eighties and early Nineties: It sucks. Opinion of Warrant today: The more things change, the more they stay the same.--Michael Roberts

Cibo Matto
Viva! La Woman
(Warner Brothers)

This duo has thrown the kitchen sink into the wok. On Viva!, Yuko Honda has her finger on the sampler, offering up appetizers ranging from Paul Weller to Duke Ellington, while Miho Hatori whispers, croons and caterwauls over the yummy din. Given the fact that these East Villagers met when Hatori auditioned for Honda's punk band, Laito Lychee, the screechy delivery of lines like "Shut up and eat!/Too bad no bon appetit!" over spooky B-movie Wurlitzering comes as no surprise. Still, it's only one flavor among many. Primary lyricist Hatori, who has been in the States for only two years, rifles through the English language as if it were the 10-cent pile at the world's best yard sale ("My favorite beef jerky/I'm a vagabond/My mom says, 'You are kinky!'"). At times the result can seem senseless and overly cutesy--the fate of too many Japanese songbirds into glitter nail polish and tiny plastic backpacks. But the handful of Nutrasweet moments don't spoil an otherwise satisfying concoction. Honda's juxtapositions of rap, punk, big band, lounge and ambient lullabies evidence her thrilling range, as does her recent work on Los Lobos' Colossal Head. However, it's this onetime John Zorn collaborator's dalliances with jazz, old and new, that provide the disc with its finest moments. (You can almost feel the warp of the vinyl during the snippets of Machito and his Afro-Cuban Jazz Ensemble that decorate "Theme"). Cibo Matto forges vital new alliances between pre-existing musical forms; as Hatori raps on "Birthday Cake," "It's food nouveau!"

--Amy Kiser

Balloon Guy
The West Coast Shakes
(Warner Bros./Generator)

Every single three-chord rock song has already been written. We know that. We accept it. Yet we keep listening to albums made by bands specializing in three-chord rock songs, desperately hoping to be proved wrong. And occasionally--very occasionally--we are rewarded for our efforts by a disc like this one, which doesn't exactly reinvent the formula but instead tweaks it just enough to keep us from calling an end to our search. The key to these songs is partially structural: Arrangements that initially seem predictable frequently veer off on an enjoyable tangent (some guitar filigree here, a taste of atonality there). But in the final analysis, the guy who prevents The West Coast Shakes from disappearing into the grunge-rock haystack like so much straw is Matt Olson, whose vocals--pushed to the front of the mix--are imbued with a wry edge that takes the air out of some of his more straightforward trips to the planet Ennui. When he's at his best, he savors the absurdity of his imagery, thereby transforming lines like "Get out of Dodge/I'm back in Dodge/This is Dodge" (from "Salty Language") into pleasantly daft non sequiturs. Okay, this album isn't going to revolutionize the modern-rock genre as we know it; hell, some of it even sounds a little bit like Weezer. But it's distinguishable from the other ten alternative CDs I received today. And for that, I'm profoundly grateful.

--Roberts

 
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