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Bjork
Homogenic
(Elektra)

There's no shortage of acts that have mingled ancient music with new technology, and although some of the results have been interesting (Dead Can Dance), plenty of others have inspired only yawns (Enigma). None, however, have been as successful as Bjork, who attacks the music on Homogenic like Leonardo da Vinci working in computer animation. From the war-like drum call that opens "Hunter" to the disc's last notes, the backdrops are embedded in icy synthetics that Bjsrk's voice melts through with old-Norse power. A lush but eerie orchestra drifts through this and other songs, overlayed with sucking and sizzling electronics that sound like something gone terribly wrong at a Jean-Michel Jarre concert--or, more appropriately, something gone terribly right. The juxtaposition of sci-fi sonics with strings, drums and accordions produces an effect that's simultaneously soothing and grisly, and the pairing of tracks echoes this approach: "Pluto," a razor-sharp, almost painful industrial dance number, finds Bjork emitting screams and moans from deep within her, while "All Is Full of Love," which follows it, is a comforting landscape layered with harps and burbling static. The line "I'm a fountain of blood in the shape of a girl," from "Bachelorette," sums up the violent-cum-beautiful feeling here, but the album's impact is epitomized by the "Alarm Call" lyric "I'm no fucking Buddhist/But this is enlightenment." Listen to Homogenic often enough and you'll likely achieve the same state of mind.

--Jack Jackson

The Honeydogs
Seen a Ghost
(Debris/Mercury)

What does it say about the Honeydogs when the catchiest cut on this collection, "Your Blue Door," was also the most memorable selection on their previous record, released on the October imprint? Either that (a) the bandmembers are very proud of the composition and are seeking to ensure that it receives a wider hearing, or (b) they were unable to come up with anything better this time around. In the final analysis, the latter statement is closer to the truth, but to the players' credit, they include several new songs that come close to matching the quality of "Door." Thanks to its mid-tempo rock beat and the earnestly reedy vocals of head Honeydog Adam Levy, "Rumor Has It" is an enjoyable confection that sounds syrupy and snotty at the same time. "I Miss You" likewise sports a loping charm, as well as some cool organ riffs, while other numbers tackle styles ranging from twangy balladry to Replacements-type rock with moderate success. But Levy falters when he takes himself too seriously. For instance, the compassion of "John Brown" is undermined by a sing-song rhyming scheme, and "Sweet Pea" is little more than a two-and-a-half-minute excuse to revisit the title track. In short, the Honeydogs' latest might set your tail to wagging, but it's nothing to wet the floor over.

--John Jesitus

Sugar Ray
Floored
(Atlantic)

In putting together Floored, Sugar Ray's goal was apparently to do the dirty job of putting a decade of "progressive" music into context: Why else would the band duplicate the styles of acts as disparate as the Beastie Boys, Ministry, Rage Against the Machine and Def Leppard? The duels between the hot-rod rhythm section and fuzzy guitars is tried and true; a tossed-off version of Adam Ant's "Stand and Deliver" will probably excite the sort of people who get jazzed when McDonald's introduces a new sandwich; and "Fly (Featuring Super Cat)," which recalls the best moments of Arrested Development, is actually a decent tune--so what is it doing on this record? My guess is that it's a fluke, and my theory is supported by the inclusion of a second version of the ditty that sinks mainly because it's been stripped of Super Cat's masterful toasting. Talk about your grand mistakes.

--Jackson

The Cure
Galore: The Singles 1987-1997
(Elektra/Fiction)

It would be easy to dismiss Robert Smith. His yelping/whining voice can be a major irritant if you're not in the right mood, his words have a tendency toward preciousness that he doesn't even try to check, and his hairstyle, which he has not altered for ages, looks like a divot. But he's also a much-underrated singles artist--a songwriter whose idiosyncrasies help prevent his commercial sensibility from seeming staid. For reasons that probably have as much to do with fashion as they do with anything more substantial, only a few of the Cure's songs have been embraced by the Top 40 elite, and at least one of those ("Friday I'm in Love") is so unbelievably sunny that it's tough to listen to without having a gallon jug of Coppertone within reach. But more often than not, Smith is able to find the proper balance between his sweeping romanticism and psychedelic pop. In listening to Galore, I was surprised not only by how many non-hits I knew, but by how well I knew them, whether I'd listened to them much or not: From "Fascination Street" to "Strange Attraction," almost everything here makes an instantaneous impression that is curiously free of guilt. The same can be said of the bonus track, "Wrong Number," which doesn't allow modern production values to get in the way of a good melody and a vocal by Smith that's delightfully churlish--like a temper tantrum that you realize you're thoroughly enjoying midway through it. Odds are good that Smith dashed off the last tune as an afterthought, but it still sounds better than virtually all of the Wallflowers clones with which it's currently fighting for airtime. So make fun of Smith all you want--but at the end of the day, praise him for making radio a nicer place to visit.

--Michael Roberts

 
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