Playlist

Busta Rhymes
Extinction Level Event: The Final World Front
(Elektra)

Over the years, Rhymes has transformed himself into a full-fledged cartoon character. Given the Tone-Loc model, that probably means he'll win a supporting role in a Jim Carrey movie and then disappear from the entertainment firmament until VH1 does a where-is-he-now? special ten years hence. (His late-December arrest for driving around NYC with a loaded .45 automatic will provide such a show's producers with at least one colorful anecdote.) But in the meantime, thank the gods that he's still making discs like this one, which is as guilty as a guilty pleasure can be.

The skits that appear on most hip-hop CDs are stereotypical time-wasters, but not here. Extinction Level Event is kicked off by an intro in which a sitcom-style dad patiently tells a wide-eyed tot about the apocalypse to come ("It will be an era fraught with boundless greed and corruption, where global monetary systems disintegrate, leaving brother to kill brother over a grain of overcooked rice"); later, a playa attempts to impress a woman who's caught his eye by claiming that he has "custom-made condoms made out of other people's dicks." Many of the lyrics are just as loopy--"Everybody Rise," a raucous chant that updates James Brown's "Night Train" formula, includes the line "Denver, Boston, Nashville, Seattle, Albany, Kansas City/Everybody!/RAAAAAAAHZZZZ!" --and the music is often downright screwy: "Where We Are About to Take It" is built on a sample from "Topless Dancers of Corfu," an ultra-dorky bit of happy organ originally stroked by Fifties-era shlockmeister Dick Hyman. But "They Wildin Wit Us & Gettin' Rowdy Wit Us," co-starring Mystikal, constitutes premier party music; "This Means War!!" captures the timeless pairing of Busta and (really) Ozzy Osbourne; "Gimme Some More" is an impressive tongue-twister; and "Do the Bus a Bus" sports a Casiotone rhythm that would sound great on a Volkswagen commercial.

In the end, Extinction Level Event provides fun for the whole hip-hop family--and despite its title and end-game theme, it's impossible to take seriously for one minute. What a relief.

--Michael Roberts

Angelique Kidjo
Oremi
(Island)

A singer from Benin, West Africa, Kidjo is a widely popular touring attraction in Europe thanks to funky African-flavored music that she sprinkles with overtly Western touches. But when I saw Kidjo perform at a music festival in Denmark last summer, I couldn't see what all the excitement was about. While she and her bandmates were draped in colorful costumes, any traces of Mother Africa in the music were lost in the bottom-heavy pop and digital techno rhythms. On CD, however, it's a different story. Oremi starts strong, with a vigorous cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)"; Kidjo executes it so well that it's difficult to believe it's a remake. Like some of the other numbers on the disc, the song floats on a strong undercurrent of funky African vocals, accessible beats and an earthy, flowing mix that Kidjo punctuates with her brazen voice. Elsewhere, "Babalao" has a great funk/dance quality that recalls Johnny Clegg and Juluka at their best, while the dazzling "Itche Koutche" is distinguished by Branford Marsalis's saxophone playing. The album is proof that being there isn't always better.

--Jack Jackson

Love and Rockets
Lift
(Red Ant)

Love and Rockets first dipped into the world of electronic music on 1994's Hot Trip to Heaven, a disc issued long before U2 went Pop or Reznor steered Bowie the way of Earthling. While not the groundbreaker that the band had hoped for, the disc introduced a hybrid style that comes into full bloom on Lift, a warmly synthetic offering that augments the guitar-oriented approach heard on 1986's Express with electronica-based styles ranging from trance to big beat.

Bookended by two versions of the ethereal title song, the CD provides a dizzying array of new ideas and sounds without diluting the potency found on the group's first four discs. Indeed, the players actually manage to reincorporate some of the musical ideas they'd seemingly left behind years ago: Lift is highlighted by familiar Spanish/acoustic guitars and feedback fuzz, Daniel Ash's lush vocals, David J's steady bass and Kevin Haskins's drums and inspired beat programming. At times the album feels a bit bloated (trimming ten or fifteen minutes off its hour-plus running time would have helped), and it's encumbered by the lyrically silly "Delicious Ocean" and the musically directionless "Too Much Choice." But with the band slaloming between imperious epics like "My Drug" and "Deep Down" and typically radio-friendly creations like "Holy Fool" and "Resurrection Hex," which is driven by a Bauhaus sample, redemption is often just a moment away.

Lift is neither as one-dimensional as the often engaging Earthling nor as irritating as the bandwagon-jumping Pop. Rather, it's a welcome return to moody music-making that benefits from a refined, gratifying touch of the Nineties.

--Sean McDonald

Various Artists
12" Essentials--The Seventies
12" Essentials--The Eighties
(Polygram)

These are the things we can do without: a set of Eighties club standards that does nothing more than recover long-repressed memories of early-morning cocaine drip. When Ronald Reagan was president, it wasn't so bad to spend a few extra minutes tripping to the buzzy electronic pulse and robotic vocalists of Animotion singing "You are an obsession/You're my obsession/Who do you want me to be/To make you sleep with me?" or the computer-programmed hand-clapping behind the Madonna wannabes who sang Company B's "I'm fascinated by your love boy/I'm fascinated by your love toy." But in the bright daylight of ten years later, Bananarama's "Cruel Summer" sounds so bleak that it's hard to fathom how it once felt sunny and warm. Sure, it had sad lyrics, but it always seemed so bouncy.

On 12" Essentials--The Seventies, Polygram at least compiles irrefutable dance classics: Alicia Bridges's "I Love the Nightlife (Disco 'Round)," Peaches & Herb's "Shake Your Groove Thing," Thelma Houston's "Don't Leave Me This Way" and Gloria Gaynor's "Never Can Say Goodbye" --songs that shimmer with a veneer of innocence and genuine good times. God help us if, ten years from now, that's what people will think about Tears for Fears' "Shout" and Soft Cell's "Tainted Love/Where Did Our Love Go." And Trio's "Da Da Da" would never have wound up on The Eighties if it weren't for Volkswagen commercials. That disc's highlights--an entrancing "Word Up" from Cameo and "Seven minutes of madness--the Coldcut remix!" of Eric B. and Rakim's "Paid in Full"--aren't enough to cure the hangover, even if you've been clean and sober for years.

--C.J. Janovy

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