Playlist

Johnny Dowd, Dublin to Dakar, Afro-Celt Sound System, Andrea Bocelli, The Beautiful South

Andrea Bocelli
Sogno
(Polydor)

Warning, females: Any dude who invites you back to his place for a nightcap and then spins this collection of pop opera, mock opera and -- in the case of "The Prayer," a duet with Celine Dion -- shlock opera is up to no good. React to it as you would if you'd just found a bottle of date-rape pills next to the bar. Get out. Get out now! -- Michael Roberts

The Beautiful South
Quench
(Mercury)

It's great when a wayward friend finally decides to clean up his act, check in to rehab and start taking it one day at a time. You're happy for him, of course, but if you're really honest, you'll admit you miss the old days. No more bar-hopping, no more beer-fueled bonding -- just lots of talk about his "higher power." Beautiful South's Quench is sort of like that. On the surface, everything seems to be as it's always been: rotten, bitter and twisted, but wrapped in a coating of sweetness and light, according to the band's trusty formula. With the spry music of composer David Rotheray, ex-Housemartin Paul Heaton inserts his darkly comic tales of murder, domestic violence, prostitution, cheap pop sentimentality and, most splendidly, alcoholism into melodies so lovely that fans take devilish delight when casual listeners mistake the band for inoffensive soft-rockers. On this release, though, Heaton really does seem to have gone soft. Quench deals frequently with battling the bottle (hence its title) but often doesn't satisfy. On "Look What I Found in My Beer," for example, Heaton sings of finding his spiritual side: "Look what I found in drums/A lifelong beat and replacement to the rum/Look what I found in the mic/An end to screwed-up drinking and a Paul I actually like." Bully for him, but what about us? Listeners always counted on Heaton to provide an antidote to pop psychology's "60 Minutes to Higher Self-Esteem" bullshit. Even when Quench sounds naughty, it often isn't. Heaton's ode to fat chicks and little dicks, "Perfect 10," while as catchy as anything else the band has done, is nothing but Barney the Dinosaur's "I Love You" for the singles bar. It's not that the album is necessarily bland -- it has a fun song about suicide and a wonderfully nasty duet in which Mom and Pop tell Kiddie conflicting details about his drunken conception. It's just that, for the most part, Quench takes away the pleasure of being Heaton's enabler. -- Chris LaMorte

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