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Ol' Dirty Bastard, Richmond Fontaine, Basement Jaxx, Barbra Streisand

Ol' Dirty Bastard
N****A Please
(Elektra)

"This ain't no commercial song," yelps everyone's favorite Bastard on "Recognize [237K aiff]," the lead track here, and the same holds true for the disc as a whole. Rather, it's a trip to an insane asylum, with ODB as your willing -- and highly entertaining -- tour guide.

There are plenty of heavy hitters on N****A Please, including RZA, ODB's Wu-Tang Clan cohort, but that doesn't mean anyone's playing it safe. Far from it: The entire enterprise smacks of drug-fueled spontaneity. Take "I Can't Wait," in which: 1) The show's star greets Miami and California before busting into a fevered chant of "Big baby Jesus/I can't wait/Nigga fuck that/I can't wait"; 2) An obviously well-informed woman calls the rapper "a fuckin' nut case"; 3) The song comes to a grinding halt at its midpoint before picking up in the same place a moment later; and 4) Our hero gives shout-outs to Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eskimos, submarines, all four branches of the armed services, the women and babies of the world, himself and the Brooklyn Zoo. There's also a completely twisted rendition of Rick James's "Cold Blooded" (ODB kindly thanks James for letting him cover it), plus "Got Your Money" (featuring the strangely logical couplet "I don't have no trouble with you fucking me/But I have a little problem with you not fucking me"), " Rollin' Wit You," which warns "y'all colored, bitch-ass, faggot, punk-ass motherfuckers" that "these white people tryin' to take over your shit," and "You Don't Want to Fuck With Me," a title that ODB wants all the ladies in the house to know doesn't apply to them. "I don't answer phones! I'll never reveal the Wu-Tang secrets!" he declares in the last tune, as if anyone could understand what on earth he's babbling about in the first place.

Those eager to be offended will be more than satisfied by "I Want Pussy," a ditty that finds ODB repeatedly singing the line "I want pussy...for free" like someone who's just discovered a secret stash of nitrous oxide. But his approach is so unbelievably loopy that most people will be laughing too hard to e-mail any complaints to Tipper Gore. N****A Please may be the least disciplined, most blatantly wacky hip-hop disc ever put out by a major label, and that's precisely what's good about it. Pray that ODB stays out of jail long enough to make another one just like it. -- Michael Roberts

Richmond Fontaine
Lost Son
(Cavity Search)

Though the members of Richmond Fontaine eschew being grouped with other alternative-country bands, were you to place them there anyway, they'd certainly rank among the better ones. The Portland, Oregon, outfit (scheduled to play Tulagi in Boulder on Thursday, October 14, and the 15th Street Tavern on Friday, October 15) makes music that sharply recalls No Depression-era Uncle Tupelo (perhaps the greatest alt-country band, but one that didn't like the label, either). Like that fabled album, the music on Lost Son alternates with equal success between wistful country laments and a brand of punk tinged with pedal steel that's brimming with frustration and small-town alienation. It's no accident that the eleven tracks have the feel of self-contained short stories: The name Richmond Fontaine comes from a character in lead singer Willy Vlautin's fiction, which, if it's anything like the band's music, tends toward the darkly themed, slice-of-life realism of Raymond Carver. Each of these songs features as a protagonist the sort of guy with bad luck and shaky hands who's destined for misfortune ("Pinkerton," "Muddy Conscience") and frequently finds it ("Cascade"). In fact, Lost Sonevokes an overall bleakness that is fabulously matched by Vlautin's thin croak of a voice. If that sounds less than compelling, it isn't. This approach first worked beautifully in "Give Me Time," the standout track from Fontaine's last album, Miles From, and a certified underground classic. It's ably matched here by "Contrails" and much of Lost Son. Vlautin's litany of woe is accompanied throughout by flourishes of pedal steel, which are by turns yearning and wistful and add an intoxicating element to the ragged, plainspokenness of Vlautin's lyrics. They flesh out the sound and add depth to these sorrowful tales. To seize on a metaphor, you might think of them as the subtext in a good work of fiction. -- Joshua Green

Basement Jaxx
Remedy
(Astralwerks/XL Recordings)

Basement Jaxx are part of a new breed of house musicians -- those ready to capitalize on radio's sudden willingness to explore a new genre. Radio has recently budged a fraction of a millimeter to accommodate a style of music that was never meant to be heard over the airwaves -- or in any context but a late-night, fucked-up-in-a-dark-hot-stinky-room-with-a-lot-of- people-equally-out-of-their-heads experience. Yet the bulk of the mainstream radio audience still demands an accessible sound to wrap its ears around, rather than the transitory and ethereal experience that represents house music at its finest. It takes a special intelligence to be able to straddle both worlds, and Basement Jaxx have it. They are house musicians who are ready to become rock stars. And if that sounds like an insult or a backhanded compliment, it isn't. It takes guts to try to be a pop star, and the Basement Jaxx couldn't pull it off if they weren't good.

Like many of their rave-era compatriots who are getting some radio-play, Basement Jaxx are equipped with rock-and-roll minds in a house-music time. Though they obviously love the sound and feel of pure stream-of-rhythm, they know how to put together those elements so beloved by anyone who grew up listening to pop music, rather than succumbing to the anonymity that is house's hallmark. Like great rock and roll, funk, punk, disco, rap and a dozen other pop genres before it, Basement Jaxx's house music takes catchy (albeit minimal) melodies, rhythms you can't help but move to if you've got ears and an ass. Add a fair helping of noise to ward off those who don't quite know how to have fun with it, and you've got a record that is solid all the way through. The wonderfully irritating synths of "Don't Give Up," the rising, patois-heavy vocals over the record's choppiest beats on "Jump N' Shout," and the stuttered, distorted refrain of "Yo-Yo," (in contrast to the fuller, radio-friendly vocal lines of "Red Alert") make these cuts hold up best. Principal songwriters Ratcliffe and Buxton, though, have ensured that every track, interludes excepted, have something that sticks in the mind, from the Selecter sample that hooks "Same Old Show" to the Latinized horns, piano and percussion of "Bingo Bango." As is usual in the genre, the lyrics here center around dancing, love, hedonism and other less interesting stuff, but if you're tuning in to house music for the lyrics rather than the pure audio and physical sensations, you still haven't figured out what it's about. This is music for dancing -- disco for a new time. And the best disco out now, Remedy included, will hold up as well as a great Gamble & Huff song in the long run. -- Patrick Brown

Barbra Streisand
A Love Like Ours
(Columbia)

If Babs wants to let James Brolin diddle her, that's fine by me: A happy Barbra means the world is a safer place. But sitting through over 51 minutes' worth of noxious songs dedicated to a guy whose crowning cinematic moment was portraying Pee-wee Herman in the film-within-a-film of Pee-wee's Big Adventure was among the most torturous experiences of my life. Spending several years on a chain gang would probably be worse, but only just.

Where to start? The overly generous collection of photos showing Jimmy and Our Girl positively gloating about their perfect match? The way Streisand manages to turn the deft " Isn't it a Pity?," from the pens of George and Ira Gershwin, into a slow slog through a molasses river? " The Island," a tune so goopy that even guest saxophonist Kenny G doesn't deserve it? " If You Ever Leave Me," in which poor Vince Gill is forced to serve as Brolin's surrogate? Or how about "Just One Lifetime," which seems to last for several?

Then again, maybe this album is worth owning after all: When these two get the inevitable Hollywood divorce, A Love Like Ours will be even funnier than it already is. -- Roberts Filter
Title of Record
(Reprise Records)

Richard Patrick, a former member of Nine Inch Nails' touring band, did well with his first full-length, Short Bus, a couple of years ago, but he's done little -- good or bad -- to break from the shadow of Trent Reznor. Until now. On his new release, he completely ignores his musical past and badly stumbles across the industrial low ground already trampled to death by the likes of Orgy and Gravity Kills. While disregarding thought-provoking lyrics and intelligent music, Patrick creates a woefully safe industrial record, seemingly intended for the backward-baseball-cap-wearing youth of America as much as the neo-goth types he purports to represent. Impending doom should have been recognized the moment the prerequisite "Band-all-dressed-in-black-looking-industrial" picture was spotted in the inlay.

Things start out tolerably with the crunchy "Welcome To The Fold [300K aiff]," until the chorus enters a minute or so later: "You just gotta sit yourself down to contemplate/You get yourself a nice cold beer and drink yourself away." Though the marriage of drinking to excess and rock became passé when Bon Scott choked on his own vomit, when Patrick breaks out his industrial music cookie cutter, no rock cliche is left untouched. Things only get worse as each of the first three songs follows an entirely predictable continuum of rhythm-guitar-into-drum-beat followed by spoken-lyrics-to-a-big-rock-riff and Patrick's screaming yowl. By the time the opening bass line to the very Garbage-esque "The Best Things [292K aiff]" rumbles through, one will inevitably pine for the days of "Hey Man, Nice Shot."

Smacking of misplaced self-importance throughout, the last half of this release puts the finishing touches on a horrific car wreck of a recording as Patrick oscillates between two main principals. The first is bad-Eighties-hair-band power ballads complete with acoustic guitars and self-pitying juvenile singsong lyrics such as "Do you think I should watch you die/Should we close our eyes and say goodbye," from " Miss Blue [298K aiff]." The second is the now-common "Soft, Loud, Soft, Loud" approach popularized by bands such as the Smashing Pumpkins in the early to mid-Nineties. By the end of this ordeal, it appears Title of Record might have been more appropriately named Blueprint for Failure, as this sonic suppository functions best as an example of how not to make a record. -- Sean McDonald

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