Portrait of an American Family
If this is a legitimate effort to piss people off, it's a failure: Although borrowing pseudonyms from serial killers (bandmembers here include Daisy Berkowitz, Madonna Wayne Gacy and Twiggy Ramirez) may upset a certain percentage of elderly schoolteachers, the rest of us find Pat Buchanan a lot scarier. But as a dopey gimmick, Portrait of an American Family is the most entertaining musical mess since Gene Simmons decided to take a more subtle approach to makeup. Thanks to the contributions of Trent Reznor, who--warning!--actually may think this stuff says something, Marilyn Manson achieves an edgy/junky style that's relentless enough to satisfy the noise addicts among us, yet as structurally sound as the very pop music the group is trying its best to pretend it's not making. On tracks such as "Get Your Gunn" and "My Monkey" (the latter features lead vocals by a five-year-old boy), Marilyn Manson is to this genre what My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult is to modern disco. Which is to say that it's fun so long as it's not taken seriously for a single minute.--Michael Roberts
The Lady Wants to Know
The career of this Dutch/Egyptian vocalist has been filled with contradictions. She first came to public attention during the Seventies with Terra, a wholesome pop group reminiscent of Abba. By the Eighties Fygi was fronting a lingerie-clad trio that was little more than a copy of the Prince spinoff Vanity 6. Then, in 1993, she made Bewitched, an album that cast her as a fresh, modern jazz singer whose style sounded like a blend of Sade's and Anita O'Day's. For her second Verve Forecast release, Fygi's joined by guest artists Toots Thielemans, Clark Terry and Michael Franks, who duets with her on his own "Tell Me All About It" (Franks also penned the title tune, which contains some of the dumbest lyrics this side of idiot rhymes). The recording as a whole is lush, its every corner filled with accents and adornments. Fygi clearly chose her material carefully and proves that she can handle bossa nova, show tunes and adult-contemptible selections. Unfortunately, The Lady Wants to Know wears thin quite quickly. Only faux sophisticates are likely to find it appealing.--Linda Gruno
Forrest Gump: The Soundtrack
This two-CD set traces the music of an era, moving from the great sounds of the Fifties and Sixties (Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, the Four Tops, the Doors) to, well, the Fifth Dimension and Lynyrd Skynyrd. The picture portrays Forrest as a bit dense, but I'll bet he could have won a duel of wits with most record-company executives.--Roberts
The Dark Ride
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Throughout his solo work and his stints in Fairport Convention and Matthews Southern Comfort, Matthews has worn his guts on his sleeve. Whether he's singing his own songs or interpreting others' compositions, he has proven skillful at injecting just the right amount of plaintive angst into the lyrics he delivers. His vocal approach whines its way into his listeners' psyches. Still, Matthews's work is hardly easy listening: Even those of us who love it can't take too much of it at one sitting. The Dark Ride illustrates this point. The album finds Matthews at the pinnacle of his peculiar form, but the material is so heart-shreddingly honest that even the most masochistic of his followers may find it tough to take. Fortunately, Matthews manages to balance his confessional folkiness with classic, smooth-talking sensuality. But, as usual, he manages to produce only a handful of thrilling songs. The remaining tunes constitute soggy filler.--Gruno
From the look of Miss Lavelle, you'd guess that her voice would sound as old and shriveled as a mound of raisins left too long in the box. But, no: White, a Duke Records signee who had a series of regional hits between 1958 and 1964, has a voice that's smooth, robust and surprisingly sensual. Those who know and love Lou Ann Barton's rendition of White's "Stop These Teardrops" (included on Old Enough, which Barton made in 1982) no doubt will be inspired by the version included here. But the song is only one of many beautiful R&B moments, delivered in a style that merges Texas blues with supper-club soul. She's one bitchin' grandma.--Roberts