It Takes a Thief
The old school strikes back. Coolio's bio sounds plenty contemporary--he's reportedly a former SoCal crack addict--but the occasional hardcore trappings heard on his debut disc are concessions to the marketplace, not its raison d'etre. "Fantastic Voyage," the single you've heard booming from every Toyota pickup with a monster sound system, uses a Lakeside sample as the basis for a funkadelic foray into lecherous summer fun; "Mama, I'm in Love Wit a Gangsta" is a tale of teen romance hiding behind frequent use of the word "motherfucker"; and "U Know Hoo!" is a lanky, lumbering hip-hop goof. The key track, "Ghetto Cartoon," says everything you need to know about Coolio: He realizes that he needs to project a certain toughness to attain credibility in a music scene where brain-dead posturing remains the order of the day, but deep down he just wants to get down with his bad self. Party on.--Michael Roberts
(Luaka Bop/Warner Bros.)
The first American signing to David Byrne's world-music label is a Los Angeles duo whose very originality instantly calls to mind some select comparisons. DJ and jazz acolyte Greg Kurstein layers samples and the skreeks and squeeches he produces with his guitar into a pop/hip-hop concrete that is tuneful and edgy but less consistent than the samba/funk/noise fusions of the Ambitious Lovers and Marc Anthony Thompson. Lyricist Tommy Jordan tries to keep up with the musical invention by way of an exuberantly obtuse childbirth song ("Welcome Into the World"), a decent ecology tune ("Bomb Fishing") and a collaboration with eight-year-old Elizabeth Mannshardt on a lyric about crack babies. Mostly, however, his jottings unravel over the music no matter how quirky his notions are. The mainly uncredited singing helps some: The combination of pleasant, low-register falsetto and blaring nasality generates a comic je ne sais quoi on par with, say, a duet between Smokey Robinson and Jerry Lewis. But not even They Might Be Giants could get away with singing puns as flat as those Geggy Tah attempt on the word "otter" and the phrase "peace love." And it isn't for a lack of trying.--John Young
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It's difficult to convey the corny enchantment of a Combustible Edison number without implying that the bandmembers' heads are immersed in buckets of cheese. Yet Dr. Demento this isn't: I, Swinger, Combustible Edison's smart debut album, deserves a much more generous label than common kitsch. Rather, it's kitsch for the most academic pop-culture aficionados: Call it postmodern modernism. While much of this Boston-based troupe's material smacks of nostalgia, its sensibility is pure Nineties. A case in point is "Breakfast at Denny's," a track replete with anachronistic vibraphone sequences and saucy percussion that's the aural equivalent of a Grand Slam breakfast. Other songs--including "The Millionaire's Holiday," the entertaining first single, and "Theme From `The Tiki Wonder Hour'"--will simultaneously remind you of music from such TV classics as The Munsters and the most extreme cocktail music imaginable. There's also a smashing cover of "Surabaya Johnny," which serves to demonstrate the act's range: Throughout the cut, lead singer Miss Lily Banquette comes across like a latter-day Marlene Dietrich. I, Swinger offers a bit of gaudiness grounded by dollops of class. Extreme listening pleasure, with no embarrassment.--Justin McLean
Around the Next Dream
So here's a quick history of the last quarter-century of popular music. In the late Sixties, Eric Clapton, a white, blues-obsessed guitarist, joined forces with bassist Jack Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker to form Cream, a prototypical power trio capable of producing punchy, infectious rock cuts ("Sunshine of Your Love," "Badge") and towering blues jams aided by over-the-top playing and extreme amplification. By 1970, though, the group was pretty much history. Clapton moved to Derek and the Dominos and made the best album of his career (Layla); the solo work that followed has been, to say the least, erratic. As for Bruce and Baker, they released solo albums and played in other musical configurations, but they never achieved the across-the-board success they experienced while in Clapton's company. Thus, in the Nineties, they got together with Gary Moore, a white, blues-obsessed guitarist, to form BBM, a prototypical power trio capable of producing punchy, infectious rock cuts ("Waiting in the Wings," "Where in the World") and towering blues jams aided by over-the-top playing and extreme amplification. And, by the way, the threesome sounds exactly like Cream. Which means, I suppose, that in about eight years the Bee Gees will be wearing leisure suits again.--Roberts