Rock-critic types have treated the release of Whip-Smart with reverence suggestive of the second coming, which in some ways is appropriate--like Exile in Guyville, Phair's slobbered-over debut, this sophomore offering doesn't skimp on the orgasms. Unfortunately, I suspect that this songwriter's focus on the various uses to which she puts her private parts has as much to do with her good notices as does her music. After all, even insecure, undersexed chauvinists can get behind the party-gal dogma espoused by this self-proclaimed blow-job queen: If Gloria Steinem promoted oral sex as an avenue toward enhanced self-knowledge, they'd be into her, too. Like Madonna's, Phair's version of feminism dovetails nicely with male fantasies and sexual objectification: She provides guilt-free erections. That said, Whip-Smart shouldn't simply be dismissed as another example of the music press building a well-spoken no-talent into a phenomenon. Phair has a sense of humor ("I'm smart as the English channels," she intones on the title cut) and a becoming musical modesty; her post-Velvets melodies and flat, Moe Tucker crooning bespeak an impatience with studio polish and showboating. She also avoids the sort of personal manifestos that we've come to expect from Sinead O'Connor, Phair's predecessor in the New Queen of Rock sweepstakes. She may tell an acquaintance that she'd be glad to take it from behind in the opening "Chopsticks," but she doesn't imply that every gal should do the same. Still, those of you Rolling Stone and Village Voice subscribers who will be expecting Whip-Smart to pop all your gaskets should know that if you don't concentrate on each song, you may very easily forget the album's even playing. Second coming, indeed.--Michael Roberts
(No. 6 Records)
Those of you who think that most of the tripe that passes for alternative music these days is as bloated, unimaginative and excessive as the music that it's supposed to be an alternative to should take a bite of this. Like Beat Happening on the West Coast and Bratmobile on the East, the gals in Austin's Pork play music that shares a great deal with the simple, honest, entertaining sounds made by the punk rockers who originally planted the seeds for this generation. Porksters Edith Casimir (drums/vocals), Mary Hattman (bass/vocals) and Dana Smith (guitar/vocals) can't really play their instruments, and they don't sing too well, either. But when the grrrrls belt out bitchin' punk-pop tunes like "Bum Magnet" and the touchingly minimalist "Bad Bad Bad," you'll find yourself in rock-and-roll heaven. If you're looking for pretty hair, slick production and antiseptic stage presence, tune into Alternative Nation. If you'd rather toss back a few beers and have a good time, run down to your local record store and pick up a copy of Strip. It's 100 percent greasy, fatty fun.--Brad Jones
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This disc finds Philly's latest favorite sons in fine fettle. As on the group's debut album, Mental Jewelry, Live lyricist/vocalist Edward Kowalczyk's preoccupation with things Catholic serves the band well here, as does the musicians' increasingly aggressive delivery. "Selling the Drama" is strong college-radio fare, and "Shit Towne" is an unexpectedly driving surprise. Likewise, Copper's ambitious opener, "The Dam at Otter Creek," reveals that the boys have been listening to Nine Inch Nails and any number of Northwestern mosh masters. Unfortunately, when Kowalczyk, who's been referred to in one rock rag as "the Barry Gibb of the Nineties," tries to sound menacing (for example, he relies heavily on the F-word throughout "Waitress"), the results fall almost laughably flat. But what the hell--at least he spares us the falsetto.--John Jesitus
To some of us, the reteaming of Robert Plant and Jimmy Page pales in importance to the re-establishment of a working relationship between Ferry and Brian Eno, architects of the early Roxy Music. That Ferry also invited former Roxy players Phil Manzanera and Andy Mackay to contribute to his latest project further raised expectations. But Mamouna is no For Your Pleasure, folks. Rather than sharpening his musical edges, Ferry remains in the forelorn lover-man territory he established on Roxy's Flesh & Blood and perfected with the early Eighties smooch classic, Avalon. The melodies are mostly extended grooves over which Ferry vocalizes romantic imagery dripping with ennui; for instance, he leads off "The 39 Steps" with the couplet "Where do we go from here/Your place or mine/What do you want from me/And is there time?" Meanwhile, Eno makes primarily sonic contributions, as on "Wildcat Days," which he co-wrote with Ferry; the number finds him layering the background with odd electronic effects, but subtly so. The result is not what you'd call revolutionary, but perhaps that's too much to expect from Ferry, a guy who's managed to keep the same few locks of hair dangling perfectly over his forehead for the past two decades. So call it another solid solo album and spin "In Every Dream Home a Heartache" next time you're feeling subversive.--Roberts