Sinead O'Connor
Universal Mother

This album is so incredibly bad that it's actually something of an achievement. O'Connor is a performer known for wearing her heart on her sleeve, but on Universal Mother, her heart's everywhere--and a frighteningly self-pitying organ it is. Hardly a song goes by without her either feeling sorry for herself or building a monument to her pain; "I'm not no red football/To be kicked around the garden/No, no/I'm a red Christmas-tree ball/And I'm fragile," from "Red Football," is an all-too-familiar example. So damaged does she feel that she only rarely manages to deliver a tune above a whisper; she mewls a lullaby ("My Darling Child") in which she refers to Junior as "me lovely babby," "me little lamby" and "me little puppy") just prior to turning Kurt Cobain's "All Apologies" into a mopey whine. "Famine," a hectoring pseudo-rap about Ireland that quotes "Eleanor Rigby" (Paul McCartney's most desperate tearjerker), isn't a very good song, either, but the mere fact that it includes a backbeat seems cause for celebration on a recording dominated by musical stasis and the lachrymose sentiments found in appropriately titled numbers such as "Tiny Grief Song" and "Thank You for Hearing Me." Dr. Joyce Brothers would no doubt applaud Sinead for expressing her deepest hurts so nakedly, but that doesn't mean she'd listen to this disc more than once.--Michael Roberts

Everyone's Got One

Enough with the rioting already: Echobelly proves that female musicians don't need to wear combat boots with their baby-doll dresses to make a point. Lead vocalist Sonya Aurora Madan's singing occupies a territory somewhere between Blondie and the Primitives, and her songwriting is as angry as it is sexy. "Father, Ruler, King, Computer," an appropriate theme/anthem for women across the globe, "Give Her a Gun," a sweet plea for equality, and the sensual "Bellyache" demonstrate her acuity. Just as important, the sounds made by this band's multiethnic musicians (guitarist/musical director/former porn-mag publisher Glenn Johansson, guitarist/token black lesbian Debbie Smith, bassist Alex Keyser and drummer Andy Henderson) perfectly suit Madan's eroticism. Since anything goes with this group, it's appropriate that a track called "Scream" ends the disc. Take that however you wish.--Susan Dunlap

Various Artists
Woodstock Diary

So record execs just found an entire album's worth of unreleased tracks recorded at the original 1969 Woodstock festival. Can you believe it? What an incredibly lucky break for all of us.--Roberts

Dinosaur Jr.
Without a Sound

"Same Old, Say Mold" may be the title of a song written by ex-Dinosaur Jr. bassist/current member of Sebadoh Lou Barlow, but the phrase also describes the status of Barlow's old band. With this recording, the group's sixth full-length offering, leader J Mascis offers nothing new. For his followup to Where You Been, a great, huge monster of an album, Mascis fails to expand on the themes and styles he perfected on that release. Rather, he shovels out B-side-quality songs built on half-baked riffs and his patented Elmer Fudd-like whine. Even his guitar solos, which are usually orgasmic in scope, seem limp in comparison to his previous fretwork. Two acoustic tracks ("Outta Hand" and "Seemed Like the Thing to Do") and the Dino standards "Feel the Pain" (the first single) and "Grab It" shine brightly, but they do so against the backdrop of a dull, familiar landscape of sound. Too bad.--Michael Behrenhausen

Frankie Paul
Hard Work

Perhaps it's because the dance-hall style has all but taken over the reggae world that Hard Work sounds so fresh. Had the album reached stores during the Seventies, it likely would have been lost in the shuffle. But today, this blend of reggae, pop and soul (presented with subtle dub effects and an air of authenticity that prevent it from sliding too close to Inner Circle stylistics) serves as a reminder of just how warm and heartfelt this genre can be. Paul, a blind multi-instrumentalist whose popularity in Jamaica and Great Britain has not been duplicated here, can be treacly; lyrically, "Everlasting Love" and "Heaven" are not going to cause craggier wordsmiths any sleepless nights. Still, the modest, skanking groove achieved by producer Tappa Zukie and Paul's rich croon push even these cuts into the listenable category. Paul has nothing new to say, but that can come as a relief sometimes, right?--Roberts


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