Brian Wilson
I Just Wasn't Made for These Times

In his liner notes, producer Don Was writes, "When we started to mess around in the studio, it became clear that [Wilson] was capable of making a record every bit as complex and beautiful as Pet Sounds whenever he felt like it." That Wilson hasn't done so in the nearly three decades since Pet's bow certainly undermines this contention--and so does the programming of this CD, which eschews groundbreaking new material in favor of rerecorded Beach Boys favorites such as "The Warmth of the Sun." But while the project isn't the rousing comeback that we Wilson aficionados realize we'll probably never hear, it evokes a sense of poignance that's impossible to deny. Yes, Wilson was brilliant, and when he finds himself in the middle of something as pop-perfect as "Caroline, No," he knows that if he hits the notes perfectly and projects the brand of innocence he once exuded so naturally, he can take people into a fantastic galaxy of his own imagining. So he tries, his voice shaky, his pitch uncertain, his enthusiasm undimmed--and even though the results are extremely erratic, the mere fact of his attempt is as brave as it is heartbreaking. I Just Wasn't Made for These Times is the sound of a genius on the wane--of a man trying to hit the heights he used to strike routinely and failing proudly. That's what makes it beautiful.--Michael Roberts

Lucky Dube

Dube's good intentions are A-OK with me--his desire to get to know his white South African countrymen comes across as hopeful (not wimpy), because apartheid's preconceptions may eventually give way to a promising reality and, perhaps, even an economy that won't require affirmative action to help its majority get by. Of course, Dube's eyes remain open: He points out that the "Puppet Masters" and police who hate theft because they can't stand competition look to the same God for prosperity as he does for mere survival. There's also "You Got No Right," a painfully honest message to an abandoned child. Too bad the reggae here grinds so fine--Dube hits his falsetto stride on "Big Boys Don't Cry," but even with nice guitar/keyboard hooks and dub touches, the musicians never quite take flight with him. It's as if Dube is the only guy on the album with any intentions at all.--John Young

Th' Faith Healers
(Too Pure/American)

Most of the bands stoking the commercial breakthrough of punk rock have earned their stripes by aping the sounds of half a generation ago--and while the style still sounds pretty damn good, it's not what you'd call jarringly original. By contrast, the four English noisemakers behind Th' Faith Healers do something different: They use the influence of seminal punk as a jumping-off point for their own perverse, distinctive style. Such a tack shouldn't seem all that revolutionary. But in the present musical climate, a tune like "Delores," which finds guitarist Tom, drummer Joe, bassist Ben and vocalist Roxanne (no last names in this crowd) creating an alluringly caustic blitzkrieg for over seven ecstatic minutes, feels ever so much more bracing than yet another three-minutes-and-a-cloud-of-dust ditty. This collection of European singles can't be classified as easy listening; "Slag," in particular, is an aggressively Sabbathy dronefest that might make even Ozzy Osbourne balk. But for those with a strong constitution and a dislike of the same old thing, L' is good for what ails you.--Roberts

Thurston Moore
Psychic Hearts

Thurston Moore is an enigma. The longtime leader of New York noise legend Sonic Youth, he's evolved from an avant-garde practitioner of dissonance and chaos into a modern-rock spokesman who hangs with other famous people, hosts MTV's 120 Minutes, headlines Lollapalooza and makes music that's melodic and tuneful. On paper he's a sellout. But as this, his first solo album, makes clear, that's far from true. In fact, Moore has managed to hold on to both his credibility and his smarts even while extolling the virtues of Yoko Ono (on "Ono Soul"). This record is, in several respects, a continuation of the last few SY releases: Every song's got more straightahead riffs than, say, the entirety of EVOL. Youth drummer Steve Shelley brings that familiar driv- ing backbeat, too, but Moore stakes out his own turf; his guitar work, which ranges from minimalist punk to somber noodling, is way out front. His production is sparse when necessary, hectic and dense at other times. As for his lyrics, his pose mainly involves the kids (they're alright) and Seventies low culture. Probably the most telling track is the twenty-minute closer, "Elegy for All the Dead Rock Stars," which is long, pretentious, repetitive and...successful. Like the rest of the album, it works as a mix of rock and roll, punk, atmosphere and high art. And that's appropriate--while Moore's face has been plastered all over the mainstream lately, he still stands firmly on alternative ground.--Steve Boland


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