Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks
Orange Crate Art
Part two of Brian Wilson's latest comeback can't help but fall short of the expectations it raises. That's no surprise: The surviving fragments of Smile, the unreleased 1967 Beach Boys album that marked Wilson's first collaboration with Parks, don't live up to expectations, either. (How could they?) Besides, Orange Crate Art isn't really the joint project the credits imply. Wilson is essentially a hired gun--a singer at the beck and call of producer/arranger Parks, who penned or co-penned the platter's twelve tunes (Wilson does not receive a writing credit). And although Wilson's trademark approach to harmonies does come into play, those familiar with Parks's solo work will notice more of an affinity between Art and largely forgotten discs such as Song Cycle and Clang of the Yankee Reaper than between the new album and Pet Sounds. Worse, the saucy inventiveness that Parks exhibited on his best album, the should-have-been-a-hit LP Jump! (from 1984), is sacrificed in favor of a creamy, homogenous sheen that often succumbs to mere nostalgia. This approach has its up side, however. Unlike Don Was, producer of the recent Wilson documentary companion I Just Wasn't Made for These Times, Parks gets a strong vocal performance from Wilson; Brian actually hits his notes with regularity. He sounds a bit perplexed by Parks's lyrical Americana, which is notably quainter and more intellectual than Wilson's deceptively simple and instinctive rhymes, but his delivery of lines like "We would meander now hand in hand/In our Appalachian clime" (from "My Jeanine") achieve a certain novelty value that holds up to repeated spins. "Movies Is Magic," a Parks reminiscence that's far too condescending for its own good, doesn't, but it's the exception. Orange Crate Art is genial and perfectly listenable, the result of two pros plying their trade in workmanlike fashion. Too bad it's nothing more.--Michael Roberts
Lead singer W. Williams can wail up a storm around any old tune, but he's really amazing on the title track and a long-overdue cover of Paul Simon's "Mother and Child Reunion" (why Bob Marley didn't tackle it himself is a mystery). Just as important, the drum machines, bass guitar and steely sharp keyboards emanate from reggae pros Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare and Earl "Wire" Lindo, who would be easier to take for granted if their grooves weren't so unusually nervous. But for all its consistent soulfulness, Live On suffers when the material is weak. Even Motorhead couldn't make "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye" sound good, and the Souls' "What the World Needs Now" is no more tolerable than the Burt Bacharach and Hal David composition of the same name. Frankly, "Jah" is as jive a musical answer as "love, sweet love."--John Young
The Jesus and Mary Chain
Hate Rock 'N' Roll
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The gods (and fans and critics) have been appeased: The feedback has returned. After a brief foray into au courant acoustic sounds on their last project, the brothers Reid have returned to what they do best--four-chord quarter time held up by autistic drumming. "Penetration" or "Snakedriver" could have been peeled off any of several previous albums, and "Teenage Lust" actually was; this time around, however, the Honey's Dead cut is transformed by an odd, hip-hop remix. As for the breathy, blasphemous "33 1/3," it corrupts a bass line from "Take a Walk on the Wild Side" before taking Lou Reed's lyrical advice. A handful of other selections start out mellow, but only one ("New York City," which recalls Simon and Garfunkel) stays that way; the rest eventually blast off, powered by uninhibited mayhem. Some listeners may suspect that the title track is aimed at Cleveland's new Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. If so, the sarcastic rhymes and defiant lyrics hit an easy target.--Susan Dunlap
Saturday Morning: Cartoons' Greatest Hits
All right, I'm willing to grant that the concept here--modern rockers whipping through ditties associated with animated kiddie shows mainly from the Sixties and Seventies--is a crass attempt to seduce the 35-and-under crowd into paying for a flashback to the days when Quisp and Quake were an important part of a complete breakfast. I'll even admit that Saturday Morning's production, by Ralph Sall, is generally too slick and tasteful: Anyone who'd want to hear The Archie Show's "Sugar Sugar" (by Mary Lou Lord, with Semisonic) and the theme from Josie and the Pussycats (rendered by Juliana Hatfield and Tanya Donnelly) wouldn't have minded a few blown notes or studio screwballs. But what I won't do is apologize for enjoying the loopy disposability of this enterprise. After spending most of the last eighteen months listening to one guitar-slinging ennui-peddler after another bitch about Injustice and the Cosmic Unknown, I felt an unmistakable jolt hearing the Butthole Surfers charge through "Underdog," the Toadies power up "Goolie Get-Together" (from The Groovie Goolies) and Matthew Sweet pose the timeless query "Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?" Moreover, many of the artists themselves seem renewed by the opportunity to get stoopid. Even Helmet, among the most dour acts on the hard-alternative front, manages to have a little fun with "Gigantor." So, wake up, people! Because nattering nabobs of negativism are out of style! And, as the Jetsons understood, "Eep Opp Ork Ah-Ah" means "I love you."--Roberts