The Sound of Music by Pizzicato Five
Self-conscious camp is a volatile commodity. If practitioners of same spend too much time winking at their audience, they wind up as more intellectual versions of "Weird" Al Yankovic (and we all know how sought-after that distinction is). But a deadpan presentation carries a risk, too: Listeners unable to distinguish faux-shlock from the real thing will toss it in the dustbin alongside its model. So credit the Pizzicato Five, a loungey/clubby Tokyo act operated by Maki Nomiya and Yasuharu Konishi, for maintaining an adequate balance between these extremes for the majority of Sound. The combo uses the language barrier to its best advantage. English versions of the disco flashback "The Night Is Still Young" and the psychedelic bubblegum-meets-the-Fifth Dimension tone of "Groovy Is My Name" might seem merely silly to Western ears, but the renditions here, executed by Nomiya in the Japanese tongue, come across as triumphantly silly--an approximation of American pop culture as seen through the prism of a society that prizes its most embarrassing aspects. The primary attempt to seduce domestic listeners is "Happy Sad," easily the weakest track: The background vocals, impishly ripped off from the Friends of Distinction's 1969 hit "Grazing in the Grass," add some tang, but the English lines ("My heart just belongs to you/My moody blues could stay or go away") are either too banal or not banal enough--I'm not sure which. Furthermore, they're entirely unnecessary, as demonstrated by "Sophisticated Catchy," a tune whose lyrics consist entirely of the word "catchy" repeated over and over again. Sure, it says nothing, but the nothing it says is more than enough in this context. Whatever the hell "this context" is.--Michael Roberts
It's tempting to write Jawbreaker off as another punk-pop snack, heavy with attitude and noise but light on originality and maturity. But this Bay Area band has more going for it than that. There's its D.C.-like sense of rhythm--all drive, crash and precision. There's its subtle way with hooks--a method that doesn't leave a bad taste after repeated listenings, as do the over-the-top, sugarcoated ditties of many of Jawbreaker's better-known peers. And finally, there's Blake Schwarzenbach's lyrics, which are actually worth singing. On "Fireman," he tells a former lover, "Dreamed I was a dream/I stole you away in your sleep/Saved you from a fire, a gun for hire/I introduced you to a vampire." Later, on the anti-suburban spiel "Lurker II: Dark Son of Night," he sings, "I stopped talking to hear the pins drop/I'm in the back room so I won't hear you knock." And on "Bad Scene, Everyone's Fault," he traffics in the kind of self-conscious references that flop in less-honest hands: "So we went into the living room/Someone was blasting Zeppelin/It sounded good, I felt ashamed/ I knew every drum fill." Literary? Maybe not--but solid storytelling can make good guitar work sound a whole lot better.--Steve Boland
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Young, Rich and Dangerous
Not for long.--Roberts
Texas on My Mind
A lot of people dismiss the blues as black music for white people, and maybe there's something to that: B.B. King has conceded to interviewers that he hasn't played before a primarily African-American audience since Lucille was a young guitar. But that doesn't mean the music is necessarily compromised--not when someone as crusty and bona fide as Harris is delivering it, anyway. A seventy-year-old who had a few minor hits in the late Forties and early Fifties, Harris comes to the microphone with his rough edges sticking up like pieces of broken glass and an attitude ornery enough to scare the bejeezus out of most hellraisers his junior. There's a sophistication to his arrangements--"Baby Don't Tear My Clothes" twists and turns in an intriguing way--but he's also a man who trusts spontaneity: "Ain't No Business We Can Do," for instance, consists primarily of a nasty acoustic-blues riff over which Harris babbles about finding a fine old woman with whom to fool around ("Play something on that E string," he says at one point. "That's what makes me frisky"). Some may find palaver like this quaint, but Harris is too certifiable a character to be dismissed so cavalierly. Besides, his sense of humor is more than acute enough to prevent him from drifting into stereotype. He is what he is, and since what he is sounds very, very fine, nothing else should matter. After all, authenticity comes in more than two colors.--Roberts