Based on the two shows I've seen him perform, Beck Hansen probably isn't the worst performer in the history of popular music, but he's certainly in the top ten. Damn it if the little squirt hasn't made a pretty decent album, though. His major-label debut, Mellow Gold, was an amusing affront--a slapdash hodgepodge seemingly designed to punish Geffen for touting its lead single, "Loser," as an aural T-shirt that should have been worn by an entire sub-generation of underachievers. This time around, however, Beck has been uncool enough to put some effort into a followup, and the combination of his plugged-in performances and studio tinkering by the production team known as the Dust Brothers results in a recording in which the performer's various musical predilections cohere, not clash. Whereas his previous efforts to underline his folk roots generally consisted of acoustic drones that fairly screamed "pretentious," "Lord Only Knows" is actually tuneful enough to make his Dylan rips ("You've only got one finger left/And it's pointing at the door") seem more like tributes than larceny. Better yet, he finds musical means that complement his absurdism; "The New Pollution," for example, is introduced by a vocal riff straight out of Martin Denny, then devolves into a goofy space groove sprinkled with saxophone noodling and keyboards of the sort that were sold at Montgomery Ward circa 1968. The arrangements don't always overflow with originality--the familiar but ultra-enjoyable "Where It's At" pretty much reprises the Beastie Boys circa Paul's Boutique. But in his borrowings, Beck displays taste he had not previously exhibited; inviting Charlie Haden to contribute his bass expertise to "Ramshackle" is only one of the many wise steps he takes here. Odelay isn't going to convince anyone that Beck is the savior of modern music, but it provides a fine argument for shackling this boy to a mixing board for the rest of his natural life.
Truth From Lies
At last, a lesbian folk singer who doesn't feel the need to tattoo the word "dyke" across her forehead to call attention to her music. Conclude what you like from Ms. Curtis's close-cropped cover photo: It's for how she sounds, not with whom she sleeps, that this artist deserves to be known. Her voice is thoroughly unspectacular, yet it manages to convey both a Shawn Colvin-esque girlishness and hints of Lucinda Williams's wistfulness, often in the same phrase. Likewise, her songwriting displays a clean, sparse lyrical style that, rather than overwhelming listeners with self-indulgent autobiographical detail, is likely to leave them wanting more. The strongest songs here are the almost-rocking "Silhouette," which lays bare romantic insecurities in language that people of all persuasions can appreciate, and "Everybody Was Dancing," a deft expose of an older woman's marital malaise that offers neither a pat solution nor a happy ending. Naturally, Curtis's sensitive portrayals of domestic abuse and emotional abandonment will be soundly ignored outside the VH1 demographic, but what the hell. If a secret's this good, why share it with everyone?
It says "George Michael" on the back cover. So why is there a Sade album inside?
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Porno for Pyros
Good God's Urge
Perry Farrell's work since his Jane's Addiction days has been spotty at best. The screeching-baby vocal delivery and childish histrionics--this is a guy known for wearing nothing but glow-in-the-dark paint during concerts--could be overlooked on the first Pyros album because the debut had some decent material to offer. By contrast, Good God's Urge is bland, self-indulgent and about as much fun to listen to as Dom DeLuise's abdominal tract after a visit to an all-you-can-eat chili cookoff. Farrell's well-chronicled drug use has clearly taken its toll, but neither that nor the visionary, Buddha-on-the-mountain persona he's recently adopted excuse him from producing material that's this weak. Just about every song here is listless, rambling and filled with the sort of ambient fuzz that wasn't interesting even when it was novel; only the single "Tahitian Moon" exhibits much energy. As for Farrell's lyrics, they consist of garbled, chemically induced "insights" and beyond-stupid lines like "You thought you were Jesus/But you find out you're the anti-Christ." The song from which that couplet springs--"Thick of It All"--is Urge's worst, but things aren't much better elsewhere. Still, the album does convey a few useful pieces of information: Farrell is weird, he needs help, and his new music sucks.