Thus far, this album has been reviewed more often on the basis of the bandmembers' new grunge-junkie haircuts and the act's decision to headline the worst Lollapalooza bill imaginable than it has on the merits of the music itself. But even if you exclude the aforementioned factors and concentrate on the songs, you most likely will still be left wondering why players who've displayed such consistent integrity over the years would choose to piss so much of it away. Of course, some observers date Metallica's sellout to the 1991 self-titled album kicked off by "Enter Sandman," but that's unfair; while the recording slowed down from the speed-metal tempos associated with such aural assaults as Kill 'Em All, it did so in a manner that connoted artistic growth rather than commercial calculation. Not so Load, which regularly comes closer to recapitulating generic Seventies hard rock than anything churned out by Stone Temple Pilots. Probably the biggest shock here is the Joe Walsh-style wah-wah guitar that sits atop "The House That Jack Built" like a mood ring, but it's hardly the only one. "2 X 4" is, of all things, a ZZ Top knockoff; the hit single "Until It Sleeps" at times comes closer to a power ballad than anything on Steve Perry's last solo album; and "Cure" emphasizes a dopey boogie riff that suggests James Hetland shaking his keester and yelling, "Hello, Cleveland!" The disc isn't unlistenable--producer Bob Rock makes certain of that--and a few of the cuts eventually imbed themselves in your cranium whether you want them there or not. But Metallica is too good a band to deserve praise for delivering a decent but predictable piece of product. No one's asking these guys to go down with the heavy-metal ship like Anthrax and other riff-loving unfortunates. But no one's asking them to ape Frank Marino & Mahogany Rush, either.

--Michael Roberts

Peter Tosh
The Toughest

There's either a shortage of names or a shortage of creativity when it comes to naming Peter Tosh albums; his excellent 1988 Capitol compilation has the same title as Heartbeat's latest. This Toughest, divided into two sections, chronicles Tosh's early years with the Wailers, the Upsetters and the Skatalites, thereby providing collectors with a nearly complete picture of his work for legendary producers Clement "Coxsone" Dodd and Lee Perry, who did much to shape his early career. Fans will recognize early versions of such hits as "Maga Dog" and "The Toughest," as well as a rare run-through of "Downpresser" and two variations on "Secondhand." While none of the songs are as polished or professional as the takes that appear on the first Toughest (still following?), they are notable, if for no other reason than that they feature Bob Marley in the unusual role of backup singer. As a result, aficionados will undoubtedly treasure this addition to the Tosh catalogue--but novices who wish to learn more about the reggae master might be better advised to wait for a new Tosh boxed set that's slated for release later this year. I can't imagine what they'll call it.

--Joshua Green

Ini Kamoze
Lyrical Gangsta

Kamoze has always been one of the artiest of reggae singers--and not only because he's also an author/playwright who favors dramatic, synth-heavy rhythm arrangements. Rather, the particulars of his aesthetic are informed by sarcasm; if drugs meant anything to him, you could compare his wryness to Lou Reed's. The hit title track on the compilation Here Comes the Hotstepper underlines this assertion; with a voice as thin, tough and sharp as chicken wire, Kamoze confidently concocts a witty blend of reggae, hip-hop and dub that still works as pop. Lyrical Gangsta, by contrast, is meant to prove that he hasn't sold out. It's filled with drum machines, chants, cop-baiting and deep, echoing keyboards. But the album is a Pyrrhic victory. Although the music is okay and the lyrics are amusing, a dozen rewrites of "Hotstepper" would have been more welcome.

--John Young

Vernon Reid
Mistaken Identity
(550 Music/Epic)

It's no surprise that the Sony music juggernaut is letting this baby die a quick death; after all, Mistaken Identity is far too imaginative and uncategorizable to market like a Cheez Doodle. Although Reid is known primarily for his work with Living Colour, a band that was never quite as good as it should have been, he also contributed to a series of breathtakingly innovative jazz-funk throw-downs produced by the criminally overlooked group Ronald Shannon Jackson and the Decoding Society. (The adventurous among you should immediately seek out 1982's Mandance and 1983's Barbecue Dog, both issued by Antilles.) Identity occasionally calls these efforts to mind, at least in terms of its bravery, but it also demonstrates Reid's unquenchable thirst for the new and the exciting. Take, for instance, "You Say He's Just a Psychic Friend": The free-flowing track intermingles Reid's elastic guitar, a persuasive rap courtesy of Chubb Rock, an offhand clarinet squiggle by key contributor Don Byron, and a potpourri of spoken-word samples that come out of nowhere but somehow make perfect sense. Co-producers Prince Paul (of De La Soul fame) and Teo Macero (a veteran jazzbo whose credits include Miles Davis's brilliant On the Corner) find a creative middle ground that few would have thought existed; the soundscape they establish is expansive yet coherent. Reid, meanwhile, proves via "Lightnin'," "My Last Nerve" and the rest that there's virtually nothing he can't do with a guitar. He may never again be given this much freedom to go anywhere and do anything--not by a major label, anyhow. Praise the heavens that he didn't let this opportunity pass him by.



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