Obviously, Tricky isn't lacking in confidence; conceding that he's "nearly" God, as opposed to "better than" God, for instance, doesn't exactly constitute a gusher of modesty. However, Tricky earns his egotism; while Nearly God can't top his solo debut, Maxinquaye (which is among the best albums made during this decade), it remains a major work by one of the most fascinating figures on the current scene. The first two cuts, "Tattoo" (a Tricky solo effort) and "Poems" (on which he collaborates with the Specials' Terry Hall and Martine, Maxinquaye's primary voice), are dark and disturbing, filled with bottomless rhythms that add to the eerie aura. But these are hardly the only flavors that Tricky explores. "Together Now" is an edgy cut built on a heavily treated vocal by Neneh Cherry; "Keep Your Mouth Shut" is a creepy collage of sound featuring a weird turn by Bjsrk; "Make a Change" pits Alison Moyet against one of Tricky's predictably dense sonic environments; and "I Be the Prophet," "Black Coffee," "Judas" and "Children's Story" (the last a cover of a Slick Rick tune that outstrips the original) demonstrate that the Tricky/Martine team hasn't exhausted itself yet. There are moments here that feel unnecessarily sketchy--"I Sing For You," featuring Cath Coffey, is the prime example--and one gets the sense that Tricky may be holding back in anticipation of Pre-Millennium Tension, a full-fledged followup to Maxinquaye that's due this fall. But that doesn't mean Nearly God should be dismissed. In a recent interview, Tricky, with typical humility, described the recording as "a bunch of brilliant demos." Well put.
Thanks to the monumental glut of imitation Bad Religion/Green Day/Offspring dreck overstuffing the record bins these days, choosing a decent punk-pop record has become a chore akin to shopping for produce at the supermarket; you have to do a lot of poking, prodding and sniffing to get to the good stuff. Fortunately, there are a handful of new LPs out there that make the hunt worth the effort. Flash, by L.A.'s Red Five, is one such record. Certainly, the all-too-familiar punk-pop formula--hummable melodies grafted over sharp, teeth-rattling power chords--hangs over this album like a cheap suit. For example, "Space," the disc's magnetic opener, packs enough of an MTV-friendly wallop to send bubbleheaded alternative-radio programmers into Buzz Bin nirvana. Listen closely, though, and you'll find there's more to Red Five's guitar-drenched jawbreakers than an earache and a cheap sugar buzz. These sprightly punks know how to pen a song; although Fivers Jenni and Betty look like Sassy cover girls, their tongue-in-cheek odes to superficial beauty and relationships gone sour (like "In Spite of Me" and "Your Creation") leave the listener with plenty to chew on long after the initial burst of flavor is gone. More Magnapop than Pennywise, Red Five is head and shoulders above most of the mediocre crap out there. If commercially viable punk rock is your bag, give Flash a squeeze.
Laid back to its very sinews, the third album by these border rockers contains Tex-Mex rock that is exceptionally graceful rather than grittily honky-tonkin'. The guitars are airy whether strummed or picked, the singers are dryly expressive (even though they sound about as Hispanic as Jan and Dean), and every horn arrangement slips into place as sweetly as a steel-guitar chord. The lyrics are tepid--the best one is vaguely reminiscent of Marty Robbins's "El Paso"--but even if the words were better, these guys couldn't touch Los Lobos. Most likely they wouldn't bother trying.
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Supernatural Fairy Tales: The Progressive Rock Era
The folks at Rhino clearly entertain fantasies of marketing this five-CD box set to a generation unfamiliar with prog rock: Why else kick off the package's booklet with an essay/apologia in which journalist Steve Hochman tries to justify why he enjoyed "progressive" rock in the first place. (Hell, he even admits that he hardly listens to the stuff anymore.) However, a spin through these volumes suggests that while people who've never stopped worshiping prog will be thrilled by these platters, others will either be appalled or amused by their anachronisms and their humorlessness. As for me, I found the straight-faced pomposity of a great many acts lumped into this genre oddly endearing; for example, "Death Walks Behind You" by Atomic Rooster (volume 2) sounded so obviously dopey and clubfooted that I found myself wondering how on earth the musicians behind it managed not to burst out laughing mid-take. Likewise, "Karn Evil 9: 1st Impression, Parts 1 & 2" by Emerson, Lake & Palmer (volume 3) struck me as so gargantuan, so overblown, and so downright noodling that I was left feeling an odd sort of empathy for this trio of blowhards. Elsewhere on Supernatural Fairy Tales, a patient explorer can find a handful of tracks that don't require rationalization to enjoy--"Oh Yeah" by Can (volume 2); "Ladytron" (volume 3) and "Virginia Plain" (volume 4) by Roxy Music; "Mummy Was an Asteroid, Daddy Was a Small Non-Stick Kitchen Utensil" (volume 5) by Quiet Sun, a side project of Roxy guitarist Phil Manzanera; the unexpectedly zany "War" by Henry Cow/Slapp Happy (volume 5); and "Radar Love" by Golden Earring (volume 5), which really doesn't belong here but is goofy enough to get by. As for epics like "America" (the Nice's masturbatory ode to West Side Story) and "Legend of a Mind" (a Moody Blues ditty whose first line--"Timothy Leary's dead"--has finally come true), I advise purchasers to put them in a time capsule for fifty years or so. By then, they should be absolutely hilarious.