Barry Adamson
As Above, So Below

With this disc, the criminally underrated Adamson takes a risky plunge off his ivory tower of instrumental ambience. This composer, arranger and multi-instrumentalist has compiled a decade-long discography as emotive as anything produced by the planet's foremost musical anti-heroes, yet the verbal explorations of the psyche found here are a departure for him--a move that might betray the integrity of a lesser artist's craft. But because he's also a lyricist and vocalist with a penchant for visceral, visual atmospheres, Adamson expands his scope with such aplomb that you'd think he flies around town wearing a cape.

Adamson is best known for the bass-playing that propelled the seminal new-wave/punk act Magazine, and he subsequently served as a member of Nick Cave's Bad Seeds. Later he began to cultivate a filmic idiosyncrasy that ultimately led to some noteworthy movie gigs: He produced all or part of the scores for Delusion, Gas, Food, Lodging and David Lynch's Lost Highway. But Adamson has also created soundtracks to flicks that exist in only his--and each listener's--mind. The result is what he calls an "unconscious trilogy"--Moss Side Story (1989), Soul Murder (1992) and Oedipus Schmoedipus (1996)--that develops themes rather than presents mere compilations of unrelated songs. Adamson uses this format so admirably that one hardly notices the hard turns of genre he executes.

On Adamson's latest, he knowingly leads us through a wide range of escapades: sly, vibe-filled lounge scenes, high-speed Hammond organ adventures, trip-hop flashbacks, soulful morality plays, devilishly adamant hardcore raps, cool minimalist interludes, noisy dead ends and hellish swing narratives. He's more than up to the challenges presented by this variety shop of melodious drama, and his singing exhibits an impressive number of tones, moods and styles. While assuming countless identities amid the samples and overdubs, Adamson searches among his multiple personalities in a redemptive passion play. His lighter side comes out during "Jazz Devil," in which he jives, "But first I found some cats and they were howling at the moon/I told 'em, 'You play the instruments and I'll play the baffoon.'" But darkness intrudes as well: On "Can't Get Loose," built around the melody of the Doc Pomus-Mort Shuman tune "Can't Get Used to Losing You," he sings, "I can't get loose to using you/But that what's I'm a-gonna do/Havin' fun in heaven while you're crucified."

As Above sports a retro flavor veiled by faux string sections and brimming with brassiness. But it's also in contemporary audio fashion, as avant-garde as any of the present British invasions. Considering Adamson's blockbuster approach, put it this way: "A spectacular accomplishment...This summer's most thrilling feature...One of the year's ten best!"

--Thomas Peake

Lois Svard
Other Places
(Lovely Music, Ltd.)

In her liner notes, pianist Lois Svard relays a lot of harmonic and rhythmic theories that supposedly underpin these three lengthy efforts composed by Eloise Lauden, Jerry Hunt and Village Voice columnist Kyle Gann, respectively. But a much simpler definition could be applied to Other Places: cocktail minimalism. Normally, the repetitions in this kind of music tend toward either the climactic (good Philip Glass, for instance) or a certain kiss-ass pleasantness that dishonors whatever brain power its creator hoped to imbue it with (e.g., Liz Story and Keith Jarrett). Svard occasionally leans in the latter direction, but she's saved by the material. With the exception of the bland "Night" movement of Gann's "Desert Sonata," the writers tuck a little dissonance into even the quietest moments, and Svard renders such passages in a manner that's relaxed but pretty smokey for this genre. All that's missing is a tip jar.

--John Young

Snoop Dogg
Da Game Is to Be Sold, Not to Be Told
(No Limit/Priority)

Neither Snoop nor Death Row Records, the company that helped him become a star, will publicly discuss the deal that allowed the rapper to sign up with Master P's No Limit army, and that's too bad, since the background to the agreement is almost certainly an interesting one. After all, the hip-hop rumor mill is buzzing about an alleged act of intimidation directed at Snoop by a Death Row associate at a No Limit show in Los Angeles--and gossips are also circulating stories concerning the aborted release of a CD in which Snoop reportedly slammed Death Row don Suge Knight, who's currently doing time in the big house for a parole violation. If only the album that's in stores right now had turned out to be as provocative. Da Game is one of the most highly anticipated rap discs of the year (it entered the Billboard album chart at number one), but the results are both predictable and disappointing.

Snoop's fortunes plummeted after putting out The Doggfather, his much-maligned attempt to prove that he could make it without the help of Dr. Dre, who produced Doggystyle, his breakthrough long-player. On Da Game, however, Snoop does everything he can to reconnect with his glory days, including rehashing the hit "Gin and Juice" as "Gin and Juice II" and referencing another smash with "Still a G Thang." But the No Limit soldiers' New Orleans-style "dirty South" take on the material fails to match Dre's sounds even when they're blatantly mimicking them. Most of the rhymes aren't any more original: Cuts such as "Ain't Nuthin Personal" eschew inventive wordplay for tired boasts about gunplay.

A few tracks stand out, including "Don't Let Go," which spotlights Snoop's laid-back drawl, and "Picture This," a down-home R&B bouncer that pairs the Dogg with No Limit's Mia X. But while some of the beats are sinister enough to keep you coming back for more, the overall effect is comparable to watching Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown: Parts of it are enjoyable, but you can't help but think that the guy is in danger of stereotyping himself. Snoop admits that as a player, he needs a good coach, and maybe Master P will turn out to be one. Right now, though, this former all-pro is having trouble adjusting to his new team.

--James Mayo


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