Be Here Now
Many reviewers tackling this disc have complained that it's too derivative. Well, duh. You're likelier to get a lie-detector test from John Ramsey than originality from these blokes. But such sniping entirely misses the point of Oasis. The Gallagher brothers, Liam and Noel, aren't trying to go where no one has gone before. Doing so would put their massive popularity at risk, and since success at any cost appears to be their raison d'etre, you can bet your last pound that they'll never do anything so foolish. Rather, their mission is to give people what they've purchased many times in the past, but to do so with such brashness and bravado that they won't mind shelling out for it again. And even if you find this stuff retrogressive as all get-out, you've got to give them credit for accomplishing their goal. When you hear it done well, Beatle-esque pop music seems like simplicity itself, but coming up with that perfect chord progression is no snap: Witness Matthew Sweet, an extremely talented fellow who nonetheless manages to make a good record an average of only one time out of four. By contrast, Oasis has put together three pretty irresistible packages in a row--and Be Here Now is actually more consistent than (What's the Story) Morning Glory?, which broke the band in the States. Which is not to say that the new disc is stuffed with tunes boasting a half-life of 10,000 years. Typical is "Stand By Me," a deliberate sing-along that sounds like hundreds of songs you can't quite remember. But the track also contains genuine pleasures--particularly a first line ("Made a meal and threw it up on Sunday") that discreetly undercuts the high-school-slow-dance quality of the melody. Other Noel touches, like the presence of the phrase "helter skelter" in "Fade In-Out" or the Sgt. Pepper's orchestration of "All Around the World (Reprise)," aren't quite as charming, but Liam's nasal yelping and the in-your-face hookiness of the guitar riffs provide ample compensation. While listening to the platter, the embittered among you may find yourselves compelled to play the guess-which-Paul McCartney-track-this-one-rips-off game. ("The Girl in the Dirty Shirt" should keep you busy for days.) But my advice for everyone else is to simply raise the white flag and surrender. Sure, Be Here Now is commercial product, but it's put together with a lot more verve, cheek, craftsmanship and moxie than the majority of items that fit that description. And sometimes, that's enough.
United Future Organization
After being asked to contribute a song to the soundtrack of the Brian DePalma film Mission: Impossible, the members of United Future Organization came up with a swinging, slinking ditty, "The Planet Plan." Unfortunately, the cut was ultimately replaced on the CD by a pulsing, plodding cover version of the Lalo Schifrin theme song done by Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. (U2's rhythm section). But U.F.O. gets its revenge on 3rd Perspective, a thoroughly enjoyable album built around the simmering grooves and jazzy froth that characterize "Plan." Tokyo residents Tadashi Yabe, Toshio Matsuura and Moroccan/French ex-patriot Raphael Sebbag, whose previous faves include "I Love My Baby (My Baby Loves Jazz)" and a rendition of Frank Foster's "Loud Minority (Moon Dance)," call their music "secret-agent swing," and that phrase neatly describes Perspective's appeal. For example, the excellent "Spy's Spice (Mon Espionne)" finds Sebbag rapping in French over a horn-laden, Sixties jazz backdrop accented by impressionistic drum programming. On other numbers, the three consolidate hip-hop, jazz, bossa nova, samba and dance music into a cohesive whole that has more in common with American bands like Digable Planets and Giant Steps than it does with Massive Attack or Portishead. Instead of jumping on the already overburdened drum-and-bass bandwagon, the DJs dive into the eternally cool reservoirs of jazz while refining an aesthetic that recalls Jean-Luc Godard's Alphaville, a picture that will live on long after Mission: Impossible has been forgotten.
What does one of the contemporary folk scene's leading male voices do when he's run out of things to say? If he's David Wilcox and this album is any indication, he simply turns up the guitars and hopes no one notices. Sporting a hipper hairdo than he's had in years, Wilcox opens the disc with the electric-guitar-driven near-bravado of "Show Me the Key." But while the ditty is hummable, the lyrics quickly drift into the touchy-feely netherworld where his muse has been spending way too much time of late. "Glory," in which Wilcox makes a tongue-in-cheek case for the superfluity of living any longer than 33 years (the age at which Christ is said to have died), is a lighter confection; the songwriter reverses his position in the tune's final verse. But Wilcox has dealt with most of the disc's other subjects on previous recordings, and generally to greater effect. "Right Now" threatens to take off into the humorously noirish territory currently staked out by the Squirrel Nut Zippers, but Wilcox's decision to play the narrative straight kills all the fun. "Waffle House" also begins promisingly, but by the end of its first chorus, Wilcox has turned it into an angst-ridden investigation into the psycho-social ramifications of his favorite late-night eatery. His singing, which calls to mind James Taylor with a stick of butter in his drawers, doesn't help matters much, either. He still has a poet's eye for imagery, however: In "Spin," he lays the atmosphere on so thick that you can practically see the tattoos on the steely-eyed carny who swipes a glance at the "summer legs" of Wilcox's date. But too often, Wilcox fairly trips over his erudition; he sounds as if he's trying to pass an essay test without knowing any of the questions. If only his significant other really had run off with that carnival lecher--at least then Wilcox would have had something interesting to write about.