Star Wars, Episode I: The Phantom Menace--Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
The week before the film that birthed it arrived in theaters, the Episode I soundtrack entered the Billboard sales charts at number three, vaulting past Shania Twain and Britney Spears and lingering behind only Tim McGraw and TLC. But despite having a video in heavy rotation on MTV, Menace won't start many tailfeathers shaking; for that, check out Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk, a recent reissue of Meco's thumping, disco-era reimagining of the score from the first flick. Instead, the music is best suited to role-playing. Fire up your light saber to the quasi-operatic sound of "Duel of the Fates." Chuckle along with "Jar Jar's Introduction," which sounds like the stuff played in the background of skits on Laugh-In--"Spiro Agnew music," one of my old professors called it. Experience the thrill of victory during "Anakin Defeats Sebulba." Realize midway through "Qui-Gon's Noble End" that its title means that Liam Neeson won't be back for Episode II. Guess I don't need to see the damn thing now.
No, you probably won't listen to it much--but it does have a cool fold-out poster. Besides, when you recognize it on someone's answering machine a few weeks from now, you'll have plenty of time to decide between engaging in a long conversation about Darth Maul's makeup or just hanging up. Tough choice.
Piano Music of Terry Riley & John Adams
Cheng-Cochran's fingers enliven minimalism's greatest gimmick--the sense of unbridled momentum that can sweep every dynamic effect into its wake even when the composing gets craggy. That's certainly the case on "The Walrus in Memorium," a Riley-penned tribute to John Lennon that makes a decent art stunt out of "I Am the Walrus." It takes several listens to hear, but eventually Lennon's familiar chords, melodies and countermelodies cut through comical ragtime piano moves that sound improvised but aren't.
Motion counts for less in "The Seven Ladders of Heaven," Riley's second musical salute (in this case, to his daughter Simone). The track supposedly interpolates Brazilian music (that's another thing I don't hear), as well as Chopin and some unmentioned bits from Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings." But if the track's occasional dissonance interrupts the atmosphere and shaves the momentum back a bit, Cheng-Cochran offers plenty of compensation. Her playing, solid muscle throughout, is ideal for the roiling buildup of Adams's over-25-minute "Phrygian Gate."
The album isn't perfect: The only real loser is Adams's 1977 "China Gate," a set of repetitions with the tonal range of a touch-tone phone that was apparently dusted off for this recording. But overall, Piano Music is a fine way to get acquainted with the grand old man of the minimalist epoch and his decorous son-in-law.
For certain locals, the most exciting aspect of this album may be its cover--a snapshot of the marquee at Denver's Bluebird Theater complete with a haiku-like message that reads, "Door Sunday 8PM/Faithless." But the disc itself deserves attention, too. A straightforward continuation of the sounds heard on the 1997 CD Reverence, the disc shows the electronic love child of superstar DJ Rollo and collaborator Sister Bliss to be maturing nicely.
Trip-hop mixes with techno on the recording, which juxtaposes torch ballads such as "Why Go?" featuring reborn club hero Boy George, with introspective musings like the opening track, "The Garden." Rollo and company still make their case for global club domination with the likes of "God Is a DJ" and "Take the Long Way Home," a couple of singles that have already planted themselves firmly on the turntables of DJs worldwide, and the preoccupation with life on the road that's foreshadowed by the Bluebird photo surfaces anew on "Postcards." Yet what's most impressive about the latest from Rollo (who is producing the upcoming Pet Shop Boys full-length with fellow trip-hopper Craig Armstrong) is the solidity of the material itself. Sunday 8PM is another clear indication that DJs and remixers are learning how to create real compositions.
Steal This Album
On their third release, the politicized hip-hop duo of Boots Riley and DJ Pam the Funkstress represent Oakland and the Bay Area the way Black Panthers Huey Newton and Angela Davis did back in the day. Instead of offering ten-point programs, however, Steal This Album (a reference to the late Abbie Hoffman's tome Steal This Book) drops bombs on cuts that combine Marxist polemics and bouncy funkadelics. "Busterismology," featuring the couplet "If you ain't talkin' about endin' exploitation/Then you just another Sambo in syndication" is a case in point. But the disc avoids becoming a one-note diatribe by mingling cuts such as "The Shipment" ("Now what you make is .01 percent of what the boss makes/And what the boss takes is keeping us from living great") with tragicomic shorts. The best example of the latter is "Me and Jesus the Pimp in a '79 Granada Last Night," which depicts Jesus ("His name is 'Hay-soos,' but his pimp name is 'Gee-zus'") as an overweight hustla in a beat-up car listening to a defective Gladys Knight and the Pips tape.
The musicians backing the Coup shift effortlessly from deep soul and smooth jazz to Southern-fried funk, sometimes within the span of a single song ("The Shipment" is a prime example), and while a wack Too-Short soundalike diminishes "Cars and Shoes," the CD as a whole is a perfect antidote to gangsta stereotypes. In the MTV age, the revolution will be televised--and if it comes, I'll take Steal This Album over any hootchie-grabbing, Cristal-swilling screed anyday.
Elton John and Tim Rice's Aida
Lots of famous folks contribute to this portentous disc, including Sting, LeAnn Rimes, Tina Turner, Janet Jackson, Boyz II Men, Shania Twain, James Taylor, Lenny Kravitz and Dru Hill, but the only tune on it that I can listen to without gagging is "My Strongest Suit," by the Spice Girls. No wonder my acne has been acting up lately.