April 27, 1994
Angelfish, Angelfish (Radioactive 1994) -- The Scottish quartet of Angelfish fairly sizzle on their self-titled 34-minute debut. The band's forte is clean, uptempo rock, with punk and power pop influences, and they deliver as promised.
The group, consisting of Shirley Manson on vocals, Barton Metcalfe on guitars, Derek Kelly on drums, and Fin Wilson on bass, began jamming in Edinborough a couple of years ago. The group quickly jelled and caught the attention of major labels. With production assistance from Tina Weymouth and Chris Franz (from the Talking Heads and the Tom Tom Club), the group soon recorded Angelfish at Clubhouse Studios.
Lifted by the buoyant voice of Manson, the group sails effortlessly through the ten tracks on the album. At its best (on songs like "King of the World"), the band is reminiscent of Blondie in their prime, while cuts such as "Dogs in a Cage" are just plain rock 'n roll (with grunge influences). By covering a previously unreleased Holly Vincent tune ("You Can Love Her"), the band also displays its punk roots.
While the lyrics on Angelfish aren't always pretty, the lean production and melodic hooks will never leave you lacking. Angelfish jams, and deserves attention.
Randy Newman, Music from "The Paper" (Reprise 1994) -- Any time there's a new release from Randy Newman, it's cause for celebration. The Paper isn't Newman's finest hour, but it's still interesting and challenging.
Newman is one of this country's great unappreciated talents -- dismissed by some as a novelty songwriter (because his stinging wit can strike so deep), he has quietly matured into an enormously talented individual, with diverse tastes and interests. After blazing across the firmament with his stunning early works (such as 1971's Sail Away, which is a must-own), it became increasingly difficult for Newman to top himself.
In recent years, his output of vocal works has slowed, and his instrumental soundtracks for films have increased (including the soundtracks for "Avalon," "The Natural," and "Parenthood"). The Paper continues in this instrumental vein (with the exception of the closing cut). Unlike the magnificent Avalon, which interwove several common themes to produce haunting and powerful results, The Paper is more along the line of Danny Elfman's film work (such as in the soundtrack for Batman) -- the melodies are sometimes discordant, and the string and horn parts underscore the tension.
Which is not to say that The Paper is a moody or difficult album. Unlike Elfman's work, it's not dark; rather, it's emotionally challenging. Says Newman, "There is a real urban feel to the film itself, a more propulsive sense of action generally. Think about the press pounding out the evening edition and you'll get the idea."
The album concludes with "Make Up Your Mind," the only cut with vocals. Featuring Newman on piano and vocals, Jim Keltner on drums, Benmont Tench on organ, and Don Was on bass (and production assistance), "Make Up Your Mind" is vintage Newman -- crisp production work, intricate arrangements, and a vocal lead that often counterbalances the melody.
Though fans of Newman will want to find this album, one song with lyrics isn't enough. Newman's best work results when he assembles a group of songs to create a mood and explore various themes. Here's hoping parenthood is happy for Newman (he recently became a new dad), and that it encourages him to return to the studio more often.
Mark Your Calendars -- The Young Dubliners will be at the Cadillac Club on May 10th in support of their fine new Irish/folk/country release, Rocky Road (as previously reviewed in this column). Sam Phillips will be in town on June 7th at a location TBA. A review of her stunning new disc, Martinis & Bikinis, will be forthcoming.
Jackson Browne, I'm Alive (Elektra 1993) -- I'm Alive was released last fall by Jackson Browne, and has slowly been making its way to the pop airwaves. Admittedly, the first couple of songs are pretty decent pop cuts.
Overall, however, the album is a far cry from Browne's finest works (such as The Pretender). Instead of questioning society and its values, I'm Alive is devoted to thinly-veiled attacks on his ex-mate, Darryl Hannah (as in songs like, "My Problem Is You").
Albums that explore the emotional roller coaster of a break-up can be fascinating (as in Shoot Out the Lights from Richard and Linda Thompson), but there's a real mean-minded sense to I'm Alive that leaves a bad aftertaste in your mouth.
A Product of His Times? -- Rapper Snoop Doggy Dog has embraced the 90s philosophy that no person is individually responsible for his actions; rather, a person's actions are the product of his environment. When asked about his gangster lifestyle, Snoop said "Hell no, I don't like it, but it's the life I was forced to live. Cuz when they took us off those slave ships, then separated us from white society, they knew violence would come among us. They wanted to see black men killing each other, so they could sit back and watch. It's only when the black and the white conflict do they jump in. But I don't want to sound racist, cuz I'm not racist or political, I'm just a rapper."
-- Randy Krbechek
Copyright (c) Randy Krbechek
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