New Foo, indie hip-hop, new disco, and CSNY!

FOO FIGHTERS, There Is Nothing Left to Lose (RCA/Roswell) In 1995, Dave Grohl's post-Nirvana career took off with the Foo Fighters' self-titled debut. It felt raw; the songs seemed like half-completed power pop sketches written by instinct rather than design. The Foo Fighters' new record is a different story. There Is Nothing Left to Lose sparkles with even more sheen and glossy melodic sense than 1997's The Colour and the Shape. Any hint of immaturity or rough edges has been summarily excised. Besides the quick burst of feedback that opens the record, it's all insanely catchy, midtempo, sugary-sweet ear candy. The approach is disappointing only because Grohl denies us a potentially more interesting, darker element that he flashes in songs like the opener or during the instrumental break that concludes "Aurora." By only embracing his innocuous side, his songs sound even more strangely incomplete than they did in 1995. Still, Grohl's enthusiastic embrace of this material can be infectious. The sheer head-bobbing glee and screamed final chorus of "Breakout" offers guilty satisfaction, and "Generator" incorporates vocoder tricks and sweet, mercilessly hook-laden lyrics that yield virtually flawless pop music. The entire album is sincere in its intentions, yet an implied harmlessness in that sincerity rips the teeth out of it.—Matthew Cooke

DJ STRICTNINE AND PARANORM, Blow Up Factor Vol. 2: "Mic Reaction" (Grand Royal) Some Beastie Boys fans have complained that instead of putting out the half-baked side projects of their loser friends, they should release the amazing underground hip-hop they surely have access to. Grand Royal has finally answered with the Blow Up Factor, a series of hip-hop 12-inches. Blow Up launched with Vol. 1: Scientists of Sound, a slab of Beastie Boy remixes. But it's the second Blow Up Factor release, Volume 2: DJ Strictnine and Paranorm, that I'm hard-pressed to bump from my turntable. A product from the dangerous little city of South Bend, Indiana (or the SBI to those in the know), Mic Reaction rises above the derivative rehashing of styles that plague hip-hop, yet it doesn't do this by being conspicuously or clumsily different. It comes across as the baby of some guys who've spent years in a basement studio honing their skills and learning their equipment inside out, finding exactly the sound they want and nailing it. The beats are absolutely soaked with data: smooth keyboards, distorted voices, harsh snares, rolling bass. Lots of change-ups and mood swings are unified under a filmy, antagonistic vision. On the title track, Paranorm's lightning-fast tongue spits out lines like "Guzzle a Beck's before that all-night sex" and "I'm everything from magma rocks to Magnavox," continuing them on the flip side and keeping Mic Reaction clever, engaging, and about 30 miles above the bitch-ass hip-hop that keeps showing up in my mailbox. Word has it that Strictnine and Paranorm's next release is called "God vs. the Devil." I'm keeping an ear open for it. —Mark Driver

"LITTLE LOUIE" VEGA, New York Underground: The Nu Groove Years (Roadrunner) Little Louie Vega and longtime creative partner Kenny "Dope" Gonzalez (also known, variously, as KenLou, Masters at Work, and Nuyorican Soul), are a Chic for the '90s. So you might be disappointed if you come to this CD expecting a definitive Vega mix. Instead, New York Underground is something of an exercise in micromanagement: All of these raw, simple, cheaply produced cuts were issued on Nu Groove between 1990 and 1993. That might sound limiting, but these 10 tracks have variety aplenty. Not everything clicks: Aphrodisiac's "Song of the Siren" is limp Balearic balm, while the same artist's "Just Before the Dawn" is bad jazz-funk. But the best stuff here encapsulates the hopeful, anthemic, pushing-up-from-the-underground feel of the era. It's great fun, particularly the muttering, squeaking, and heavy breathing of New York Housing Authority's "Apt. 3A" ("Are you double-jointed? Just wondering"), Assylum's bald-faced Derrick May ripoff "Stringz," and Hou'z Neegroz' shamelessly campy "How Do You Love a Black Woman" (answer: "Like this!").—Michaelangelo Matos

CSNY, Looking Forward (Reprise) It's probably not fair to judge this sentimental disc on its musical merits, but hell, if Neil Young wants to team up with his flailing former mates Crosby, Stills, and Nash, then he and everyone else has to face the, well, ya know. . . . The obvious inclination for all but the most unjaded longhair-in-spirit listener is to employ the skip button to arrive lickety-split at the four tunes here credited to Neil, maybe making a few stops to see if Stills' drunken ramblings led to an accidental moment of clarity. So first things first: Ol' Neil made the smart move and "forgot" to bring whatever killer material he's written lately. First up is the clunker "Looking Forward," an inoffensive bit of reflection set to that snappy midtempo beat he's been selling since Harvest Moon. Next is "Slowpoke," a truly classic Neil tune replete with harmonica, dimestore-philosophy lines like "When I was faster I was always behind," and a melody ripped off from about six other amazing Neil Young songs. Batting third is "Out of Control," a slippery piano-led waltz that might be acceptable if not for the slick CSN harmonies that surface haphazardly behind Neil's Muppet-like vocal affectations. Now comes the suspense: Will Neil's fourth and final contribution, "Queen of Them All," rock out like "Ohio"? Will it? Well, no, it's a jittery junkyard pop song that's probably a castaway from the Landing on Water album, something Neil felt would fit the quality of Stills and Nash's wretched new songs. I didn't mention the clean and sober David Crosby because he comes off looking like a hundred bucks (musically speaking, not physically) with a couple of catchy rock tracks that might even be good if they weren't overflowing with the same cliched and backward-looking sentiments that pollute this re-reunion.—Richard A. Martin

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