THE WU-TANG CLAN, The W (Loud) Their Mephistophelean vision of New York's modern underworld powered the Wu-Tang Clan's 1993 debut, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers),>"/>
THE WU-TANG CLAN, The W (Loud) Their Mephistophelean vision of New York's modern underworld powered the Wu-Tang Clan's 1993 debut, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), one of those rare albums that rapidly climbs from underground credibility to mainstream accessibility without shedding its artistic skin. The Staten Islanders reconvened, hoping to create a masterpiece a few years on, but Wu-Tang Forever's two discs strongly suggested that the fleet of MCs had grown too divergent to communicate as one. Perhaps humbled—as much as anyone in the Wu-Tang can be called such a thing—they've scaled back considerably for The W, letting RZA's gracious, fluid production guide the way, maybe even run the show. It's an extraordinarily wise move, as is the inclusion of guests such as Nas, Redman, and Snoop Dogg, who trades verses with a briefly furloughed Ol' Dirty Bastard on the piquant, playful "Conditioner." Junior Reed's toasting on "One Blood Under W" and Isaac Hayes' crooning on the string-soaked ode to fallen brothers, "I Can't Go to Sleep," add bursts of color. Not that the Wu-Tang need to expand their palette; more than any other hip-hop crew, they manipulate and finesse gangsta's dark aesthetic. Whether it's Ghostface Killah orating on behalf of black culture or Method Man decrying the system or ODB riffing about his stroll down to the liquor store, the Clan purvey an inimitable liveliness, and when they're near the top of their game, as they are on The W, the results are breathtaking.—Richard A. Martin
CREEPER LAGOON, Watering Ghost Garden (spinART) I'm guessing that the ennui that whistles through Creeper Lagoon's new six-song mini-album is the sound of the major-label merry-go-round taking its toll. After their debut, 1998's I Become Small and Go, sparked a minor sensation among indie rock lovers and the A&R people who pay attention to them, the San Francisco quartet wound up on Dreamworks, recording a new album . . . and recording . . . and waiting . . . and recording some more and waiting some more. Now, two and a half years later, they're back on an indie label (New York's spinART), and unfortunately, they still sound like they're waiting for something to happen. The melodies on I Become Small burrowed their way into your head and stayed there; its production was enticing enough to stand up after (in my case) six solid months of daily playing. Here, the songs echo late '70s FM rock-influenced background lilt unless you force yourself to pay attention, after which they evaporate completely. As with the obvious point of reference, Pavement's Watery, Domestic, from 1991, there's one glorious exception—it was "Frontwards" there, and here it's the falsetto-kissed "My Friends Adore You." Also like the Pavement EP, this could be an extension toward the band's next serious move. Assuming Creeper Lagoon's next album proves worthy of its debut, Watering Ghost Garden will probably hold fans till next time, but not beyond it.
Creeper Lagoon play the Crocodile Cafe on Thursday, November 30.
KING BLACK ACID, Loves a Long Song (Cavity Search) As the title honestly indicates, very little is truncated or formulaic about this Portland collective's galaxial new release. Even during the least sonorous of their infinite supply of trippy guitar solos, King Black Acid's vibe is never insipid and often surprisingly infectious: This has to be the poppiest bunch of eight-minute psychedelic excursions I've ever heard. Still, they kind of fail the middle-of-the-room-after-work test that all bands of this nature must be subjected to; the sprawling, meandering compositions are not nearly as effective sober on a $50, bought-on-clearance boom box as they would be buzzed in an undulating throng of one's peers. This is a small criticism, however, perhaps even a "duh" for fans of this genre. "Butterfly Bomber," "Into the Sun," and "I've Heard You're Still Alive" stand apart because they exploit all of King Black Acid's assets: simmering, thoughtful melodies that bloom (very, very slowly) into triumphant sing-alongs not unlike those of the "fun" U2. Incidentally, Daniel Riddle's unapologetically soaring vocals remind me of the Spacehog albums that I ultimately got too cool for (you know, once Creed entered my life), and that's not a bad thing at all.—Andrew Bonazelli
PATRICIA BARBER, Nightclub (Premonition) I heard a radio profile the other day of the great jazz singer Freddie Cole, which noted his amazing ability to make every song his own. Yet Freddie's producer also talked about how much time he and the singer spent choosing just the right tunes to record. This paradox came to mind as I listened to the latest disc from Patricia Barber, who is certainly no Freddie but has a similar kind of quiet stylist's approach that's more about subtle musical attitude than dazzling virtuosity. This self-produced set of standards makes clear, however, that Barber's dark and world-weary tone doesn't really take command of any old song; she's got to be cagey. The opening track is a perfect example: She takes "Bye Bye Blackbird," strips away all of its customary bounce, and then coolly draws out its remote and lovely melancholy—there's the Barber we love, struggling to be a na怜 finding emotional complexity in the seemingly simple. She also makes the classic bossa "Summer Samba" touching again by applying her husky, star-crossed voice to an upbeat melody of sweet unabashed optimism. But when she takes on tunes such as "Invitation" or "Yesterdays" that are, in every way, genuinely complex, the material escapes her grasp. Her voice can't negotiate anything faster than a slow dirge or handle large leaps in range. And she's got to be plain crazy to take a stab at two classics owned by Ray Charles ("Just for a Thrill" and "You Don't Know Me"). On the other hand, Barber's piano playing is sounding better than ever; I'd be happy to hear her spare, rain-soaked harmonies applied to "Ring Around the Rosie."—Mark D. Fefer
The Patricia Barber Trio play Jazz Alley Friday-Sunday, December 1-3.