All-star songfest from one of soul music's finest.
Back in the day, when at least two Solomon Burke songs were still part of his band's repertoire, Mick Jagger arrogantly (albeit sweetly) proclaimed that it's the singer, not the song. But if the last two decades have proven anything for the Stones, it's that the singer don't matter much if the song ain't there—a fact demonstrated beautifully on Solomon Burke's latest. Never part of the pop market ࠬa Wilson Pickett or James Brown, Burke deserves to be transformed into a mainstream star with this release if there's any justice in the world (and the Elvis Costello song here, of course, argues there isn't). Producer Joe Henry teams the R&B legend with some of pop's greatest living songwriters—Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Tom Waits—and it's a delight just to hear the big man borrow some of their famous vocal inflections. (Morrison, in particular, always has a career as a demo singer for Burke and vice versa.) Elsewhere, Brian Wilson adds some sunny doo-wop to the mix with "Soul Searchin," while Henry offers up the moody "Flesh and Blood." But it's "None of Us Are Free," a big dramatic gospel number from '60s powerhouses Mann and Weil (with Brenda Russell), and "The Other Side of the Coin," an AM- radio lovefest from Nick Lowe (it kicks off with a lift of Tom Jones' "I'll Never Fall in Love Again" and xeroxes Elvin Bishop before stealing your heart), that push the record into a strato- sphere approaching spirituality. BILL HOLDSHIP
Oasis' latest proves less than fookin' great.
Not one more Beatle or member of the Who should be allowed to die before the miserable prats of Oasis drop off this firmament. The brothers Gallagher may still have a few hooks and subtle chops to spare; focused, or rather, wasted, on one bluntly sublime tune within—the borrowed-from-Bowie-in-Berlin bounce of "Force of Nature." But Oasis' Oy-Op-to-Pop routine was already stale by (What's the Story) Morning Glory and absolutely moldy by the time of Be Here Now. Gone, too, is the band's often engaging penchant for penning songs that floated between eruptive maximum R&B and elegantly arching and entrancing melodies. For guys once in full flower-power, Heathen wilts quicker and droops harder than orchids in frost. A.D. AMOROSI
THE JESUS AND MARY CHAIN
21 Singles: 1984-1998
From pop violence to pop passivity: JMC revisited.
In 1984 the Reid brothers and their band released a single called "Upside Down." The guitars were runaway roller-coaster cars bleeding against their rusted rails, the beat was an approaching army in a government-issued ashtray, and the vocals were rapid, taunting mouthfuls of arrogance. It was white noise, squalor, and feedback, and it was just poppy enough that most of the U.K. immediately caught on. That single would be the Jesus and Mary Chain blueprint—but only for a little while. What singles collections like this one do so expertly is outline ambiguous time lines: Jesus and Mary Chain's Noisy Period or All Those Years When I Was a Total Loser? Hell, we'd all be pretty hard-pressed to attach specific dates to those things, but follow 21 Singles through the first four tracks and you'll know exactly how long JMC's droning fuzz survived. By 1986, a new era was escorted in, one of cleaner pop, jangling guitars, and tightly reined experimentation. From there, you get stuff like the Intro to Brit Pop Period; the Fuck the Drummer, We've Got a Drum Machine Age; and the Pretty with a Breathy Chick Singer as Guest Star Epoch. The die-hard fan will appreciate the history lesson inherent in listening straight through, but those who favor the early days of riotous space rocking will do just as well to spend an evening with Psycho Candy and a calendar from the late '80s, perhaps placing some brackets around their own personal time periods while remembering JMC's best one. LAURA CASSIDY