Wet Wet Wet

The Scottish pop group Wet Wet Wet often comes up dry dry dry in the originality department. Back in 1988, the quartet topped the British chart—but only with a cover version of the Beatles' "With a Little Help from My Friends." Their breakthrough in America came on the movie soundtrack of Four Weddings and a Funeral with a tune first done by the Troggs in 1968, "Love Is All Around." The song is included on Picture This, a pastiche of pop clichés performed with competent musicianship, sterling production values and not an atom of inspiration. But it's an eclectic sort of mediocrity, skipping from the imitation-Badfinger-imitating-the-Beatles of "Julia Says" to the cloying folk-rock of "Gypsy Girl" to the piano-man pap of "Love Is My Shepherd." Baa. (London)

Various Artists

The rich get richer. Not only is Friends the hottest show on TV, now it gets the hippest soundtrack album ever for a television series. This choice, albeit brooding, collection is made up of fresh offerings from Toad the Wet Sprocket, Lou Reed and Paul Westerberg. In addition there are a number of obscure B-sides from well-known artists, such as R.E.M. and the Pretenders, and Hootie & the Blowfish's surprisingly soulful "I Go Blind." The album's real treasure, however, is Robin Goodfellow's exotic and transformative dance remix of Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi."

Of course, you also get all the various permutations of the show's theme song, "I'll Be There for You," by the Rembrandts. In between songs there are sound bites from the show, including Chandler (Matthew Perry) claiming that "testosteroni" is the "real San Francisco treat," and a taste of morose folk singing by Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow). Overall, the mood of the music is surprisingly glum for such a chipper sitcom, but maybe that helps explain why this celebrated gaggle of TV twentysomethings is so tenaciously quippy: their music is so damn depressing. (Reprise)

The Red Hot Chili Peppers

Anyone with a taste for the Chili Peppers knows what to expect from this perky foursome: muscular chunks of punk-funk and an occasional barrage of four-letter words. And by now the Peppers can deliver these goods in their sleep—which is unfortunately what they seem to be doing on their latest album. Sure, the guys try out some choirlike harmonies on "Deep Kick," and they add touches of sludgy grunge to the title song, but they don't bother coming up with anything nearly as novel as those giant lightbulbs they wore over their heads at Woodstock '94.

What a shame. Though it has taken the Chili Peppers four years to follow up 1991's triple-platinum Blood Sugar Sex Magik, they still sound as if they left the studio too soon. Tunes like "Warped" and "Pea," all frayed edges and mazy meandering, sound underwritten, like outtakes from the last album. And front man Anthony Kiedis might be one of the sexiest men in rock, but even he can't redeem drivel like "Meet me at the coffee shop/We can dance like Iggy Pop." Still, you gotta give the Peppers credit for accuracy: They promise One Hot Minute and offer little more. (Warner Bros.)

Blue Rodeo

A sextet of late-30ish Ontarians, Blue Rodeo has made a string of consistently first-rate country-rock albums. But although they're a big draw in Canada, they have earned little stateside but utterly undeserved apathy. Singer-songwriters Greg Keelor and Jim Cuddy are gifted melodists; in addition, Keelor plays blazing, increasingly jazz-influenced lead guitar. Nowhere to Here unrolls leisurely, even luxuriantly, between the poles of Cuddy's acoustic ballads and Keelor's more freewheeling rock jams, ending on a note of mystery with the hushed, eight-minute-plus "Flaming Bed." Climaxing a rock album with a long, slow meditation, quiet as a pond at dusk, takes courage, and these fellows' stubborn conviction lifts them far above the rock of today's rock groups. (Discovery)

Mariah Carey

For every two music lovers out there who have been knocked out by Carey's ample talent, there seems to be one cranky type who finds the singer's pyrotechnique to be ostentatious and gaudy. That ratio should tilt precipitously in Mariah's favor with her fourth and best album. Daydream vaults over its pop predecessors because the material is both funkier and mellower. Carey also has better control of her instrument—her voice evincing greater muscularity and agility. She still pours it on a little thick at times when it comes to fervor, as on the midtempo "Melt Away," which Carey cowrote with Babyface. For the most part she buzzes from strength to strength, from the bravura belting on "One Sweet Day," a duet with Boyz II Men, to the rich gospel feel of "I Am Free," which has a mood so churchy you can almost hear the ladies' handheld fans snapping. The wonder of this collection is that Mariah makes it all sound so effortless, as if turning out an album this good every couple of weeks wouldn't be much of a daydream. (Columbia)

David Bowie

Too many would-be rock and roll masterpieces are barely comprehensible (or enjoyable) without a lyric sheet or some sort of listener's manual. Anyone tuning in to David Bowie's latest album, his first collaboration with coproducer Brian Eno since 1979's Lodger, may need the latter to unravel its "concept," a millennium murder mystery that finds Bowie playing a heroic sleuth, a 14-year-old girl, a dirty old man and four other assorted weirdos.

If that all seems a bit precious and pretentious, it is. Fortunately these sturdy tunes don't need any convoluted storyline to prop them up; Bowie is back on eccentric musical turf. "The Heart's Filthy Lesson," the album's opening single, bounces about like industrial hip hop on speed, while the title song has all the gothic sweep of such stratospheric Bowie anthems as "Space Oddity" and "Ashes to Ashes." And sounding truly scary, the singer takes a cue from Nine Inch Nails, the special guests on his current U.S. tour, and whips "Hallo Spaceboy" into a riotous frenzy. Such outbursts may be a bit rough on the ears, but then Bowie at his best was never easy listening. (Virgin)

>David Bowie

FAME, FAME

David Bowie sold nearly all of the canvases at his first solo art exhibition last April in London. Since then he has portrayed Andy Warhol in an upcoming biopic on the late artist Jean-Michel Basquiat and embarked on a mostly sold-out, six-week tour with Nine Inch Nails. "I don't buy into the idea that one just does work, and you don't really care if it's ever heard or seen," says the London-born Bowie, 48, who now lives in Switzerland with his wife of three years, model Iman. (Bowie and his first wife, Angie Barnet, divorced in 1980.) "That's not true at all. I'm terribly competitive, so I do like it to be heard."

How did you hook up with Nine Inch Nails?

I'd read in interviews with [NIN lead singer] Trent [Reznor] that he's been listening to a lot of the work that Brian [Eno] and I had done together and to works of mine like Station to Station and, especially, the Scary Monsters album. And that, in fact, the Low album was something he played almost daily while he was making The Downward Spiral. That sort of spurred me to get in touch with him and say, "Look, hey, I'd love to do a tour, and I'd love, specifically, to have you accompany me on this tour." What's been most exciting is that we get to work onstage together. I think we're really enjoying it tremendously.

How has marriage changed you?

It's affected the buoyancy I have toward life. Possibly, I'm a lot more gregarious than I used to be, and I don't feel quite as awkward, tongue-tied and shy as I might have been. I find that I'm an extremely happy person.

  • Contributors:
  • Mark Lasswell,
  • David Hilbrandt,
  • Jeremy Helligar,
  • Tony Scherman.