Pop culture is full of mysterious examples of deferred acclaim. Chuck Berry had his only No. 1 hit with the execrable "My Ding-a-Ling" decades after his best work was behind him. Designing Women becomes a Nielsen smash more than a year after the show has peaked. Music stores brim these days with albums by blues greats long since dead.
Bryan Adams should understand this phenomenon. The Canadian singer-songwriter has been toiling steadily in the rock mines for nearly a decade, but then this year he released one of his weakest songs, the flaccid ballad "(Everything I Do) I Do It for You" from the Robin Hood sound track. So of course, that bit of treacle promptly became not only Adams's biggest hit, but one of the best-selling singles of all time.
With this record Adams returns to fighting form...but only briefly. It starts out like a frat house on fire with "Is Your Momma Gonna Miss You?" a muscular exemplar of cowbell boogie that sounds like vintage Humble Pie, and "Hey Honey, I'm Packin' You In," a saucy little strut that Rod Stewart would probably pay a pretty penny to call his own. This opening salvo is as vigorous and handsome as anything Adams has done since Reckless.
After that, the record goes south on the noon express. It presents a forced march of such unremarkable, formulaic efforts as "Not Guilty" with its string-of-cliche lyrics ("She's everything/She's a school boy's dream/She's rock 'n roll") and "Vanishing," the now-obligatory ecological sermon. Adams has few equals when it comes to writing infectious guitar riffs, as witness "If You Wanna Leave Me (Can I Come Too)" and "House Arrest," but this time around, the hooks aren't attached to a line or sinker.
You also get a barrage of ballads, including "Do I Have to Say the Words," the best of the lot, "Thought I'd Died and Gone to Heaven" and as a special bonus, the second coming of "(Everything I Do) I Do It for You." Overall this is a stale exercise in rote rock. In other words, it should sell like mad. (A&M)
There are essentially two kinds of memorable pop songs: the zillion-selling sort that earn their creators guest slots on Club MTV and the quality sort that are too hip for radio.
Phillips specializes in the second. Though she will never be a pop star—her songs are a bit too low-key for the dance crowd—Cruel Inventions is picture-perfect pop. Catchy, quirky and unforgettable. Even after one quick skip through the album, you'll have instant recall of at least half of its 10 songs.
Think of Phillips as a sort of Sinéad O'Connor with more hair and less angst. Both singers specialize in heavily percussive tunes with intense lyrics about love's dark side. Still, Phillips's music somehow seems more personable.
It has plenty to do with those upbeat hooks that this record, produced by her husband and fellow musician, T Bone Burnett, revolves around.
Such achingly self-aware lyrics as "If I said I don't want what I don't have/And all the answers are enough/ If I said I believe in myself/And that's enough/I'd be lying," from the loping "Lying," might seem introspective in the extreme. Yet such potentially pretentious-sounding songs become very easy on the ears because they have been sugarcoated with a sweet sound. (Virgin)
Prince and the New Power Generation
The minimogul from Minneapolis is back again with another mercurial outing. Actually this collection is so schizophrenic; it should probably be credited to both Prince and Pauper.
You have to wade through the pretentious bluster of "Thunder," the mushy mess that is the title track, and the nursery rhyme foolishness of "Walk Don't Walk." Then just about the time you're wondering what your record store's return policy is, Prince will spin around and blind you with his brilliance, as he does on the conspicuously funky "Gett Off," the tart and bluesy "Cream" and the exotically soulful "Willing and Able," with its spindly West African guitar style, and "Insatiable," which sounds like Percy Sledge meets Peter Gabriel.
As always, Prince blurs the sexual and the spiritual: "The bed started shakin', I don't know who 2 blame/Me or this flower right in front of my eyes/Is this my sweet savior or the devil in disguise." Maybe he should get busy writing the Rick James comeback album.
Diamonds and Pearls also contains some interesting experiments, such as "Daddy Pop," an attempt to recast Sly and the Family Stone in a hip-hop light, and the jazz-tempered falsetto Lark of "Strollin'."
The primary impression left by this record is that Prince is once again exercising his royal option for self-indulgence. (Paisley Park/Warner Bros.)
Crash Test Dummies
Like an improbable kiddie cereal made with bran, this Canadian group gives you sprightly Irish jigs and earthy-crunchy folk music, all rolled into one addictively sweet confection—and it's even good for you.
Led by vocalist Brad Roberts's laconic growl, this Dummies debut hops easily from the upbeat to the somber.
The lyrics often sound as if they were written by the same people who see Elvis at fast-food joints. The ballad "Superman's Songs," for instance, is a wonderfully goofball discussion of why Superman makes a better superhero than Tarzan. While the Dummies' mix of the silly and the sentimental, both musically and lyrically, may not suit everybody's taste, The Ghosts That Haunt Me is one record that never gets soggy. (Arista)
- David Hiltbrand,
- Craig Tomashoff.