Wilson Phillips

What Crosby, Stills and Nash were to the late '60s, Wilson Phillips is to the aborning '90s: a vocal trio that fits the Zeitgeist like a luger's suit. Of course, we're talking different geists for different zeits. The spirit of these times is videogenic, slicker, more concerned with marketing than talent. Ideal for these gals.

Their saccharine, sanitized songs are perfect for radio. Publicity is assured because of their lineage, with bloodlines going back to the Beach Boys and the Mamas and the Papas. And they solved that all-important video angle by pushing the high-cheekboned Phillips to the fore.

The only song on their second release presented with any exuberance is "It's Only Life." The rest is wispy and anemic, whether it's the ballad "You Won't See Me Cry," the Madonna-like dance number "Give It Up," the anthem for abused children, "Where Are You" or Carnie and Wendy's autobiographical plaint to their father, Brian Wilson, "Flesh and Blood."

The performances are stiff and solemn, right down to the singers' enunciation, which makes them sound like Scandinavian pop stars who learned English phonetically. The compositions all sound as if they were written for the sound track of a bad teenage romance movie, for that inevitable scene after girl loses boy when our heroine walks alone pensively on the beach. Sigh.

The record would be unbearably bloated and soggy were it not for producer Glen Ballard, who once again provides the trio with clear, bracing arrangements. So what you're left with is beautifully produced fluff. (SBK)

Lyle Lovett

Another cliché bites the dust. Turns out you can so take the Texas out of the man and the man out of Texas. The Houston-born Lovett has gone Hollywood in The Player, and this lounge-lizardy, bluesy album, recorded in Los Angeles with pop producer George Massenburg, evokes a chic saloon in Westwood much more than it does a jangly honky-tonk in Waxahachie. Bury old Lyle not on the lone prairie.

Yet Lovett's uniquely whimsical style survives. He wrote all 12 tunes, and the lyrics—even within one song, "I've Been to Memphis"—range from the vividly personal ("Lord, I can't believe what I see/How could you be alone/When you could sit right here beside me girl/And make yourself at home") to the perversely enigmatic ("Sherry, she had big ones/Sally had some too/But Allison had little ones/What hate to go to school"). So elliptical are the proceedings, in fact, that there is no title song, or any reference to the three consecutive books of the Old Testament that form the album's title.

In addition to members of his own band, Lovett uses some usual-suspect L.A. studio musicians, including drummer Russ Kunkel and bassist Leland Sklar. The only pop musician who can compete with Lyle in the coyness department, Rickie Lee Jones, sings harmony on "North Dakota." She, however, makes her presence felt far less than Emmylou Harris, whose harmonies sweeten the poignant "She's Leaving Me Because She Really Wants To."

Lovett is his resonant self, sounding best on a semiremorseful track such as "Flyswatter/Ice Water Blues."

At least if Lyle is undergoing a transformation into a down-home Harry Connick Jr., he's going about it in an entertaining way. (Curb/MCA)

Annie Lennox

So you thought Dave Stewart was the brains behind the Eurythmics and Lennox, his former lover, just a striking visual? Not. The high priestess of blue-eyed Brit soul has emerged from a three-year silence, flying solo. With Diva, a pop diva is reborn.

Restrained yet teeming with emotion, the singer's lovely voice can play lioness or coy siren and does both on "Legend in My Living Room," recalling the aplomb of "Missionary Man," the Eurythmics' last great song.

It's a long way up from the depths of the Eurythmics' lackluster swan song, We Too Are One, but Lennox has risen with grace from that wasteland. Diva features 10 Lennox compositions (including two collaborations) and a tongue-in-cheek retro rendition of the '30s nugget, "Keep Young and Beautiful," complete with faux groove scratches.

Bold, sassy workouts power the album, while stately, bittersweet ballads deepen it. When Lennox lets down her buzz cut, she sizzles as she seldom did with Stewart (who now leads the Spiritual Cowboys). The Eurythmics were too coolly detached to generate the passion Lennox does on "Precious" and "Money Can't Buy It."

Although nothing on Diva promises to become quite as hauntingly classic as "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)," the album suggests that for this Annie the sun will come up tomorrow. And the next day. (Arista)


The Spent Poets

The world was barely big enough for one XTC. What will it do with two? The veteran British trio and the Northern California-based Spent Poets may hail from very different places, but they share a brand of peculiar pop.

The edgy, elliptical quirkiness of the melodies is topped only by that of the lyrics, which range from Andy Partridge of XTC singing about the joy of watching his young daughter ride a rocking horse to Poets vocalist Adam Gates wishing he might "rest my head on/Walt Whitman's beard."

Nonsuch (Geffen) is XTC's first album in three years, and perhaps its best, which is saying something, given XTC's consistency and inventiveness over the years. It is more straightforward than most of the previous nine albums, cutting right to catchy hooks instead of drifting off into experiments with madrigals or circus ditties.

Even the lyrics seem more direct. Beneath the bouncy melody of "The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead" lies a hard parable about a Jesus-like truth-teller who "was too good/ [Governments] had him nailed to a chunk of wood."

The Spent Poets (Geffen) must have inherited some of the eccentricities XTC has temporarily eschewed. Titles like "The Rocks in Virginia's Dress" and "He's Living with His Mother Now" make it clear this is no normal band. The eclectic mix goes from the synthesizer rock of "Mr. Einstein" to the acoustic "Your Existential Past" to a lush ballad like "Special," each song as catchy as it is crazy.

The Poets may not be a direct spin-off of XTC, but they are certainly a chip off the old padded-cell block.

>"I Could Be Anything" APOSTLES

Nifty wah-wah guitar, shadowy lyrics punch up this power ballad by an L.A. club band. From Apostles. (Victory/PLG)

"Crucified" ARMY OF LOVERS

Disco goes to church in this hip-hop hallelujah, with enough vocal overdubs to make the Mormon Tabernacle Choir jealous. From Massive Luxury Overdose. (Giant)

"God Bless the Child" MARY OSBORNE

Billie Holiday's proud, bitter ballad is tenderly illuminated by this gifted yet little-known jazz guitarist who started playing in her native North Dakota in 1936 and died suddenly last year, at 71, as this album of 1981 and 1959 sessions was being prepared. From A Memorial. (Stash)

  • Contributors:
  • David Hiltbrand,
  • Ralph Novak,
  • Jeremy Helligar,
  • Craig Tomashoff.