Roxette

Talk about being big in Stockholm. The visages of Roxette's Per Gessle and Marie Fredriksson were recently put on postage stamps in their native Sweden, making them the first living, nonroyal subjects so honored. The timing is perfect too. This follow-up to their international smash, Look Sharp!, has the earmarks of a project that was mailed in.

Right from the album's opening title track, it's abundantly evident that Roxette's brand of pop Esperanto is much staler this time out, the relentless peppiness much more forced, the sunny, Abba-esque vocals—if indeed this could be possible-even more formulaic.

We may end up getting multiply exposed to some of this musical Pablum—"The Big L," "Fading like a Flower (Every Time You Leave)" and "Small Talk" seem likely candidates—because the duo is so damn videogenic that MTV has a hard time saying no to them. (With their cheekbone chic, Marie and Per look as if they just stepped out of Jem, the cool TV cartoon about an all-girl rock group.)

Based just on its musical merits, though, this record should be stamped: RETURN TO SENDER. (EMI)

Keedy

All right, you beat-whipped dervishes of the dance clubs. Give a warm greeting to Keedy, Milwaukee's answer to Madonna. The petite, operatically trained 22-year-old has the sort of limpid, curiously affect-less voice that has come to seem like such a sexy instrument ever since Madonna irreversibly altered our inner ears. Matched with the smartly produced, irresistibly rhythmic pulse of "Save Some Love," Keedy in fact sounds like generic Madonna. She even nearly copies Her Lingerie-ship's "Live to Tell" with a number called "Only Your Heart."

Keedy's voice is equally well suited to such ballads as the tastily tangy "Sorry." On most of the album's other slow numbers, though, such as hit-mistress Diane Warren's "Wishing on the Same Star," Keedy can't rise above the perfunctory arrangements. Indeed, many of the dance tracks—"Never Neverland," for instance—though well played and chipper, are still thin, resembling Exposé more than they do the Material Girl.

At least on "Save Some Love," Keedy clones the oft-imitated, still-unduplicated Madonna. In a debut, that's an accomplishment. (Arista)

Rosemary Clooney

Recent events in the Persian Gulf lend particular resonance to Clooney's latest album: a gathering of patrio-emotional songs from World War II.

Age clearly hasn't withered nor custom staled the impact of such numbers as "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye," "Sentimental Journey," "For All We Know" and "(There'll Be Blue Birds over) the White Cliffs of Dover."

That goes double for Clooney, whose voice is like dark jam. She would appear incapable of a false note, a clumsy measure of phrasing. If she and longtime sidemen Scott Hamilton, John Oddo and Warren Vache are capable of anything but superb musicianship, they aren't making it public.

Their accomplishment is brought most sharply to bear with "These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You)," which is suffused with a remembrance of glorious things past, and the achingly lovely "I'll Be Seeing You." And Clooney wrings every possible ounce of fun out of "No Love, No Nothin' " and Frank Loesser's delectable "They're Either Too Young or Too Old," a mock-grim accounting of the slim male pickings on the home front: "They're either too young or too old/ They're either too gray or too grassy green...I will confess to one romance/ I'm sure you will allow/ He tries to serenade me/ But his voice is changing now."

Here's a 21-gun salute to all hands. (Concord)

29 Palms

This debut by English songwriters Simon Wilson and Davy Simpson, otherwise known as 29 Palms, is the bright side of folk music, with lots of acoustic guitar, thoughtful lyrics and civilized demeanor. Just beneath the surface of most of the songs, though, there beats a rock-and-roll heart. If the tempo isn't always the flashiest, the tone is as tough and gritty as any mainstream record around.

The sound is remarkably similar to that of the short-lived duo David & David. The standout tunes are the faster ones, such as " 'Square Dance" and "Out in the Sticks," because they keep the record moving.

Wilson and Simpson falter when they try to be too folksy for their own good, the lyrics becoming a bit too self-consciously important, and it completely slips your mind that the album is still playing.

When Fatal Joy works, however, which is most of the time, you can lie back, relax and enjoy finely crafted, understated rock and roll. On those few instances when the tunes don't work, you lie all the way down and take a nap. (I.R.S.)

Will Downing

With his third album, this R&B Romeo moves further in the direction of sophisticated, jazz-tempered soul, staking out his claim as the male Anita Baker. This stance is nowhere more apparent than on "She," a lush jazz ballad that's elevated by Kevin Eubanks's skittering guitar solo. If Downing seems almost to pant his way through this number, it's no wonder: He's giving Luther Vandross a run for his money with the modulated emotion of his delivery.

Downing is at his most passionate on "Giving My All to You," with drummer Omar Hakim and bass player Tinker Bar-field laying down a solid foundation, over which the singer can explore his feelings. Keyboardist Onaje Allan Gumbs provides a deft arrangement—both smoothed out and souped up—of Paul Davis's 1977 hit, "I Go Crazy."

This collection includes no pandering, no funky beats, no new-jack wall of sound, no pillow talk, no street-corner bragging. What the album does possess is an enormously impressive singer with a strong sense of style. (Island)

  • Contributors:
  • David Hiltbrand,
  • Joanne Kaufman,
  • Craig Tomashoff.