Toni Childs

A then unheralded singer, Childs made an exciting, exotic debut with her 1988 album, Union, which was full of such tropical pop splendors as "Stop Your Fussin" and "Don't Walk Away."

Now comes this disappointingly dull follow-up, a record nearly bereft of the colorful melodies and joint-jolting rhythms that distinguished Childs's first outing. House of Hope is built around leaden-toned manifestos about dysfunctional families, among them "Daddy's Song," about incest, and "I've Got to Go Now," the story of a woman in a physically abusive relationship finding the courage to leave.

Musically, little is of interest on this droopy, attenuated collection except the delicate, lullabylike "Heaven's Gate," the ineffably sad "Three Days" and "The Dead Are Dancing," which resembles Sting's version of a Hungarian dirge. And all of those tracks are pretty dour.

Childs still has that thrilling throat, a smoldering combination of Phoebe Snow and Marianne Faithfull that sounds like the very voice of experience. But there's nothing here to showcase it. On the contrary, a number of unsuitable songs—"Next to You" and "Put This Fire Out," for instance—take her well outside her range and reduce her to puling like an alley cat. For a woman of Childs's talent, that truly is a travesty. (A&M)

Joe Walsh

Hey, Joe. How about a new shtick? We thought you were amusing years ago with such tongue-in-cheekers as 1978's "Life's Been Good." But it sounds like you're coasting these days. Straight downhill.

Okay, the title track is a fun tribute to Everyday Joe Schmo, even if you had to tack on a line about the consistency of dog feces. Blecch! And the nonsensical "The Gamma Goochee" shows you're at least trying to have a good time. But most of these 45 minutes sound wasted on sophomoric noodlings on your guitar and old pal Joe Vitale's keyboards.

"You Might Need Somebody" is a pleasant ballad that might have popped up on your last studio effort with the Eagles. But pleasant isn't what your fans want, Joe. They want more of those tungsten-steel slide-guitar riffs and less safe, boring AOR dreck.

Remember, Joe: There's nothing wrong with being average, provided sometimes you swing for the fences. (Pyramid/Epic)

Richard Thompson

Folk-rocker and guitarist Thompson still has his unique woe-flecked voice (imagine Roxy Music's Bryan Ferry with less affectation). His other trademark is the corkscrewingly penetrative guitar solo—too few of which are on this album.

What distinguishes Rumor and Sigh (the title comes from an Archibald MacLeish poem) is that a few tracks—such as "I Feel So Good"—are perkier than Thompson's norm. And producer Mitchell Froom's arrangements, using a full palette of keyboard textures, makes the songs as cozy and sunny as a breakfast nook.

There are darker moments as well, for example, "Backlash Love Affair," which, with its ominous "Sheik of Araby" motif, sounds like music for the Casbah. Thompson can also still hunker down with heartbreak, as evidenced on such tracks as "I Misunderstood." Also worth hearing are "1952 Vincent Black Lightning," a very trad finger-picked folk number, and the reeling skiffle of "Don't Sit on My Jimmy Shands." (Capitol)

Too Much Joy

Since David Letterman's approach to talk shows resembles Too Much Joy's approach to rock, it's only appropriate to list the top 10 reasons why everyone should own Cereal Killers:

10. There are no songs on this album about saving the whales, finding God or trying to be a more sensitive guy.

9. There are songs on this album about drinking, sex and astronauts.

8. The songs have titles like "William Holden Caulfield."

7. Too Much Joy will not use their profits from the record to have plastic surgery to look more like Diana Ross.

6. This music is what rock is supposed to be—loud and rough around the edges (and in the middle, for that matter).

5. The band actually shows some signs of musical growth on their second major-label release, tossing in some honky-tonk piano ("Thanksgiving in Reno") and horns ("Sandbox").

4. Cereal Killers is proof that all those misfits in high school who used to make flatulent noises in class can eventually do something for society.

3. Lines such as "We got stoned/ We had sex/ I dreamed that I was Evel Knievel," are the perfect, which is to say dopey, rock lyrics.

2. There are no token rap songs.

1. Too Much Joy may be the subject of Kitty Kelley's next book, so it's good to get in on the ground floor. (Giant/Alias/Warner Bros.)

  • Contributors:
  • David Hiltbrand,
  • Andrew Abrahams,
  • Craig Tomashoff.