Cibo Matto (Warner Bros.)

One end-of-the-century theory predicts that the Next Big Thing in music will be a julienne of every style that was popular over the past 100 years. This delightfully eclectic Japanese-born pop duo with the funny Italian name certainly helps support that theory. Cibo Matto (pronounced chee-bo mott-o), whose moniker translates loosely as "food crazy," sing in English. Now transplanted to New York City, they also incorporate bossa nova, heavy metal and even hip hop into their music. One of the pair, Yuka Honda, dates Sean Lennon, son of a very influential 20th-century musician. And Lennon plays bass, drums and other instruments on the album.

As weirdly diverse as all this sounds, Stereotype A sparkles with bright harmonies, clever lyrics and dance-friendly rhythms. At turns deeply soulful ("King of Silence") and anachronistically upbeat ("Flowers"), the CD surprises most when it plucks, say, a trumpet cliché from the cool-jazz era and plops it into a fresher, funkier context ("Stone"). When things go wrong, though, the results seem a little like the Spice Girls lost in a Godzilla movie.

Bottom Line: Fun, futuristic female pop duo

Ricky Martin (C2/Columbia)

Album of the week

And they said it would be all downhill after Menudo. A boy warbler with the pop-lite Latin group from 12 to 17, Puerto Rican-born Enrique Martin Morales became a matinee hunk on General Hospital during the mid-'90s and, more recently, a Latin music heartthrob. Now 27, big Ricky is enjoying the kind of crossover success many performers only dream about. Thanks go, of course, to "Livin' La Vida Loca," the ubiquitous radio and MTV single from this, his first English-language album. Martin is so smitten with the tune he performs it twice here, once in English and again in Spanish. While the bulk of the album's 14 tracks, including "Be Careful (Cuidado Con Mi Corazon)" a duet with Madonna, tends toward balladry, the uptempo tunes are best. Typical is "Shake Your Bon-Bon," in which Ricky's randy come-ons get candy-coated for the sake of younger fans.

Bottom Line: Big boost for Martin mania

Montgomery Gentry (Columbia)

The title of their first CD may sound like the billing for a TV wrestling show, but Eddie Montgomery and Troy Gentry are a first-rate country duo with the rough-and-tumble energy of Brooks & Dunn and sweet, two-part harmony that often recalls the Everly Brothers. Although the duo grew up and learned their craft in and around Lexington, Ky., they present a polished Nashville veneer and a nice mix of material ranging from the trenchant title song to the honky-tonkish "All Night Long" (whose cowriter, Charlie Daniels, contributes a backing vocal). Even the track "Hillbilly Shoes," its title notwithstanding, has more gloss and less of the rustic, bluegrassy sound than might have been expected from Kentucky-bred country artists. (Indeed, a bit more of that bluegrass flavoring might add to the pair's appeal.) Even so, that kind of refinement can wait for the followup album that Montgomery Gentry has clearly earned.

Bottom Line: Smooth debut

Randy Newman (DreamWorks)

If you like your romance laced with irony and whimsy, Newman is the Man. This far-from-conventional love-song collection, which is unlikely to make anyone forget standards like "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes," includes both "I'm Dead" and "Better Off Dead" as well as "The World Isn't Fair," a rare pop song about Karl Marx; "Big Hat, No Cattle," a testament to the superiority of substance over style; and "Great Nations of Europe," featuring Newman's geopolitical musings. (Perhaps in a bid to win over critics, he also includes a song titled "I Want Everyone to Like Me.")

Since we can assume nobody turns to Randy Newman for warm, fuzzy, cuddle-by-the-fire music, the vaguely deceptive title seems harmless. Besides, anyone who stumbles upon Newman's shrewd, tuneful songs should consider himself fortunate, no matter how he got there.

Bottom Line: All the usual nice Newman twists

>CHEATING AT SOLITAIRE Mike Ness (Time Bomb) With his band Social Distortion on hiatus, punk folkie Ness gets helping hands from Bruce Springsteen, Brian Setzer and X's Billy Zoom for this album of original and cover tunes.

PEARLS IN THE SNOW: THE SONGS OF KINKY FRIEDMAN Various Artists (Kinkajou) Willie Nelson, Lyle Lovett, Dwight Yoakam and others help pay tribute to the quirky 1970s country rocker turned mystery novelist.

TAL BACHMAN Tal Bachman (Columbia) Son of guitar hero Randy (the Guess Who; Bachman-Turner Overdrive), this multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter eschews Dad's heavy metal for an appealing pop sound on this debut.

  • Contributors:
  • Alec Foege,
  • Steve Dougherty,
  • Ralph Novak.