Now that their original fan base is mulling grad school, the 20 percent-downsized Spice Girls (in their first album without Geri Halliwell) are cooing so many come-ons in this third go-round, they should have called it Girls Just Want to Have Sex. Except on the reunited-and-it-feels-so-good lyrics of "Right Back at Ya" (which showcases a fun cockney rap by Melanie "Mel B" Brown), the Girl Power theme is gone. Instead, there are lines like "There's only one thing on my mind, and you're gonna find out tonight," punctuated by heavy-breathing asides ("Yeah, right") from a male voice. Is he supposed to be the narrator? A deejay? An obscene phone caller who happened to wander into the recording studio?
Having inspired Britney, the boy bands and many a wannabe, the Girls' once-fresh sound is becoming old Spice: Take '60s harmonizing, add '80s Janet Jackson
("Get Down with Me," a sure club hit, has a "Nasty" touch) and throw in some hip-hop beats and electronic effects. But the result is still zesty, particularly on "If U Wanna Have Some Fun," which revives the lush, less jumpy dance-pop sound of the early '80s; the disco-inflected "Wasting My Time"; and the bouncy single "Holler." Too bad the ballads not so boldly go where the Bangles have gone before.
Bottom Line: Another good thyme
PJ Harvey (Island)
Album of the week
She hails from the gentle English countryside. But from the punkish, Patti Smith-inspired howling that heralded her arrival on 1992's Dry to the glam femme-fatale persona she unveiled on her 1995 breakthrough gem To Bring You My Love, quirk rocker Polly Jean Harvey has proved that she can pass for a hardcore city girl.
Her recent six-month residency in New York City, in fact, informs much of the material on Stories, Harvey's atmospheric sixth album. She sings, whispers and even yelps through a series of musical vignettes, weaving together reveries of pastoral England (on the drowsy, pensive "Horses in My Dreams") and the serendipity of late-night walks in Chinatown (on the clangorous "Good Fortune").
The album's emotional high point, however, comes on her moody performance of "This Mess We're In," a composition inspired by Radiohead frontman Thorn Yorke—who joins Harvey in a hushed duet that achieves a stunning, fragile beauty.
Bottom Line: Polly Jean takes Manhattan—by way of England
Limp Bizkit (Flip/Interscope)
The romantic age had Keats and Shelley. Their great-great-great-grandkids had Lennon and McCartney. We get Fred Durst, who returns with a third album of angry, profanity-laced rants with which to enrich the culture. "Are you ready do you know where you are/ Welcome to the jungle punk take a look around/ It's limp bizkit f—-in' up your town we downloaded the Shockwave for all the ladies in the cave to get your groove on," he spews in "My Generation," a song that makes The Who tune of the same title sound Shakespearean by comparison. Speaking of titles, this album's is an apt signpost to the vivid gibberish to come. Parents will love the opening track, "Hot Dog," which features a lyric pattern in which the F-word is repeated about once every four words. Of course, heavy metal, punk and gangsta rap, the three genres Bizkit limply exploits, all have produced tasteless lyrics. But Durst delivers his obscenities in a bilious style that eschews the witty wordplay, intricate meters and artful rhyme schemes of his hip-hop betters. Master of the unlyrical lyric and the tuneless song, Durst has yet to accomplish his ultimate goal—namely, to strip his music of the last vestiges of melody. A smattering does seep through on tunes like "It'll Be OK," if only briefly.
Bottom Line: Graceless, mindless, humorless
Lil' Bow Wow (Columbia/So So Def)
On paper, rapper Lil' Bow Wow looks like a novelty act. Born Shad Moss, the 13-year-old Ohio native combines cutie-pie looks with a pint-size thug image and a handle bestowed by his mentor Snoop Dogg. But don't diss-miss him too quickly. Armed with club-ready syncopated beats (courtesy of producer Jermaine Dupri) and a knack for clever rhymes ("Little girls say I'm delicious/ Grown folks say I'm too viscous"), his polished debut is full of lyrics delivered in a rat-a-tat flow that would make the big Dogg proud.
Bottom Line: Hip pup
John Michael Montgomery (Atlantic)
His hearty voice and fervent if vaguely humorless style are still evident, but there does seem to be a "new," more thoughtful John Michael at work here, as the 35-year-old country vocalist reflects on his childhood, children and career. There is even the socially conscious "The Little Girl," which recalls Suzanne Vega's morbid "Luka," touching on drug abuse and murder-suicide. The somewhat somber tone is relieved, fortunately, by such lively tracks as "Weekend Superstar," which evokes the days when Montgomery's career consisted of gigs at the local tavern.
Bottom Line: Introspective but not dreary
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- Kyle Smith,
- Barbara Kligman,
- Steve Dougherty,
- Amy Linden,
- Ralph Novak.