The Cranberries

On their strangely disappointing third release, lead singer Dolores O'Riordan and friends seem to want to build on their early success, best embodied over two years ago by that plaintive pearl of an alternative hit, "Linger." But their reach far exceeds their grasp, starting with an unlikely choice for producer: the hard-rock maven Bruce Fairbairn, known for resuscitating the careers of Aerosmith and AC/DC While Fairbairn has given some sonic punch to a postpunk rocker like the single "Salvation," he can do very little to enhance the bulk of the facile, clichéd material that he is saddled with here.

The fault can be laid squarely at the Doc Martens of chief songwriter O'Riordan. One hopes that when a musician known for her passion writes a song called "I Just Shot John Lennon," you'll get some deeper insight into what Lennon's tragic death meant rather than an obvious line like "what a sad and sorry and sickening sight" repeated over and over. O'Riordan has also turned the once-intriguing hiccuping vocal tic she used on hits like "Zombie" into a grating and overused affectation. She salvages some of her earlier respectability with the touchingly nostalgic doo-wop weeper "When You're Gone." Mostly, though, O'Riordan bogs the Cranberries down under the weight of listless lyrics and an aura of self-importance. (Island)

Nonchalant

Just when it seemed as if hip hop had covered gangsta's paradise from every conceivable angle, newcomer Nonchalant arrives with an underexplored point of view. On "5 O'Clock," her hit debut single, the Washington native paints a frighteningly vivid picture of crack-riddled streets ruled by corner hoodlums. That's relatively routine stuff, to be sure, but Nonchalant takes her apocalyptic vision further by suggesting that urban blacks should take responsibility—and stop blaming all those years of white oppression—for the criminal behavior that is destroying their neighborhoods and lives. It's hard to refute her argument when observations like "It's not a white man's finger on the trigger/Car jacks/Drive-bys/Calling each other 'nigger' " are as blunt and razor-sharp as her take-no-sass rapping style. Lest potential detractors dismiss the inner-city blues of this first album as too sanctimonious, Nonchalant wisely balances the cold, hard facts of "5 O'Clock" and "Lights N' Sirens" with the escapist, but never frivolous, fun of "Lookin' Good to Me" and "Have a Good Time." While main-streamers like 2Pac and L.L. Cool J are more content to raise eyebrows than consciousness, it's refreshing to come across a rising rapper who's up to more than dropping clever wordplay and copping a badass attitude. (MCA)

Nancyboy

The Gods of Pop have rarely been kind to the progeny of musical artists. Frank Sinatra Jr., Hank Williams Jr., Ziggy Marley, Julian Lennon, Natalie Cole and Liza Minnelli, to name a few, are, by several multiples, artistically less important than their fabulous folks. Sooner or later, though, that formula had to reverse itself, and thanks to Nancyboy—led by Donovan Leitch, son of '60s singing flower child Donovan, and Jason Nesmith, scion of Mike the Monkee—it finally has. On tracks such as "Johnny Chrome & Silver," "Deep Sleep Motel" and the catchy "I Don't Mind," Nancyboy cops a wham-glam-thank-you-ma'am attitude, reminiscent of new wave and glitter rock. Snorting some Ziggy Stardust, Leitch renders this major-label debut's 13 songs like a foppish young David Bowie with a pinch of early Bryan Ferry. Fortunately, he and his bandmates—especially Nesmith, who provides searing guitar solos and tight harmonies—pull it off, thanks to witty lyrics and bouncy melodies that smack of Gary Numan, Blondie and, at times, even Cheap Trick. If Nancyboy wanders too often into retroland, at least they never bore. (Sire/EEG)

The Isley Brothers

The more the sound of R&B changes, the more the motivation for much of its lyrics—sex—remains the same. From Marvin Gaye to Rick James to R. Kelly, soul men have made their musical mark getting freaky-dirty over sinuous bump-and-grind grooves. Likewise the Isley Brothers, on their latest CD, want to get down and get it on. Ronald Isley's melismatic tenor provides stimulus enough to bring on the bubbly and bat the bedroom eyes, whether it's caressing a simple "Da da da da daaa" refrain or successfully reaching for another impossibly higher note. And songs like "Tears" and "Let's Get Intimate" burn and yearn with spiritual intensity while showcasing the album's summit of supertalents. Along with Ronald's wife, Angela Winbush, R. Kelly, Baby-face and Keith Sweat pitch in with songwriting, production and vocals. But this is clearly the Isleys' show; remarkably, after several decades together, they still have all the right moves. (Island/T-Neck)

Paul Westerberg

Even though TV sets have become too heavy to toss out of hotel-room windows and remnants of hip haircuts start showing up in the sink, some aging rockers don't get the hint that time is not on their side. (These are the acts you'll see at county fairs all summer.) Not Westerberg. He has embraced growing older, delivering the most sophisticated disc of his career. This second solo album does, in fact, have songs (such as "Ain't Got Me" and "You've Had It with You") recalling the rowdiness that made Westerberg's old group, the Replacements, the premier garage-rock band of the '80s. Overall, though, Eventually sounds as if he spent more time than ever in the studio crafting a richer, fuller sound. In wistful romantic tunes like "Love Untold" and "Once Around the Weekend," the music is calmer and more introspective, while the lyrics appropriately revolve around guys struggling to settle down. "Good Day," in which Westerberg sings, "A good day is any day that you're alive," sums up the CD's philosophy: Maybe you never get too old to rock and roll, but everyone needs a rest now and then. (Reprise)

>Robert Smith of the Cure

INCOMPETENCE ISN'T CUTE

The ties that bind must be rather loosely knotted around the Cure. Since the gloomy British postpunkers became semicheerful pop phenoms in 1987 with the platinum Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me, no two Cure albums have featured the same musicians. And with the latest CD, Wild Mood Swings (Elektra), out this week, frontman Robert Smith is threatening to break up the group once and for all. "Next year will be 20 years of the Cure," says Smith, 37, "so I think a big retrospective year with an album at the end of it would be quite a nice way to go. Then I can walk away from it quietly."

It's been a long time since your last album, 1992's Wish. What if fans have forgotten about you?

I don't imagine for a minute that the world has been holding its breath waiting for the new Cure album. A lot of other [bands], if they had the same layoff, might come back and be very worried about who their audience is. No record we ever release relies on what we've done before to get us through. We've never been part of any movement. We don't follow fashion.

When you listen to your older work, how does it sound to you now?

I find it difficult to reconcile the person who wrote some of those songs with the person I am now. The group has gotten better as we've gone on. The whole idea of punk, which I came out of, was that you didn't have to be able to play. And I couldn't. That was the charm and joy of it. Almost 20 years later, to still pretend that that's the charm and the joy of it would be disingenuous. I like the idea of the Cure now creating something that's got a bit more depth to it and, hopefully, is going to last longer.

  • Contributors:
  • Andrew Abrahams,
  • Jeremy Helligar,
  • Peter Castro,
  • Craig Tomashoff.