Though Henry Mancini makes a couple of appearances on Space Age Pop, his work can best be classified as waiting lounge music, rather than the cocktail variety. And while he remains revered as one of the most successful film composers ever, Days of Wine and Roses amounts to a missed opportunity. With most of his mainstream material already available on CD (themes from the Pink Panther, Romeo and Juliet, Love Story, et cetera), it's too bad that this three-disc, 80-song retrospective chose to rely so heavily on Hank's film and television music at the expense of his left-of-center recordings. You get the TV hits (seven cuts from Peter Gunn, three from Mr. Lucky) and the film hits (three tracks from Breakfast at Tiffany's, including "Moon River," for which Mancini earned an Oscar for Best Song). Even though Mancini was associated closely with director Blake Edwards for 30 years -- their collaborations include the Pink Panther series and Breakfast at Tiffany's -- this set omits Mancini's music from Edwards's 10 and Victor, Victoria, which earned the composer an Oscar nod and a fourth Oscar win, respectively. Instead, dreck such as the theme from TV's What's Happening gets immortalized (remember? boing, boing . . .). Mancini lovers would have been better served if Days of Wine and Roses had minimized the TV- and film-score angle and grabbed the cool stuff from the vaults instead.
It's somehow fitting that Ruthless's first release since the death of label founder Eazy-E would come from Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, a Cleveland-based crew that mixes the smooth L.A. gangsta grooves Eazy helped formulate with the group's own spooky fascination with the afterlife. Bone's debut long-player, E. 1999 Eternal, the successor to last year's multiplatinum EP, Creepin' on Ah Come Up, contains some of the most beautiful music you'll ever be repulsed by. The group's vocal style is so tuneful and harmonically coordinated that it sounds more like a ghostly chant than a traditional rap. They come off like Boyz II Men's evil twin, their complex potion of bittersweet crooning and insidious, rapid-fire rhyming pulling the listener deep into the dark side of life.
However, had the fivesome decided to stick with its earlier gimmick of horror-show occultism, it merely might have turned into rap's answer to filmmaker Wes Craven. Instead, on Eternal the group has waxed much more hardcore: There's the ultraviolence of "Die Die Die" and "Mo' Murda"; the idiotic obsession with smoking pot on "Budsmokers Only" and "Buddah Lovaz"; and "1st of tha Month" (a graceful number that appropriates Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing" refrain of "wake up, wake up" to celebrate using welfare checks to buy drugs) contains plenty of ammunition for the extremist theories of the new right. That Eternal is so damn musical only makes its noxious lyrical content all the more subversive.