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Boy George
Cheapness and Beauty
(Virgin)

Brace yourself for the second -- okay, third, if you count his out-of-nowhere hit with "The Crying Game" from 1992 -- coming of the Boy. Armed with a tell-just-about-everything autobiography (Take It Like a Man) that has sold gobs in England; regularly pumping up the volume as an au courant London club DJ; and brazenly out about his queerness (that took a while, hon), George has also reinvented his pop persona, returning as a, gulp, rocker. If you believe the press poop that accompanies Cheapness and Beauty -- the gaggle of fawning Boy profiles making the magazine rounds obviously do - then George's newfound rockitude was "inspired" by Seventies glam. Inspired perhaps, although, in truth, with the exception of about nine seconds of "Your Love Is What I Am," next to nothing on this thirteen-track disc remotely sounds like the sassy, vacuous, big-beat wonderfulness of Brit glam godettes such as the Sweet, Slade, Suzi Quatro, and his majesty Marc Bolan.

Instead, George and his co-writer John Themis, along with producer Jessica Corcoran, crank the decibels and slather on layers of processed guitars to produce faux rock reminiscent of faux bands such as Tin Machine and the Power Station, or faux solo dudes such as Billy Idol (check out George's curled upper lip on "God Don't Hold a Grudge") and, more to the point, Michael Jackson ("Dirty Diana" would fit snugly here). George comes across considerably more convincing on the jaunty pop of "Same Thing in Reverse" and the title cut, while "Unfinished Business," his indictment of a former lover who has publicly disavowed having ever been involved with the Boy relationship-wise, demonstrates that his eclat with a ballad remains undiminished.

As for his words, well, he brandishes a we're-here-we're-queer placard throughout, gets mad and gets even with chums turned chumps ("Sad," not forgetting "Unfinished Business"), and tells two cautionary tales of drug abuse ("Blindman," "If I Could Fly"). Fine. But it all seems so heart-on-his-sleeve, so Sally Jessy Raphael: "Is it twisted/Is it sick/Mother Nature's little trick/I don't have to feel no shame/In God's image I am made." All of which makes me pine desperately for the Boy's kissing-to-be-clever days leading Culture Club through "Church of the Poison Mind."

By Michael Yockel
Boy George performs with Eve Gallagher at 8:00 p.m. on Friday, November 10, at the Cameo Theatre, 1445 Washington Ave, Miami Beach; 532-0922. Tickets cost $17.

G. Love and Special Sauce
Coast to Coast Motel
(Okeh/Epic)
He's nothing if not derivative, but damn, does he have a good time deriving.

Yes, G. Love and his talented two-man rhythm machine (Special Sauce) are back with a second disc, the followup to their deservedly acclaimed self-titled 1994 debut. Once again the trio is copping a feel off the old blues dudes, the lost stars of rockabilly, and the scat men of jazz. And once again they skillfully interpret the source material, melding these genres with their own B-boy sensibilities and postadolescent zest. The G. Love sound still relies heavily on Jeffrey Clemens's crisp, thumping drums and Jimmy Prescott's wandering bass lines, and neither disappoints. Together these two create the quirky syncopation that perfectly suits G. Love's lazy-tongued vocals, which veer between eager melodic yelps and toneless mumbles.

Even better, on Coast to Coast Motel the hunky front man has broadened his songwriting horizons. "Kiss and Tell," for instance, is distinguished by some exuberant Dixieland horn playing, courtesy of the Rebirth Brass Band. "Everybody" comes off like a post-MTV tribute to Woody Guthrie, with G. Love's strummed guitar and squalling harmonica firmly rooted in folk. "Leaving the City" relies on a jaunty rock riff that would have made Bobby Fuller proud. And the jazzed-out "Sometimes" showcases Love's surprisingly deft fretwork. Talk about diversity -- there's even a tuba blaring on the joyful "Bye Bye Baby."

There are a few duds among the dozen tracks -- the mawkish "Coming Home" is a particularly ill-advised stab at confessional songwriting -- but overall the group has again managed to plunder the old masters in fresh, new ways.

By Steven Almond

Urge Overkill
Exit the Dragon
(Geffen)

Urge Overkill's first album after the success of their 1993 Saturation (not forgetting their contribution to last year's Pulp Fiction soundtrack) is a fairly dark affair. Taking its title from the cut "The Mistake," which builds on allusions to Bruce and Brandon Lee, Kurt Cobain, John Lennon, and this nation's continuing love affair with overindulgence, Exit requires a few spins before starting to sort itself out. When it does, though, the Chicago band's growing thoughtfulness provides a smart coupling with its usual stylish crunch. Highlights include speedy rockers such as "Need Some Air" and the ready-made Top 40 nugget "Take Me," as well as the bouncy "Somebody Else's Body" and the edgy, midtempo stompers "Honesty Files" and "This Is No Place." Not the instant-joy trip that was the previous disc, but even more of a promise-keeper than Saturation fans might have expected.

By Rickey Wright

Smashing Pumpkins
Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness
(Virgin)

In recent times, few bands have defied the industry wisdom that cautions against releasing a two-CD collection of new songs. Bruce Springsteen and Guns N' Roses both tried it in 1991, delivering unsellable double albums with the three-card-monte marketing tactic of disguising them as individual CDs, when, in fact, they really belonged together. In the case of Smashing Pumpkins's sprawling 28-song Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, the MTV poster kids pull it off without too much padding or pretension

Singer/guitarist/songwriter/chief Pumpkinhead Billy Corgan textures the collection with simple, orchestrated love songs, interspersing them with screaming-guitar-and-synth-laden anthems. In fact not many bands can glide this effortlessly from moody ballads to jarring thrash trash. Even the collection itself is spliced in two: "Dawn to Dusk" (disc one) and "Twilight to Starlight" (disc two), although Corgan has explained "this is not a concept album." And even if it were, the concept could only be described as melodic schizophrenia. After the piano-laced opening title track, the set rips into the explosive "Tonight, Tonight," as Corgan captivatingly sings, "Believe in me as I believe in you." The eerily familiar "Bullet with Butterfly Wings" finds Corgan pulling a Damien routine as he snarls through the chorus, "Despite all my rage, I'm still a rat in a cage." Switching gears again, the wispy "Cupid de Locke" floats and flutters like the love theme to the film Emanuelle, replete with lavish harps. Side one closes with "Take Me Down," an affecting ode to a significant other that sounds like Seventies marshmallow-rockers Bread on a Prozac bender.

Disc two offers more of the same, from the screeching "Tales of the Scorched Earth" to the quirky "We Only Come Out at Night." Corgan, with his wildly listenable pop songs and bizarro arrangements, may well be the Nineties' answer to Brian Wilson, minus the sandbox in his living room. It took balls to make Mellon Collie. Luckily, Smashing Pumpkins is wearing big pants.

By George Pelletier

Larry Garner
You Need to Live a Little
(Verve-Gitanes)

A captivating mix of straight blues and contemporary R&B, Larry Garner's debut record for the Verve-Gitanes label satisfies on many levels. Garner's lyrics -- sung in a nasal but immensely listenable Baton Rouge blues twang -- encompass both traditional blues subjects such as the horny, two-timing hypocrisy of the "Preacher Man," and modern-day dilemmas such as trying to keep "Four Cars Running," thus ensuring domestic tranquillity with the wife and kids. And on "Don't Run Talkin'," Garner puts his distinctive spin on the matter of platonic male-female relationships.

The bouncy rhythm section of the great Willie Weeks (bass) and the increasingly popular Brian Jones (drums) sets a loping pace on the midtempo material, and proves that their ears are probably tuned to contemporary black radio on the soulful ballads. Garner's guitar playing services the song, rather than vice versa, although he squeezes off some clean B.B. King-like solos. The front man also gets some help from slide player extraordinaire and fellow Louisianan Sonny Landreth on the late Silas Hogan's "Rats and Roaches in My Kitchen." Furthering the sonic oomph on a handful of songs are the Legendary White Trash Horns.

Despite a brief bout of sentimentality on a tune or two, Larry Garner presents a welcome infusion of life and humor into blues songwriting, while still paying heed to those who came before.

By Bob Weinberg

Aceyalone
All Balls Don't Bounce
(Capitol)

While the politicians postulate the depths of rap's depravity, Aceyalone reminds us "all balls don't bounce" -- that all rappers are not created lethal. Even in Los Angeles -- where gangsta rhymers first made their assault -- there exists a thriving underground of gifted wordsmiths and nimble improvisers (such as Freestyle Fellowship, Pharcyde, and Ahmad) who battle it out with words as their only weapons. Aceyalone, as part of the revolutionary Freestyle Fellowship, has long beat at the heart of all that is still healthy in hip-hop.

All Balls Don't Bounce, his solo debut, builds on the stylistic heights set by the Fellowship's last album, 1993's much-heralded but little-bought Inner City Griots. Tracks such as "B-Boy Kingdom" and "Knownots," which feature his former (and future?) cohorts Mikah Nine and Peace, give Balls the taste of a Fellowship followup. But alone or with partners, it's Aceyalone's songwriting that makes his album a true adventure.

Though there's not a weak link on All Balls, "Headaches & Woes," a punchy show stopper set to a rolling vibraphone and a bass-line run, is about as good as hip-hop gets. It's Ace in all his glory: While he tap-dances his way with sing-song abandon and finger-snapping grace, he knocks us out with one of the most slyly presented, fully realized hip-hop performances on record. Ace catalogues the stress -- "That leaves me with a twisted view of the whole wide world as I know it" -- and concludes, "so I guess I got no choice but to be a poet." But nodding to all the things he could become, he continues, "A prophet, a griot, a gangster, a bum, a nobody, a criminal, an MC!" Thankfully for us, Aceyalone chose to excel at the last of these.

By Roni Sarig

Black Grape
It's Great When You're Straight . . . Yeah
(Radioactive)

Remember that whole Manchester thing that was happening a couple of years ago -- the vastly overhyped collision of guitar rock and dance beats that spawned so, so many forgettable Brit bands? At its worst, Black Grape's debut is an irksome reminder of that era -- soul-yawning retro to rave by. That's no surprise, as the man behind the band is Shaun Ryder, erstwhile leader of Happy Mondays, one of the Manchester multitude.

Fortunately, Ryder has grown a bit since the days of yore. His new five-piece band bolts out of the gate with a harmonica-happy blues vamp ("The Reverend Black Grape"), a decent dub raveup ("In the Name of the Father"), and a respectable R&B track sprinkled with delightful snatches of saxophone ("Tramazi Parti"). The jagged guitar work of Paul Wagstaff and the layered beats of percussionist Ged Lynch are most welcome, though the rapper enlisted by Ryder, Kermit Leveridge, does little beyond adding some ethnic balance to the troupe. Ryder's own contributions are likewise forgettable. He seems more eager to chant than sing, and his lyrics are often laughably self-indulgent.

Predictably, Black Grape pretty much runs out of juice by track six, the utterly monotonous "A Big Day in the North." The rest of the way proves that tried-and-true law of British pop: The noisier the mix, the more essentially annoying the songs themselves are.

Lingering fans of the Mondays will enjoy this dance-ready effort. The rest of us would do just as well to dust off our Big Audio Dynamite albums.

By Steven Almond

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