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By Roni Sarig

Jars of Clay
Jars of Clay
(Essential/Silvertone)

It's tough not to issue a little agnostic shiver when you see that "Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" is first on this Nashville quartet's list of CD-sleeve thank you's. Yes, heathens, this is God rock. But, God, do these guys rock. Not in some cheesy pop-metal way (see Stryper). The sound here is richly textured pop, with shimmering melodies, soaring harmonies, lilting rhythms, and lyrics that manage to wax poetic rather than didactic.

"Liquid" combines a flourish of strings (arranged by King Crimson, Zappa, and Bowie expatriate Adrian Belew) with rave-worthy beats and the slashing fretwork of Matt Odmark. Dan Haseltine's agile tenor swoops in, accented by the harmonizing of bassist Steve Mason and keyboardist Charlie Lowell. A somber Gregorian-style chant rings out behind all this, lending the entire affair a certain gratifying Gothicism. "Flood," the band's crossover smash (which has infiltrated even the Sodom and Gomorrah of MTV), is a similar alchemy: Odmark's minor-key strumming gives way to a jangle of carefully crafted alt-rock noise, as squalling violins saw above splashing cymbals and a brisk bass line thickens the song's thumping lower end. "But if I can't swim after 40 days," Haseltine cries, "and my mind is crushed by the thrashing waves/Lift me up so high that I cannot fall."

The band's softer, acoustic offerings are equally affecting. With its ethereal backing vocals and lush melody, "Worlds Apart" sounds uncannily like a lost track from Toad the Wet Sprocket. And the instantly soothing "He" is a Beatlesesque lullaby that sticks to the cochlea like epoxy.

To be sure, there's no shortage of religious imagery on the disc A nailed hands, rising spirits, and the like. But this is self-expression, not proselytizing. Indeed, the reason this debut has found a place in both the Christian and secular rock worlds is the undisputed quality of its makers, not their unfashionable belief in the ultimate Maker.

By Steven Almond

Lush
Lovelife
(4AD/Reprise)

On Lovelife, their fourth full-length album, Lush singers/songwriters/guitarists Emma Anderson and Miki Berenyi check their trademark effects boxes at the studio door and, for the most part, opt for a less stylized sound, rocking out straightforwardly on "Ladykillers," "Heavenly Nobodies," "Runaway," and "Single Girl." (Only an unregenerate cynic would suspect that Elastica's success in the U.S. has any bearing in this matter.)

And yet, as has been the case in the past, Anderson and Berenyi devote their lyric-writing energies to the conundrums of relationships, often ones gone south (or heading in that direction), their words and sentiments cutting with a preternatural acuity: "Some people grow up and some only pretend/They're all over the place, these children dressed up as men/They can't imagine how a woman can be only a friend/And they deal in lies" (from Anderson's pop-and-fresh "I've Been Here Before"). Elsewhere Berenyi's strummy, saucy "Ciao!" finds her trading she-says/he-says takes on the aftermath of a breakup with Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker. Him: "Is it any wonder that I felt so blue/When I was always havin' to put up with you." Her: "Oh here we go again, just lay the blame on me/Don't say another word, 'cause, sweetheart, you're history." Long-time fans of Lush's breathy, gossamer work can seek solace in Anderson's slow, beatless "Tra La La" and her trip-hoppy "Last Night," both of which shimmer like the best stuff on the band's 1992 Spooky and 1994 Split. Likable throughout.

By Michael Yockel

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