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On the upside, "Your Time to Cry" is a fantastic Southern-soul ballad (written and originally recorded by Joe Simon), as is "Nobody but You." Also, "Today Is Your Birthday" sounds like it could've been recorded at the 1966 sessions that produced Burke's magnificent holiday classic "Presents for Christmas." It wasn't, but it ranks as the finest birthday song since the Beatles did theirs about twenty years back on the White Album.

-- Eddie Hankins

Moby
Animal Rights
(Elektra)

As he moves farther away from synthesizers and closer to hard-rock guitars, Moby's sense of scale and subtlety is, unfortunately, intact. Meaning that while Animal Rights's punk rants are every bit as powerful as Filter's, or maybe second-rate Circle Jerks, they don't exactly combine with the album's quieter linking instrumentals for a cohesive statement. ("Anima" pays belated tribute to Tubular Bells, while "Alone" sounds heavily influenced by the Twin Peaks soundtrack, and "Dead Sun" suggests that Moby has been bingeing on Philip Glass.) In an apparent attempt to include a well-crafted song, Moby lamely covers Mission of Burma's "That's When I Reach for My Revolver," in a version that, despite his liner-note homily to the effect that "freedom of speech is absolute and inviolate," he's allowed MTV to render even more anodyne, replacing the title hook with "That's when I realize it's over" for video play. Yecch. Guess Moby, like everyone else, has to feed the beast. As for the rest of the righteous but bumper-sticker-obvious politics on display, what's his next album going to be called? Campaign-Finance Reform?

-- Rickey Wright

Silkworm
Developer
(Matador)

It ain't no party, this new album from Seattle transplants Silkworm, what with the tempos swinging from a creep to a clunk, the images of war and loneliness, and lines like "feel the lovin'/a piece of cold steel." Where the trio's last album Firewater mixed in liberal doses of good ol' rock and roll, Silkworm now seems resigned to having no fun of any kind. But while you won't exactly lose your worries with this music, its ruthless experimentation is nonetheless hard to ignore.

Bassist Tim Midgett and guitarist Andy Cohen don't let loose with their heavy rock this time so much as clamp down on it. Their songs unwind slowly and abstractly, with Cohen's busy but lyrical solos tearing out a center in the rhythms -- skidding off on surprising tangents, never going for any predictable or simple momentum. Around him, the bass and drums carve out static, powerfully harsh nongrooves, resulting in a kind of intellectual subversion of classic rock: Keep the sonic punch, add shifting instrumental interplay, and chuck all the blues-and-boogie corn.

Silkworm is originally from Montana, and its music is suitably desolate and stoic. The songs -- sung by Midgett and Cohen in dry, menacing voices -- are seen through the eyes of a lone man, ruminating, drinking, fighting off the reality he knows ultimately will do him in. There are ex-wives, war scenes, desperate calls to friends, some bleak humor. But there is no angst, none of grunge's postadolescent aimlessness. The guys in Silkworm are young men trying to make uncompromisingly adult music. In some ways, they try too hard and forget that fun exists, even for adults. But their music, the opposite of escapist pop, is smart and tough enough to make you think otherwise.

-- Stephen Tignor

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