You belong to a fashionably obscure band, yet you're yearning for more press. What to do? How about joining forces with a bunch of like-minded alt-rockers and releasing a disc of quirky covers? That's what the Replicants decided to do, and its members -- drawn from the punk-metal troupes Tool, Failure, and Zaun -- are hoping to cash in on the cover craze that has been sweeping the pop marketplace.
The record bangs out of the gate with a rowdy raveup of the Cars' "Just What I Needed" and a deliciously dark version of Neil Young's "Cinnamon Girl," both of which benefit from Paul D'Amour's fuzzed-out guitar and Greg Edwards's galloping drum beats. They have a ball with "Life's a Gas," reworking Marc Bolan's frilly piece of glam-rock into a jagged psychedelic anthem. And singer/bassist Ken Andrews sounds spookily Lennon-like on a synthed-up version of "How Do You Sleep?"
Other replications don't fare so well. Covering Missing Persons' hit "Destination Unknown" is a cute move, but the new version is so close in spirit to the original that it, too, comes off as new-wave dreck. Conversely, the quartet's cover of Pink Floyd's "Ibiza Bar" reaches too far: We hear a symphony warming up, an amplified heartbeat, and megawatts of feedback, yet the purpose of it all is never made clear. Likewise, the band endeavors to transform David Bowie's "Bewlay Brothers" into a seven-minute epic, but instead produces what sounds like a rejected background score for Star Wars. (This might be why Darth Vadar's emphysemic breathing can be heard throughout.)
The Replicants' rendition of "Silly Love Songs" is typical of the overkill. They turn the sappy McCartney staple into a brilliantly bleak soundscape in which guitars yelp, drums thump lethargically, and keyboards chime organ-grinder-style. But for all the song's haunted atmospherics, the band doesn't quite know when to quit. About two minutes into it I felt like saying "Okay already, guys, I get the irony." The song runs six minutes and nine seconds. Round about that sixth minute, it dawned on me that the Replicants were having a better time than I was. That's never a good sign.
By Steven Almond
Since their 1990 debut album Born to Sing, En Vogue has been one of the few bright spots on an R&B landscape mired in formulaic, syrupy schmaltz. A creation of the songwriting-producing team of Thomas McElroy and Denzil Foster, En Vogue is admittedly a prefab act. But when the package clicked, as it did on 1992's multiplatinum hit Funky Divas, it kicked ass. Alive with the rhythmic spirit of hip-hop and informed by the classic soul and funk of Curtis Mayfield, James Brown, and George Clinton, the quartet stood out as the sassiest and most soulful crossover group since Labelle and racked up several of the early Nineties greatest hits, including "My Love (You're Never Gonna Get It)" and "Free Your Mind."
Looking to quadruple both their hired hands' output and their own financial profits, McElroy and Foster have split En Vogue into four solo acts. Unfortunately, the first product of this separation -- Terry Ellis's Southern Gal -- doesn't add much to the En Vogue legacy. Although the album starts with the promising "She's a Lady," a Southern-fried, violin-streaked anthem of sisterhood, Southern Gal soon descends into sludgy tempos and sappy cliches, making such songs as "It Ain't Over" and "Wherever You Are" no more redeeming than the other R&B ballads curently littering urban radio.
There's some fine stuff here: the flute hook that leads "Slow Dance"; the gospel-funk chorus on "You Make Me High"; and the soul-soaked ambiance of "It's You That I Need," a cover of Enchantment's 1978 hit. Despite the occasional high points, however, Southern Girl never recaptures Ellis's Texas homegirl vibe or her glory days as a funky diva.
By Roni Sarig
Adventures in Afropea 3: Telling Stories to the Sea
(Luaka Bop/Warner Bros.)
David Byrne's globetrotting Luaka Bop label sets down this time on the fertile musical soil of Portugal's various African territories. Telling Stories to the Sea, the label's followup to last year's brilliant collection The Soul of Black Peru, rounds up an assortment of Afro-Portuguese coladeiras (a mix of Brazilian, Latin, and French-Caribbean styles), mornas (minor-key, blues-based ballads), and funanas (a strain of folk music that originated in Brazil) and spans more than 30 years. The set features some of Africa's most revered artists -- from 60-year-old Afro-pop sensation Cesaria évora to outspoken folksinger Barcel cents de Carvalho, a.k.a. Bonga -- yet this is the first compilation to document the myriad facets of Afro-Portuguese music. (Previous Afropea volumes were devoted to the work of a cappella group Zap Mama and North African vocalist Djur Djura, respectively.)
The music's slippery rhythms, winding guitar riffs, and throbbing bass lines will probably sound familiar to fans of African soukous, mbaqanga, and juju, the three most popular styles of Central and South African pop, which mix American R&B with the areas' indigenous folk musics. With its darting bass line, vibrato-soaked guitar melody, and chanting harmony vocals, Africa Negra's 1983 masterwork "B Lega Cac Modà B" ("You Let the Dog Bite You"), for instance, would fit perfectly on any of the zillions of Soweto compilations released in the wake of Paul Simon's 1986 set Graceland. You'll also hear how artists such as Pedro Ramos and Jacinta Sanches work the influences of Brazilian pop, Afro-Cuban rumbas, and African-American blues into the music of their homeland of Cape Verde.
More important, Telling Stories to the Sea chronicles the personal and political struggles commonplace in Cape Verde and Angola: Pedro Ramos's "Luis di Kandinha" ("Luis, Kandinha's Son") is about a father's son jailed "because of his big mouth"; Danny Silva's "Mama Africa" puts you on a blood-stained slave ship; and Bonga's "Mona Ki Ngi Xiaa" ("The Child I'm Leaving Behind") finds a father forced through slavery to leave his daughter. Yet even in these ravaged areas, hope still skirts the border. Livity's "Rosinha" is a snapshot of young love written by Jorge Neto and set against a backdrop of sweet synthesizer and delicately stroked guitar. "Rosinha, I love you," sings the exiled Neto, "If you wait for me, I'll marry you." Given the atrocities cited throughout Telling Stories, it's unlikely he'll make it back home. Still, Neto's optimism defines the spirit that lies at the heart of nearly every song here.
By John Floyd
Oscar & Steve
There are plenty of people who are surprised when they find out that Mandy Patinkin also sings. His roles in The Princess Bride and Chicago Hope have defined him for the general public, but his fans will tell you that he's most at home when singing in a Broadway show (Evita, Sunday in the Park with George, The Secret Garden, and others) or in a recording studio. However, if Oscar & Steve is any indication, Patinkin's future might be better spent more in front of cameras and less behind microphones.
Mandy, what have you done to your voice? Have years of belting finally taken their toll? The voice, which formerly was even throughout its range, has now frayed into several different voices, some of which have a wobble big enough for Che Guevara to march through, and others that sound as if they're about to rip Patinkin's throat out. Can the best vocal coaches in the country put Mandy's voice together again?
"Oscar" is lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II; "Steve" is composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim. Young Sondheim was mentored by the fatherly Hammerstein in the Forties, so combining their work -- which ranks among the finest of their respective generations A is a nice idea. Patinkin's connection with Sondheim's work has already been established (his role in the composer's Sunday in the Park with George, for example), and it's clear that Oscar's songs (with music by Jerome Kern, Richard Rodgers, and others) also mean a lot to him. Patinkin takes chances here, such as singing some "women's songs" ("Beat Out That Rhythm on a Drum" from Carmen Jones, "Bali Ha'i" from South Pacific), and he can be a great performer. But hearing the vocal damage documented on this set is like watching Joan of Arc at the stake: a thrilling spectacle, but not an especially positive one.
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By Raymond Tuttle
Marry Me Jane
Marry Me Jane
Colorless, odorless, soulless, pointless five-piece insta-alternarock band that, very likely, was genetically engineered in the labs of febrile, last-week's-big-thing-seeking-major-label A&R dweebs. Ingredients: breathy singer-songwriter front woman; slashing, on-eleven guitars; quiet verses, loud choruses on the rockers; use of an expletive on one cut; and a peck of we're-sensitive-too power ballads. ("Hey, don't forget the hidden track!" "Got it!") In toto: musical sea monkeys. Or, looked at another way, modern rock's Edie Brickell and New Bohemians.
By Michael Yockel