Juan Gabriel
El Mexico Que Se Nos Fue
(BMG/U.S. Latin)

Pop hero Juan Gabriel goes back to his roots a la Gloria Estefan on this Mexican-style Mi Tierra. Nortenos, rancheros, son michoacano, and other forms of Mexican country music are the stuff of Gabriel's nostalgia, and like Estefan's Grammy winner this is a well-produced album. But the laid-back cadences of these songs, written by Gabriel and performed by him with the musicians who call themselves El Mariachi de Mi Tierra, are sure to alienate fans of the sassy contemporary music that has brought the singer a rabid following south of the border. If you're looking for spice, check out Los Lobos' recent Desperado soundtrack instead. But if you want to experience pure forms of sleepy folk music from El Mexico Que Se Nos Fue (The Mexico That Was), padrisimo, hombre, this disc is for you: guitars, violin, and Gabriel lamenting about old sombreros, old pistolas, and old lovers in a sexually frustrated wail. Grab a bottle of mescal and enjoy.

By Judy Cantor

Sonic Youth
Washing Machine

In the seven years since Sonic Youth hit its apex with Daydream Nation, the band's trailblazing brand of bang-and-clang dramatics has become, well, kind of dull. Their skewed melodies, cut-up lyrics, and screwball guitar tunings just don't cut it when the postpunk noise options out there include masterworks by Rake, Masonna, the Dead C., Harry Pussy, and A Handful of Dust. And the off-kilter and wonderfully bent pop-song structures of SY's Bad Moon Rising (1985) and Evol (1986) have since been outclassed by San Francisco's Thinking Fellers Union 282, who espouse an acid-addled songwriting philosophy that manages to be daring, challenging, and incessantly catchy without ever wasting notes for the sheer sake of experimentation.

There are plenty of wasted notes on Washing Machine, a chronicle of Sonic Youth's creative breakdown that clunks and crashes for more than an hour without making any noises you haven't heard before. If Sister (1987) and Daydream Nation found the group reinventing the avant-screech experiments of their previous work, Washing Machine is the sound of a former top gun shooting blanks. The jagged twin-guitar dynamics of Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore have become little more than a dissonant variety of Muzak for the post-Nirvana set, all chimey and wah-wah-laden, reaching for chaotic transcendence and settling for polished squawk. And if you need more proof of bassist Kim Gordon's ineffectiveness as a vocalist, climb into the spin cycle with "Panty Lines," a sputtering fuck screed that's as admirable as it is irritating, her most useless rant since "Kool Thing" on 1990's Goo.

And so it's been for rock-and-roll innovators from Carl Perkins to John Lydon: Where once they took bold steps in new sonic directions, soon they stumble like doddering old prophets. Sure, Sonic Youth has done its part to redefine rock's possibilities; countless groups, both in and out of the MTV eye, have constructed their sounds and visions on the bedrock of Daydream Nation. Still, it's hard to imagine anyone finding much inspiration among the washed-out blatherings of Washing Machine.

By John Floyd

Set Your Goals

Who's to blame for the current punk renaissance? Joey Ramone makes for a good fall guy, although it's awful hard to hold anything against someone who has worse hair than Dave Barry. Sid Vicious is always a likely suspect, because he set the standard for talentlessness in the arena of popular music (not counting Dave Barry, of course). But maybe we should target someone more contemporary. Say, Billy Joe Armstrong, Green Day's chief burnout? The boys from Offspring? Or how about Speaker of the House Newt "My wife has cancer? What wife?" Gingrich? He seems determined to piss off everyone 21 or younger. Whoever the culprit(s), these power-chord outfits are multiplying like roaches living on a strict diet of guacamole and McNuggets.

CIV -- "All capital letters, buddy, remember that!" -- is just one of many new ones, and not especially bad as these things go. Nor especially good. At its best ("So Far, So Good . . . So What"), this major-label debut recalls early Clash: kicking rhythm section, scorching guitar, passionate howling. At its worst ("State of Grace"), all these assets are yoked in the service of hardcore posturing. Don't look for a whole lot of depth lyrically. Front man Civ -- "Hey, ain't that s'pose to be all capital letters?" -- restricts his ad-libs to the word fucking. Nice. This quartet plainly has the energy and musical talent necessary to excel in the new tuneful-punks sweepstakes. However, they might consider titling their next one Set Your Goals . . . a Bit Higher.

By Steven Almond
CIV performs with Smile at 8:00 p.m. on Tuesday, October 31, at RSC Respectable Street, 218 Espanola Way, Miami Beach; 672-1707. Tickets cost $5.

Machines of Loving Grace

With their first album, 1993's Concentration, Machines of Loving Grace earned a reputation as a poor man's nine inch nails, offering smoldering guitar riffs over death-disco rhythms in songs about love, hate, oppression, and the like. However, their second offering, Gilt, is a tiresome affair, not just because of its unremittingly corrosive vocals, droning guitars, and bargain-basement angst, but because everything here has been done better by others before. The first track, "Richest Junkie Still Alive," smacks of Filter Lite, carried by a dark bass line that gives way to a cascade of guitar frenzy. You can just imagine the band members patting each other on the back and crowing "Hey, man, nice shot" when they penned this one. "Kiss Destroyer" and "Last" attempt to tread on Ministry territory (the latter song being in parts a blatant ripoff of that band's "Jesus Built My Hotrod"), but are painful to listen to more because of their inanity rather than their overwhelming heaviness. "Animal Mass" and "Solar Temple" cop Rage Against the Machine's funk-and-burn style, but to far lesser effect. Lyrically, the songs have nothing new to say. If you think imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, think again.

By Georgina Cardenas

Terry Cashman
Passin' It On: America's Baseball Heritage in Song

I think I've discovered the real reason for last year's baseball strike: Someone leaked this CD to the players and they immediately began considering other careers. Passin' It On A even the title conjures images of viral infections or bad gas A is the wackiest scourge to hit the sport since Roseanne grabbed her crotch and wailed the national anthem. Cashman, who had some minor-league success in the Seventies as one-half of duo Cashman and West, demotes America's pastime to stickball status. This set is so bad and so maudlin that if they played it during the seventh-inning stretch, they'd have to institute a suicide watch for the grandstands.

On "Third Base Coach," it's Hee Haw hoot night as Cashman spews anatomical witticisms such as "look at that coach on the other side/he's touching his cap/he's rubbing his thigh/third base coach is really my kind of guy." (In disbelief, I kept looking for Weird Al Yankovic's name in the songwriting credits.) "Oriole Park" whips the intrepid baseball fan into a frenzy as Cashman croons "Oriole Park at Camden Yards/they play baseball here/they play baseball/and it feels like the good old days," followed by the Jim Jones Day crowd echoing Cashman's "Ohhhhs" as if they're suffering from tainted hot dogs. Ex-Creedence Clearwater Revival front man John Fogerty takes a fastball to the cubes as Cashman does a painful karaoke cover of his "Centerfield," and on "Baseball Ballet," Cashman . . . ah, forget it. I can't go on. This slipped disc closes (21 songs and 76 minutes later, argh!!) with his ode "Give Us Back Our Game." Deal. But only if you promise to quit singing these stupid baseball songs and retire. Now hit the showers.

By George Pelletier

7 Seconds
The Music, The Message

Around since punk's Pleistocene era (well, at least since 1980), 7Seconds explored the hooks-and-harmonies side of hardcore as far back as 1989, a full five years before the sound went mega. And if the defensiveness and defiance expressed in several songs here serve as an indication, then 7Seconds singer-songwriter-guitarist Kevin Seconds took endless reams of you-know-what for that stylistic decision. On "Such & Such," "Get a (Different) Life," and the title cut, he and his bandmates (his bassist brother Steve, drummer Troy Mowat) stick out their tongues at their critics, while on a handful of other songs, notably "I Can Remember" and "Punk Rock Teeth," they bond about the pure punk ethos. It seems as if Kevin suffers from a huge aging-punk identity crisis, trying to convince himself -- and us -- of his credibility. Hey, Kev, I believe you! Of course the band's inch-deep sloganeering and what-will-the-future-bring hand wringing wouldn't matter if virtually everything here weren't aurally interchangeable, but only the smart and dynamic "See You Tomorrow" distinguishes itself from a herd of zippy would-be anthems. Finally, what were these guys thinking when they chose to close this album with a cover of Sham 69's fist-pumping "The Kids Are United"? It merely makes their own stuff sound generic by comparison.

By Michael Yockel
7Seconds performs with Unwritten Law, Sprung Monkey, and Blink-182 at 8:00 p.m. on Wednesday, November 1, at the Edge, 200 W Broward Blvd, Ft Lauderdale; 525-9333. Tickets cost $10.

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