Kirsty MacColl

Kirsty MacColl's clear, breathy voice; knack for effortless hooks; and (occasional) biting wordplay have made her a star in her English homeland since the early Eighties, when she recorded her bouncy, rollicking "There's a Guy Works Down the Chip Shop Swears He's Elvis." Here, however, she remains a fringe presence. A pity, really.

She consistently has evinced a keen sense of humor (the sighing "They Don't Know," her paean to/sendup of naive Fifties love songs that became a U.S. hit when covered by actress Tracey Ullman), poignant lyricism (the lovely, affecting "Don't Come the Cowboy With Me, Sonny Jim!"), and remarkable tunefulness (the pert, salsa-y "My Affair"). A strong interpreter of others' material, over the years she has climbed inside songs by Billy Bragg ("A New England"), Cole Porter ("Miss Otis Regrets," with the Pogues), the Kinks ("Days"), and the Smiths ("You Just Haven't Earned It Yet Baby"). All those songs, plus her poppy hip-hop brush with U.S. modern-rock radio, 1991's "Walking Down Madison," show up on this eighteen-track retrospective, as does 1987's "Fairytale of New York," a swelling Irish ballad on which she trades serrated vocal barbs with Shane MacGowan while backed by his Pogues. Includes two new songs: MacColl's jaunty, shimmering tale of best-friend betrayal, "Caroline," and, in a duet with Lemonheads' main man Evan Dando, a dulcet cover of Lou Reed's "Perfect Day."

-- Michael Yockel

The Cruel Sea
The Honeymoon is Over

This is the album the Rolling Stones have been trying to make for the last fifteen years. Instead, the Cruel Sea made it. You buy it.

-- Steven Almond

Various Artists
The Music, the Magic, the Memories of Motown: A Tribute to Berry Gordy

When did the magic leave Motown? Probably about the time Marvin Gaye told Berry Gordy to kiss his ass. And man, is it obvious on this bathetic tribute attempt.

Putting classic tracks such as Barrett Strong's "Money (That's What I Want)," Gordy's best composition, next to treacly new renditions by Shanice and Boyz II Men borders on sacrilege. Add some lukewarm Nineties work from the Temptations sans Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin ("Do You Love Me," originally written for them but snared by the Contours because Gordy couldn't find the lads) and a discoized Diana Ross (a horrible "You've Made Me So Very Happy"), and you can pretty much put a toe tag on Hitsville.

There are some moments here A the Four Tops' heartfelt "I'll Be There," a huge improvement on the original Jackson Five smarmfest; the Temps' 1980 politifunk "Power"; and of course two tracks by the fabulous Jackie Wilson, who wasn't really a Motown star -- but overall the album plays to Gordy the songwriter's weakness: weepy sentimentality.

A better honor to Gordy and his legacy? Go out and find yourself greatest hits collections of the Supremes, the Temps (with Kendricks and Ruffin), the Tops (with Levi Stubbs), Marvin Gaye, and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. Then you'll really hear what the magic was about.

-- Bob Weinberg

Del Amitri

Back in, like, 1985, Del Amitri released a self-titled debut that still stands as one of the least heralded pop masterpieces of all time. Led by teenage bassist Justin Currie, the Scottish quartet produced ten cuts of such melodic and lyrical beauty that it seemed remarkable they should occupy just one record.

Then Del Amitri disappeared. Not a peep for four years (at least on this side of the Atlantic). The band eventually returned with a retooled rhythm section, and produced two more records, both stunning in spots and average in others. The new disc, Twisted, offers about the same ratio. A few killer tunes, a few strong ones, a few snoozers.

The sound is louder this time around, a contrast to 1992's elegant Change Everything Change. Guitarist Iain Harvie has muddied his fretboard and the rhythm section seems to have been force-fed steroids. Strong ones. Currie, ever the front man, is still a bit caught up in the role. Like most rock stars, he seems to have about two moods: bitter and mournful. But he remains such an expressive songwriter that the pose is forgivable.

Hooks carry the day. The cruel stomp of "Food for Songs" is the band's best shot at airplay since "Kiss This Thing Goodbye," which was on the air for about a minute in 1990. As sad as its title suggests, "Driving With the Brakes On" is Currie's return to classic brooding form.

In sum, a fine, fine album. Not nearly so good as the one the chaps produced ten years ago, but they're getting (back) there.

-- Steven Almond

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Steven Almond
Bob Weinberg
Michael Yockel