For all the promise of his production, Lanois shines brightest as a songwriter when he strips his sound bare, as two remarkable compositions near the album's end attest. "Sleeping in the Devil's Bed," which first appeared in Wim Wenders's Until the End of the World, is a sturdy folk-country number underpinned by light brush percussion, and its loping piano and smooth retro vocals generate surprising power. With simple but evocative lyrics ("I think of you when I tell myself/And the fever rises high/I think of you and I get what's coming/Sleeping in the devil's bed"), the song sounds like a missing gem from the Band's past, a distant cousin of both Bob Dylan's "Man in the Long Black Coat" (which Lanois produced) and Skip James's "Devil Got My Woman" (which he didn't).
After an uncharacteristic burst of eruptive, rubbery fretwork on the title song, Lanois returns to simplicity with the album's masterful closer, the frangible "Rocky World." Galvanized by a strong storytelling ethic and eloquent imagery ("I'll tell you there's something I'll never forget/The sight of you in silhouette"), "Rocky World" renders a series of piercing small-town portraits with poetic economy. And just as the mix swells behind a religious metaphor and a ponderous coda seems imminent, Lanois dissolves his song, and his album, leaving behind only the fragrance of a strummed string.
-- Ben Greenman
David Coverdale and Jimmy Page
Some of this sounds a lot like David Coverdale auditioning for a singing job with Demonomacy. Give him Brownie points for ambition. And Page? Sounds a lot like Jimmy Page, minus the adventurous songwriting and pure panache of Led Zep. Power chording and growly vocals (even with the requisite ballad and a nod or two to the blues) plus lots of superficial hookiness and an obvious theme of "we want a hit" do not a great rock record make.
It's a safe bet Mr. Whitesnake and Mr. Satan had some fun recording this new album, cutting tracks in Vancouver; Abbey Road in London; Hook City, Nevada; and Miami's Criteria. Too bad listening is not much fun. A great rock record Coverdale and Page did not make.
-- Greg Baker
From the tip of his I'm-terse-I'm-fashionable moniker to the tail of his first (and hopefully last) LP, Nick Scotti reeks of the most abysmal sort of pretty-boy folderol. Press material for this Madonna-discovered model-turned-singer (where are the border guards when you need them?) drones on and on about "an impressive roster of musical influences" and "superstar showcase," but the fact of the matter is that it took five production teams and a half dozen songwriters (including Patti Austin, Maxi Priest, Diane Warren, and the Material girl herself) to float ten songs, and that the results are exactly what you'd expect A anemic dance-soul with plenty of padding and the occasional lucky strike (the faux fatback bass carpeting "Slow Down," for instance, or the churchy synths of "Just No Justice"). Scotti has a sizable voice, but his delivery is all pose, nothing that Rick Astley couldn't knock off on his way to has-been rehab, and the flat stab at the Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes chestnut "Wake Up Everybody" is about four cents short of a nickel.
To misquote Casey Stengel, talent isn't everything, it's the only thing. Beefcake for boneheads.
-- Ben Greenman
The Beat Generation
(Rhino Word Beat)
For all those whose lives were changed by reading On the Road, this box is for you. And of course the author behind that well-thumbed Beat bible is well-represented, opening Rhino's exhaustive three-disc compilation with a reading that captures the mood and excitement of the movement more than just about anything that follows.
Rhino's approach, although extensive, is too catholic; mixed in with the excellent readings by Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, and Ken Nordine are dated "novelties" by the likes of Edd "Kookie" Byrnes ("Man, dig this crazy pad!") and yes, even Perry Como, attempting to cash in on the Beat tip. That said, Beat Generation truly is a fascinating look at a subculture that at least produced as much good art as it did cheap rip-offs by bogus Bohemians.
Sure, there's plenty of breast beating and raging against the staid social mores of the Eisenhower era. But what's really interesting is the sense of the sublime the Beats often found in the mundane and absurd, whether in the nonsensical and oh-so-cool lyrics and delivery of Slim Gaillard ("Yip Roc Heresy" is just plain hilarious) or the pleasures of a midnight snack as detailed by jazz poet Ken Nordine. Gaillard and Dizzy Gillespie, who contributes a breathless scat that mimics his remarkable be-bop horn phrasings, represent the roots of both Beat lingo and attitude. They in turn learned from the master of cool, tenor man Lester Young, whose verbiage was so esoteric he practically had his own language. Kerouac's worship of black society, particularly the jazz and blues underground, is fawning to the point of obsequiousness, but there is no question that he found a vitality among blacks sorely missing in repressed white Fifties America. Perhaps we have him to thank for Vanilla Ice.