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JANUARY 20, 1998: 

*** The Ramones



Only the Ramones could get away with releasing two consecutive live albums, the third and fourth of their career, with much of the same material played exactly the same way. The bruddahs' final release (until they decide to reunite) documents a farewell show in Los Angeles in August 1996. They honored the occasion by playing the same show they'd been playing everywhere else: the oldies roll out like clockwork, the whole thing's over in a little more than an hour, and the only grand gestures are a handful of celebrity guests (Lemmy, Chris Cornell, prodigal bassist Dee Dee Ramone), plus a little vocal improv from Joey ("Beat on the brat with a baseball bat, a-whoa-oh, hooyah, yeah"). The world's only Ramones fan with no sense of humor, Eddie Vedder, joins in for the spirited finale of the Dave Clark Five's "Any Way You Want It." It's a blast, but it's way too predictable.

By the time of their break-up, the Ramones had long since stopped experimenting on disc or adding much new material to their live show. They'd become punk's surest institution instead of rock's greatest band. The CD comes packaged with a career-spanning video in which the Ramones' career comes off as a long-running crusade to save rock from over-seriousness. It worked great for a while.

-- Brett Milano

*** The London Suede



Beauty, or perhaps more accurately, glamor, has always been the raison d'être of the London Suede. That quality and all it implies -- charisma, style, confidence -- is in abundant supply on this two-disc compilation of British B-sides, most of which have never been issued in America.

Talk about an Anglophile's wet dream. The 27 tracks here, culled from no fewer than 13 EPs the band have released since 1992, shimmer with a distinctively British glam (read Bowie) sensibility and singer Brett Anderson's narrative obsessions: cars and petrol, oxygen and desire, glittery decadence. The songs are uniformly good -- doubtless because the EP format has always mattered most in the UK, where bands are routinely crowned and dethroned on the basis of a single or two. Despite the departure of founding guitarist Bernard Butler and the addition of his teenage replacement, Richard Oakes, the Suede's sound -- lush, grandiose -- remains virtually unchanged from the first track to the last (a compliment or criticism depending upon one's point of view). This consistency must be credited to Anderson, a gold-plated poseur whose vamping androgyny and spectacularly mannered vocals immediately, and indelibly, established the band's defining characteristics: epic narcissism and opulent beauty.

-- Jonathan Perry

*** The Gothic Archies



The songs Stephin Merritt writes for the Magnetic Fields can be depressing, but they've got nothing on the Gothic Archies, where Merritt pins the nihilism meter's needle all the way to the right. "Goth-bubblegum," he calls it -- which entails, for instance, coming up with a mindbendingly chirpy melody, giving it lyrics like "ride the magic hearse to the city of the damned," and drenching it in Bauhausian reverb. As you might expect, this brief EP, The New Despair, is kind of hilarious -- "The world's a leech crawling down one's throat," Merritt intones in "The Tiny Goat," and that perfectly dry "one's" makes the song. But behind the giggles and gloom and the chintzy synth instrumentation, the lyrics hint at actual horror: soul-crushing loneliness and loss of hope. It's real despair wearing a Halloween mask of Munch's Scream.

-- Douglas Wolk

*** Pete (LaRoca) Sims


(Blue Note)

Few comebacks in jazz are more welcome than that of drummer Pete (LaRoca) Sims. In 1959, at age 19, he was in the Sonny Rollins trio. A few years later, Coltrane picked him as the drummer for his first quartet. And Sims -- the first drummer to record a free-tempo solo (on Jackie McLean's New Soil, in 1959) -- continued to play with the likes of Art Farmer, Paul Bley, Joe Henderson, and John Gilmore until 1966, when he left jazz and became a lawyer.

This CD is the first recording by a sextet Sims has led intermittently since 1990, and his first as a leader in more than 30 years. Time has not dimmed his powers. Sims keeps every limb in motion. His cymbals alternate between carrying the beat and marking accents in a dazzling flash of colors. His bass-drum patterns bubble up from under this metallic canopy, and their seemingly independent rhythms are often absorbed into the continuous flow of tom-toms and snare.

This busy style would be a distraction if Sims weren't such a sensitive listener. He intensifies and slackens his activity to create tension-and-release that augments the stories told by his sidemen, who all play with conviction and power. Tenor-saxophonist Ricky Ford brings his robust sound to an uptempo version of "Body and Soul." On "Susan's Waltz," soprano-saxophonist Dave Liebman leaves space between his skittering lines for Sims and pianist George Cables to fill. And trumpeter Jimmy Owens breezes through "The Candy Man," then boils over on "Nihon Bashi."

-- Ed Hazell

*** Pat DiNizio



A listener approaching Songs and Sounds, Pat DiNizio's first solo record, runs across some pretty solid hints that the ex-Smithereens frontman is taking a wide left turn. There's the noirish faux Blue Note graphics, the presence of jazz saxophonist Sonny Fortune, the promise in the facetious liner notes that DiNizio's brave new sound will surprise "a great many people," and DiNizio's own description of the disc as "punk meets pop meets jazz." Then there's the somber, edgy atmospherics of the opening number, "Where I Am Going," a song by film-score composer Bernard Herrmann. Given all this, the real surprise of Songs and Sounds is that it remains so faithful to the moody pop tunefulness that was the Smithereens' stock-in-trade. Although the guitar-heavy crunch of the group's latter-day efforts has given way to a more nuanced sound, "124 MPH," "Everyday World," and "A World Apart" are the kind of tightly constructed melodic gems that made the Smithereens a dependable pleasure. DiNizio hasn't broken any stunning new ground, but he hasn't lost his touch, either.

-- Chris Erikson

**** Fred Frith



Fred Frith's been making some of the most beautiful music of his career since moving to Germany a few years back. This sampler of his recent compositions from films, television, and the stage begins with the comfortably slithering slide-guitar-based "Le Rencontre: Title Theme" and eases through gentler soundscapes than the avant guitarist/violinist/noisemaker/composer is generally known for. Of course, there are eruptions; his "Backroom II" sports the kind of melodramatic cacophony that became his calling card as a member of outfits like Skeleton Crew or the many improvising duos he performed with after his tenure in the pioneering art-rock bands Henry Cow and the Art Bears. But his nearly 10-minute extract "Picture of Light" is as beautiful and unhurried as director Peter Mettler's documentary of the same name -- which took a long view of the Aurora Borealis. Frith plays most of the instruments here -- percussion, violin, and guitar primarily, and it takes some listening to discern that the cathedral bells, will-o'-the-wisp calls, twisting metal, and glockenspiel-like "tings" are actually his guitar. But his writing for horns, reeds, and keys displays his fusion of folk music, classicism, and textural conjuring just as ably as his own singular virtuosity. This album's a quiet gem.

-- Ted Drozdowski

*** Ethnic Heritage Ensemble



This release debuts a new line-up for the 20-year-old Chicago-based group led by drummer/percussionist Kahil El'Zabar -- tenor-saxophonist Ed Wilkerson has been replaced by tenor and alto player Ernest "Khabeer" Dawkins, and a second percussionist, "Atu" Harold Murray has been added. The resulting quartet (rounded out by trombonist Joseph Bowie) puts the emphasis on rhythmic filigree and subtle percussive dialogue. Of course, the problem with having two rhythmatists working simultaneously is that everything seems nailed to the floor -- twice. Not that Dawkins and Bowie don't levitate when the mood is apt, as on "From Whence We Came," where both don tough-guy tonalities and deal out gritty, scrabbling phrases -- Bowie in order to build slyly, Dawkins to generate a rawer heat, or essay an intriguingly light-toned articulation on the wistful "Ancestral Song" and a genuinely spooky version of Miles's "All Blues." But rhythm rules the day, and there are times when it's a toss-up as to whether the ever-present looming trance is metaphysical or just results from too much of a good thing.

-- Richard C. Walls

**** Entombed


(Music for Nations)

The best heavy metal made in 1997 came unheralded out of the north in the form of Entombed, until now a band cosmetically inseparable from the legions of Scandinavian hellions hungrily scavenging the post-Napalm Death grindcore carcass. Nonetheless, they'd already made themselves a pop-music footnote by beating out Roxette in the Swedish version of the Grammys, and they'd since been spotted covering Roky Erickson and the MC5 -- an indication that some sinister rock-and-roll disease is once again infecting high-minded sonic terrorists of all shapes and sizes.

DCLXVI (= 666) is a beginning-to-end masterwork that goes right alongside Slayer's Reign in Blood, Corrosion of Conformity's Blind and, occasionally, Unsane's Total Destruction on metal's (post-Cro-Mag) evolutionary ladder. If that weren't enough, it also goes toe-to-toe with the trials-and-tribulations street polemics of James Brown -- on the title track someone tells 'em they were born to lose, but to paraphrase the Godfather's "Oh Baby Don't You Weep, Pt. II," they couldn't take that for an answer, and they walked on down the street. Elsewhere they wrassle with God, freedom, subservience, pain, the Devil, deliverance, and ecstasy -- only to emerge with the unexpectedly subtle conviction that in the end it's "Everyday victory/Everyday peace/Just them little, little things that keep you off your knees." In a year of Tool's millennial Floydisms, Korn and the Deftones' urban thrashpop, and bands everywhere else remixing themselves into a (White) Zombified technocoma, this was where the muscle and balls were, and -- surprise! -- the heart and soul, to boot.

-- Carly Carioli

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