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JUNE 21, 1999: 

*** Moviola THE DURABLE DREAM (Spirit of Orr)

The increasingly barren indie-rock landscape would be downright deserted without bands like Moviola, the Columbus quartet who by last year had produced three shimmering, low-fi albums amid a flurry of seven-inches and compilation tracks. On their fourth full-length, this sturdy band ratchet up the sound quality and streamline their playing without detracting from its modest charms. All four members sing, and each displays a cool intellectual wit that, coupled with the lolling melodic songs, makes Moviola sound like a Midwestern Luna.

In "Crowding the Sky," a rhythm seems to pick up steam as guitars cascade in and out of the three vague yet nicely worded verses; like many of these songs, it has no chorus. Jake Housh, who's the de facto lead vocalist, sings with a restrained snarl that lends itself well to held notes, as in the woozy and sort-of-sad "It Only Rains on Saturday" and the folk-rock frolic "There's a Hole in the Aviary." Without veering too far off course, Moviola dip their toes into country, pedal steel, and all in the romantic "Call My Work" and add a bit of artsiness with tape loops that pop up unobtrusively. The Durable Dream lacks any overt single or catchy rave-ups, but it's an uncommonly cohesive, winning collection from a band who operate on their own unassuming terms.

-- Richard Martin

*** Randy Newman BAD LOVE (DreamWorks)

Randy Newman has always struck a fine balance between the surly neurosis of a satirist and the near-maudlin sentimentality of a show-biz scion, and his new release shows that, at age 55, the full range is still intact. Notwithstanding that the irony he pioneered has become the lingua franca of pop culture, he can still be biting -- as on "I'm Dead," where he assumes the persona of a rock version of Archie Rice (the aging and wretched music-hall performer played by Olivier in The Entertainer) confessing that "each record that I make/Is like a record that I've made/Only not as good," or on "My Country," which depicts a nation of emotionally frozen TV addicts. Somewhat less impressive are "The Great Nations of Europe" and "The World Isn't Fair," obvious if accurate poly-sci complaints delivered in an unengaging kind of Broadway sprechstimme. But the flip side -- the melancholy love songs -- are uniformly good, with "I Miss You" and "Better Off Dead" mining a vein of melancholy regret. This is a worthy addition to the canon, and though it may all sound pretty familiar by now, Newman shows that, unlike his "I'm Dead" protagonist, he still has a few things to say.

-- Richard C. Walls

*** Various Artists NO BOUNDARIES (Epic)

How anyone was able to throw together a high-profile, major-label benefit CD inspired by a global human tragedy without including Sting in the project is a total mystery. But here it is, a genuine Sting-free compilation dedicated to raising funds to provide aid for the Kosovo refugees through three international agencies (CARE, OXFAM, and Doctors Without Borders). Epic was kind enough to volunteer the services of six of its heavy hitters: Pearl Jam, who contribute two previously unreleased cover tunes from a 1998 fan-club-only vinyl single, Rage Against the Machine ("Ghost of Tom Joad" live), Korn (a remix of "Freak on a Leash"), Black Sabbath (a remix of "Psychoman"), Oasis (the obscure import B-side "Take Me Away"), and Indigo Girls ("Go" live). The 16-track CD also reaches beyond the Sony roster to include live selections from Alanis Morissette, Neil Young, and Sarah McLachlan, plus a "special acoustic version" of Bush's "Come Down" (performed, oddly enough, with electric guitar) and a fine Tori Amos studio leftover. No major revelations or epiphanies here, but, hey, you won't readily find any of these tracks elsewhere, it's for a good cause, and, best of all, there's no Sting.

-- Matt Ashare

* Ministry DARK SIDE OF THE SPOON (Warner Bros.)

The picture of the naked obese woman in a dunce cap on the cover -- aside from simply being the sort of gross-out image that Al Jourgensen has always favored -- is almost certainly meant to suggest one possible interpretation of the quite excellent album title. But anyone familiar with the Ministry lifestyle will know that when Jourgensen alludes to a "spoon" he's generally not using it to eat with. And so Dark Side of the Spoon is either a brilliant conceptual piece in which Ministry -- now just Jourgensen and programmer Paul Barker plus a new drummer, a guitarist, and some "additional personnel" -- play the part of a band whose creative energies have been so sapped by drug addiction that they just keep making the same album over and over again, sounding less and less inspired with each successive effort, or it's an album by a band who really are so damaged by drug abuse that all of the above is actually true. Either way, coming from the techno-industrial outlaws who singlehandedly (or maybe with a little help from Trent Reznor) appeared to reinvent heavy metal for the digital age on 1992's Psalm 69: The Way To Succeed and the Way To Suck Eggs (Sire) and the Lollapalooza tour that followed, Dark Side of the Spoon is a pretty disappointing effort. Or, more accurately, it's just more of the same dense programmed thrash and dirge metal with junkie-gothic overtones that was already starting to sound dated on 1996's Filth Pig (Warner Bros.).

-- Matt Ashare

* Ma$e DOUBLE UP (Bad Boy/Arista)

Ma$e's fame began with a verse on the late Notorious B.I.G.'s sublime "Mo Money, Mo Problems," and his glitzy, MTV-friendly image earned him denouncements from countless underground rappers with nothing better to rap about. He released his successful solo debut, Harlem World, in 1997, and now he's back with his sophomore album, a tepid, mainly joyless affair that may end his career -- he recently announced that he's quitting hip-hop to devote himself to God.

Nothing about Ma$e leaves much of a lingering impression, though "Make Me Cry" is neatly spliced together from bits of Natalie Cole and Fleetwood Mac. The rest of the disc is a familiar mix of sparkly synthesizers, ominous strings, ill-conceived remakes (Gary Numan's "Cars"?), and mumbled lyrics, seasoned with the obligatory pinch of Southern bounce. Some rappers rap for money, some for fame, some for the love of the music, and some because they have something to say. Ma$e -- who has always sounded casually unscrupulous -- just does it because he can. Even though he can't.

-- Kelefa Sanneh

*** Various Artists HOT RODS & CUSTOM CLASSICS (Rhino)

Packaged to look like one of those plastic hot-rod models, Hot Rods & Custom Classics is Rhino's four-CD ode to cruisin' culture, replete with a 64-page booklet featuring Tom Wolfe's "Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamlined Baby" essay. The point of the collection seems to be that automobiles, now mere housing for stereos that boom out tunes, were once second only to "chicks" in inspiring rubber-laying three-chord rockers. Caddys, Chevys, GTOs, T-Birds, and Mustangs get their due from the ducktail novelty twang of the era's Gene Vincents, Johnny Fortunes, and Beach Boys. But Custom Classics is also heavy on meatier stuff from Chuck Berry, Bill Monroe, Hank Williams, and Howlin' Wolf, uncovering chestnuts like Johnny Cash's "One Piece at a Time" and Jackie Brenston's seminal "Rocket 88" along the way. It doesn't feel quite right to have the B-52's, Phranc, and Golden Earring brushing shoulders with Bo Diddley, Canned Heat, Albert King and a "rev off" between two engines. But it's Custom Classics' lack of stylistic bias that rams home its examination of the car's ever-pervasive influence on American rock.

-- Tristram Lozaw

***1/2 Cibo Matto STEREOTYPE A (Warner Bros.)

Of all the reality-is-just-a-big-video-game scenarios pop culture has served up of late, I'll take Cibo Matto's new single "Sci-Fi Wasabi." Copping a proto-Kool Keith cadence on the mike, singer Miho Hatori impersonates a bike messenger chasing green-mustard power pellets with Volvic water and trying to hook up with Obi-Wan Kenobi at St. Mark's Place before her token runs out. "I got to get the shit straight . . . I got no reset for this game," Miho raps, as if she were so over being the cute Asian chick with the eat-to-the-beat-y'all flow. Because city life in '99 is as full of pain and possibility as ever -- no matter how fast you pedal, you still have to watch those potholes. So Hatori and player/producer Yuka Honda take it easy on the food metaphors that got their 1997 debut Viva! La Woman pigeonholed as novelty trip-hop, digging instead on nervous funk and pensive samba, until they can feel the city breathin'. Honda's beats finally blossom into actual songs, and there's a sexy, daffy illogic in the way they hang together -- Bollywood hooks bounce off Casio 'n' bass beats, somebody switches over to the Slayer station during a Talking Heads funk jam, and Astrud Gilberto does the Cabbage Patch at Studio 54. Behind the funk, there's a confused heart. Miho disses a suitor on "Speechless" because he wants quantity, not quality (and can't she get some reciprocity?). By "Sunday," even her record bag's sending her mixed signals: "Maybe my ear dirt's cheatin' on me, yo."

-- Alex Pappademas

*** Cheap Trick MUSIC FOR HANGOVERS (Cheap Trick International)

Cheap Trick's career in a nutshell: four great studio albums, Live at Budokan, and then a load of disappointments. The band more or less agreed with that assessment last year when they played all those early albums from start to finish, while pretty much ignoring their '80s and '90s output. Now comes a live album from that tour, devoted mainly to all the really old songs that weren't already on Budokan ("Surrender" and "I Want You To Want Me" appear on both, but who really wants a Cheap Trick live album without them?). Topping it off are Billy Corgan's liner notes.

Like the tour, Music for Hangovers is more fun than it has any right to be: all the band have to do is show up and sound like themselves, which they manage with ease. Now that the rhythm section has at last recorded properly, one can hear what a bad-ass bassist Tom Petersson is. Robin Zander's voice fails him just once, when he has to move the high bridge of "If You Want My Love" down a key while Smashing Pumpkins' D'arcy spots for him. Once-minor album tracks like "How Are You" and "Taxman, Mr. Thief" sound first-rate nowadays; "Gonna Raise Hell" is much improved without the orchestra, and "I Can't Take It" is here to prove the '80s weren't a total flop.

-- Brett Milano

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