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NOVEMBER 29, 1999: 

**1/2 Savage Garden AFFIRMATION (Columbia)

Aussie Wham!-ites Savage Garden have a real winner in the title track of their second album, a locked-on-cruise-control joyride through the same Roxette territory traversed by their old, cherry-cola-gulping megahit "I Want You." This is the sound of the rejuvenated International Pop Overground, a friendly place ruled by bold vocal harmonies, soft house beats, and the occasional piano ballad. Unlike most of their peers, Savage Garden dudes Darren Hayes (vocals) and Daniel Jones (everything else) write their own stuff -- there's not a Diane Warren credit to be found here, though long-time Mariah Carey producer Walter Afanasieff is along for the ride. But it's not as if Hayes and Jones were trying anything new, and the usual embarrassing clichés -- in both lyrics and music -- abound. "I Knew I Loved You" practically drugs listeners to sleep before (finally) jolting them awake with a Britney/Backstreet-approved modulation on its final chorus. In general, the more desperate the ballads ("I Don't Know You Anymore," "Hold Me"), the better. Hayes and Jones occasionally show their age -- a Mr. Mister lyric here, a muted hard-rock guitar riff à la Richard Marx there -- but Affirmation proves they're not yet over the hill.

-- Sean Richardson

*1/2 Perry Farrell REV (Warner Bros.)

It's a bit sad, really, that all Perry Farrell can come up with to bid adieu to a decade he personally had such an enormous impact on is this tossed-together collection of Jane's Addiction and Porno for Pyros highlights with only a measly two new recordings tacked on for good measure. It's been a good two years since the last Porno disc, and it's not as if Lollapalooza had been taking up too much of his time of late. But what Farrell has to offer right now is nothing more than a single featuring one new Jane's-ish tune ("Rev") recorded with the help of long-time Farrell guy Stephen Perkins on drums, Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello, and Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante -- the A-side, if you will -- and a pretty damn limp techno reinterpretation of the Led Zeppelin classic "Whole Lotta Love" -- which is so half-baked, it's barely worth calling a B-side.

The 14 other tracks do offer a solid greatest-hits Farrell overview from the past decade, with little in the way of surprises unless you count the 12-inch remix of "Been Caught Stealing" or Porno for Pyros' Cable Guy cover of Lou Reed's "Satellite of Love" as rare cuts, and they hardly are. Rev is a reminder that alternative rock as we've known it might not have been possible without Jane's Addiction's having first bridged the gap between mainstream metal and underground post-punk. And it's hard to imagine the '90s without the Lollapalooza that Farrell more or less facilitated. But who would have thought he'd be reduced to milking past glories so soon?

-- Matt Ashare

**** The Mahavishnu Orchestra THE LOST TRIDENT SESSIONS (Legacy/Columbia)

Most "lost" albums should stay lost. But this is a sterling exception -- proof that the original Mahavishnu Orchestra had at least one more great recording in them. Tempering aggression and ascension, these six performances were cut in a 1973 day at Trident Studios in London, and they may be the pioneering fusion outfit's best work.

The Trident sessions would have produced Mahavishnu's third studio album had dissent not dissolved this line-up. They followed two years of constant touring, so the level of interplay and the improvisations are astounding. Folk themes, carnival music, ragas, and nail-biting rock all have their say -- sometimes merely for seconds as a guitar phrase or a rhythmic pattern emerges only to be swept aside by the next impulse. The tempos rocket, especially in the hummingbird melodies and harmonies of guitarist John McLaughlin, keyboardist Jan Hammer, and violinist Jerry Goodman. Yet even the high-velocity playing is about texture and beauty, creating artfully shifting sheets of sound. Pieces like "Dreams" are dazzling for their tonal breadth and dynamics, the way they carouse from acoustic-guitar and violin shadings to full-out electric fury. Bold sounds slash through like thunderbolts, altering moods instantly. Really, this music isn't about jazz or rock. It's about the human capacity to create.

-- Ted Drozdowski

*** LeANN RIMES (Curb)

It would be hard to argue that the world really needs a reworked version of a Patsy Cline classic like "Cryin' Time" or a Hank Williams standard like "Your Cheatin' Heart." Those tunes are fine just the way they are. But if someone's gonna do it, she might as well have a soaring voice, a natural country knack, and the ability to introduce those nuggets to new listeners.

LeAnn Rimes surely fits the bill. She's got a killer voice, her legion of fans are mostly too young to drive, and this set of classics (except, naturally, the spunky country-pop single "Big Deal") lends credibility to a 17-year-old country queen who's been suspect because she's already sat atop the Billboard charts for three years. Rimes's platinum-plus popularity might be the product of a slick industry, but there's no denying the richness of her voice, especially as it navigates the tricky trail of Hank Williams's "Lovesick Blues" or lingers over the sorrowful Cline masterpiece "Crazy." Rimes takes no chances here with either the tunes or the pillowy arrangements -- but then, there wouldn't be much upside to that. And there's no real downside to this set.

-- Bill Kisliuk

***1/2 Innerzone Orchestra PROGRAMMED (Astralwerks)

With white trash-hop heroes Eminem and Kid Rock claiming all of Detroit's glory, it's a relief to hear the debut from Innerzone Orchestra, which takes a more reverent attitude toward the great African-American musical traditions of the much-maligned Motor City. It's a surprisingly symbiotic relationship, with Detroit techno pioneer Carl Craig providing nasty drum programming and ambient atmospheres and former Sun Ra percussionist Francisco Mora adding loose-limbed polyrhythms while jazz pianist Craig Taborn's post-bop probing brings a heady improvisational vibe to the collaboration. Together they plow through an array of genres -- from deep house and sweet soul to jazz funk and ambient techno -- with an exploratory attitude that isn't afraid to drop the beat for a little skronk-and-skreech noise when it's appropriate. The result travels the spaceways connecting Detroit's past, present, and future, respecting and reinventing the city's musical traditions along the way.

-- Michael Endelman

*** Down by Law FLY THE FLAG (Go Kart)

There are two kinds of songs every suburban street punk feels compelled to write: the police brutality song and the screw-the-government song. Down by Law, who hail from the DC scene, are the quintessential suburban punk band, and they do both kinds. Singer/ringleader Dave Smalley has a master's degree in political science, and in the album's liner notes, "A New Manifesto," he flexes his head about freedom and jots down his musings on the subject for the kids. Smalley won't be kicking ass at the United Nations anytime soon, but Fly the Flag will definitely please the melodic street-punk establishment. "Automatic" and "Man on the Street" have teeter-totter verses, those rigid mod grooves that get you to shake your head from side to side, and those prickles-on-the-neck choruses. The bedroom brooder "Find It" finds Smalley questioning the world while ringing chords and airy background vocals form angelic pop halos over the gorgeously desperate scenario. And when Down by Law let the guitars roar, the vocals growl, and all that punky bullshit fly, I can't help being reminded that screwing the government was always more fun than police brutality.

-- Lorne Behrman

** Dot Allison AFTERGLOW (Arista)

The cover of Afterglow features a shot of sulking songstress Dot Allison casting her sad eyes down toward the ground, her hair obscuring most of her face in a way that reveals little detail but conveys a somber mood. Which is a pretty accurate indication of what's inside. Having spent time earlier this decade singing with bottom-heavy, relatively up-tempo British dubcats One Dove, Allison has set out to create a more appropriate home for her dreamy, ethereal vocals on Afterglow, her solo debut. She co-wrote and co-produced all of the material, which features a roughly 50/50 split between down-tempo, trip-hoppy tracks more suited for the bedroom than the dance floor and beatless ballads that highlight her alluring voice. Reverb-laden guitars gently weep over plaintive lyrics about lost love and loneliness in "Tomorrow Never Comes." The other standout slow jam, "Did I Imagine You?", zeroes in on an irresistible melody that echoes amid a colossal number of multi-tracked, whispery vocals, creating an otherworldly effect that wouldn't sound out of place on an Enya album.

-- Kembrew McLeod

*** Air PREMIERS SYMPTOMES (Astralwerks)

Until recently, French pop music has been noteworthy for its coy chanteuses, alkie beatniks, and warmed-over prog-rock. In the past few years, though, a nascent French dance movement, led by Laurent Garnier, Daft Punk, Cassius, and Super Discount, has restored Francophilia credibility with a masterful synthesis of Chicago disco thump and crispy Detroit techno. Compared with the four-to-the-floor pounce of these Franctronica compères, however, the dreamy and slow-footed music of Parisian duo Air is, well, au contraire. Less suited to the upbeat disco than to the ennui of a chill-out room, Air's exotica update of early-'70s mood jazz makes them chaise longue lizards -- like a Style Council for the '90s, the duo combine jazz cool with prog-rock and cherry-popping cocktail music. Following the surprising success of Air's full-length debut, Moon Safari, and their feline single "Sexy Boy," Premiers symptômes offers a prequel of sought-after early singles and mixes. "J'ai dormi sous l'eau" imagines Burt Bacharach writing for Herbie Hancock and Jean-Michel Jarre, asking the musical question, "Do you know the way to Champs-Élysées?" And the rest of Premiers symptômes is the sound of Air suavely searching for the answer.

-- Patrick Bryant

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