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DECEMBER 7, 1999: 

** Third Eye Blind BLUE (Elektra)

Hell, just when this album, Third Eye Blind's follow-up to their 1997 debut, really starts to get under the skin -- well, it turns nettlesome. The trouble is, too much of a pretty good thing. Third Eye Blind here manage a buzz-guitar update of all the stuff that's appealing about pure '60s pop, from big-timers the Hollies to one-hit wonders Zager and Evans. That is, generous melodies and sharp harmonies and hooks (including whammo guitar licks) that stick in the brain. Frontman Stephan Jenkins has a remarkably flexible voice and can snuggle up tight to a tune. But after a few songs there's so much recycling going on that one craves a dissonant chord, a squeal, a speck that sounds as if it hadn't been borrowed from somewhere in rock's disappearing past. Instead we get "Never Let You Go," a stew of Shocking Blue's "Venus," "Sweet Jane," BTO, and the Hollies with its choppy intro riff, guitar strums and fills, and sugarplum vocal. When the band do get modern, they're still copping: "Camouflage" shimmers and chimes like a lost U2 album cut. Third Eye Blind have talent and appeal, but they're sorely in need of a creative transfusion.

-- Ted Drozdowski


*** THE OUTLETS (Hendrix)

People thought it was weird enough when the Neighborhoods remade their local hit "The Prettiest Girl" for their 1989 major-label debut, a full decade after the original single. But here come the Outlets, a big 19 years after cutting the local classic "Knock Me Down," re-recording that song (and the rest of their old A-list) for an even more overdue national debut. And it sounds a lot better than you'd expect, especially if you remember the Neighborhoods remake.

The Outlets haven't tried to reinvent themselves or aim for a crossover hit. Instead, they've taken this opportunity to document what they've been doing since the Cantone's days: a lot of sturdy, punkish pop. With original members Dave and Rick Barton (the latter moonlighting from the Dropkick Murphys) joined by a new rhythm section, the band sound feistier now than they did on their one previous album (lately reissued on the local One Way label), which they made during an acoustic-flavored slump. Dave Barton could always sling a mean hook, and knew when to let his guard down: "Best Friend" (originally the follow-up single to "Knock Me Down") was one of the nicer relationship songs to come from the era that brought us the Nervous Eaters' "Just Head." The handful of newly written songs sound fine next to the oldies, and the cover of the Carpenters' "Close to You" is only part send-up. What this has to do with Jimi Hendrix is anybody's guess, but Hendrix is indeed the label owned by Jimi's family.

-- Brett Milano


***1/2 Brendan Perry EYE OF THE HUNTER (4AD)

*** THE INSIDER: MUSIC FROM THE MOTION PICTURE (Sony Music Soundtrax)

Dead Can Dance created their own niche by combining the disparate elements of medieval Christian church music, Celtic harmonies, Arabic swing, and pop song structure. That partly reflected the divergent styles of the group's two principals, Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard: the down-to-earth Perry, who often sounds as if he were channeling Jim Morrison, always supplied a brooding balance to Gerrard's exquisite flights of fancy and trancy fare. But having parted ways for the time being, the two are now free to pursue their own sonic agendas -- Perry on his first solo effort, and Gerrard in collaboration with long-time DCD percussionist Pieter Bourke on the soundtrack to Michael Mann's The Insider.

The brooding vocals, mystical lyrics, subliminal string charts, and spare, crystalline sound of guitar and mandolin on Eye of the Hunter conjure an ominous universe where passion and unrequited love are their own rewards. The subtle twang of Perry's guitar and the sorrowful tone of his vocals make "Sloth" sound like Baudelaire singing Hank Williams, and his soul-deep desperation shines a dark light on the hopelessness of romantic love in "Death Will Be My Bride." Eye of the Hunter is more Western-sounding than most DCD albums, but its bluesy, Appalachian drone just suits Perry's despondent miniatures.

The sweeping synth textures and dreamy vibe, along with Bourke's Arabic hand drumming, takes The Insider into familiar DCD territory, and it all blends nicely with the snippets supplied by the soundtrack's other contributors -- composers Graeme Revell and Gustavo Santaolalla. Tracks like "Tempest" and "Sacrifice" would have fit nicely onto any recent DCD outing, and "Meltdown" proves that Gerrard is capable of making club-friendly music anytime she chooses. The disc's only jarring note is "Safe from Harm" -- an extended jungle/dub track from Massive Attack breaks Gerrard's spell for a long eight minutes. Mostly, though, Gerrard's wordless vocals perfectly express the dark web of lies, half-truths, and self-serving obfuscations that lie at the heart of The Insider.

-- J. Poet


*** Korn ISSUES (Epic/Immortal)

Neither a pop accommodation nor a reactionary step back, Issues stays the course and subtly manages to extend the franchise, fulfilling the needs of a genre just new enough to avoid going stale despite repetition. Where most of metal lately has been about jarring jump-cut juxtapositions, Korn's talents lie in synthesis, and they don't make a big deal out of it. Their trademark sounds -- spare, aquatic guitar lines bouncing like sonar off detuned bass-bomb depth charges; deathmetal dirge chords occasionally aligned simply enough for the radio -- are at least as much theirs as anyone else's, which just about makes up for the fact that everything else is borrowed. Jonathan Davis appropriates an all-star chorus of voices-in-my-head: a whiny, googly-eyed psychopath (see Cypress Hill's "How I Could Just Kill a Man"); broad-chested hardcore screamer (see Brutal Truth); deflowered falsetto choirboy (Marilyn Manson); gasping depressed guy (Trent Reznor). Davis's stock-in-trade device is a still-pretty-run-of-the-mill take on the victim as victimizer, none of which adds much to the armchair pop-psych literature on cycles of violation, though I wonder whether Korn shouldn't be relieved of the rap-rock tag in favor of, well, rape rock -- a masculinized, post-Faludi companion to the rape pop of Tori and Fiona. Past the single, "Falling Away from Me," the highlights are where Korn deviate from the script: their gospel intermission, "4U"; the brief interlude "It's Gonna Go Away," which adds a Beasties-style bongo breakbeat to simmering Reznoresque dreariness. Cool.

-- Carly Carioli


*** KNITTING ON THE ROOF (Knitting Factory)

The Knitting Factory crowd does Hal Willner-style deconstruction of every Jewish boomer's favorite guilty pleasure, Jerry Bock & Sheldon Harnick's 1964 Broadway hit musical, Fiddler on the Roof. As in all pomo deconstructions, you have to ask: is it a joke, or what? And in the best tradition of such pranks, it turns out to be serious, good-humored, and finally very moving. There are enough strong, minor-key melodies and folk-dance rhythms for all the participants to dig into. A fair share of klezmers are represented: New Orleans Klezmer All Stars, Hasidic New Wave, Naftule's Dream. But who would have thought that Stephin Merritt's baritone vocals (supported by a plinking ukulele) would bring just the right degree of drunken gravitas to Tevye's bourgeois fantasy "If I Were a Rich Man"? Or that Come's Thalia Zedek and Chris Brokaw could so convincingly update the Tevye-and-Golda duet "Do You Love Me?" as a clipped, impatient telephone conversation?

Of course, there are still plenty of jokes to go around, with altered lyrics like "I hear they picked a bride for me/I hope . . . she puts out." But the Residents bring sexual urgency and a touch of mysticism to the humor of "Matchmaker." Pianist Uri Caine and tenor Lorin Sklamberg move in and out of the harmonies of "Sabbath Prayer" with a fervor that's hip-modern and deeply traditional. Negativland, Eugene Chadbourne, and Elliott Sharp use photo-album sound collages to support the general atmosphere. Davis S. Ware's solo-tenor-sax "Far from the Home I Love" is like Archie Shepp on Kol Nidre night, and the Paradox trio take it out with a pan-Middle Eastern mix of woodwinds, saz, and percussion that wafts across the desert sands into timelessness.

-- Jon Garelick


*1/2 Jars of Clay IF I LEFT THE ZOO (Essential)

Like recent grunge chart toppers Creed, Jars of Clay deal in that unlikely sort of pop double entendre that's often favored by the don't-call-us-Christian-rock set -- the kind where the singer makes it sound as if he were singing to his sweetie when he's actually professing his love for God. So your average heathen pop fan can sing along to radio fodder like "No One Loves Me like You" while Pentecostal pastors who know better play the same song at youth meetings in the name of ministry. Say what you want about Creed, but at the very least they're likely to lead a few skeptical would-be Christians to the adolescent saving graces of Metallica. Jars of Clay, however, lead sinners down the unholy path to Counting Crows, with whom they share a producer and a drummer. On If I Left the Zoo, they also share the Crows' healthy fixation with Big Star ("Can't Erase It"), but too much earnestness and acoustic guitar lead this band astray far too often. Only "I'm Alright," with its black gospel choir and Stones-y guitar raunch, has what it takes to get the congregation rocking.

-- Sean Richardson


** DJ Vadim USSR: LIFE FROM THE OTHER SIDE (Ninja Tune)

Say what you will about Russian-born "hip-hop fanatic, label owner" and (he'll have you know) "such a record collector!" DJ Vadim: he owns tons of weird instructional albums, and he can't wait to share 'em with the world. Like Vadim himself, the narrators on these LPs are so chilled out, you want to check their pockets for a living will -- the guy who lectures us about "Getting Friendly with Music" (and distinguishes between Vadim's stuff and "purely pop recordings") sounds as if he'd been getting friendly with codeine, and "Micro Course in Russian" could lull a whole language lab to sleep. There's even an excerpt (on "Dig Yourself Baby") from one of those "How To Speak Hip" comedy skits. The only thing missing is a guest verse by the 2000-Year-Old Man. Too bad this material (along with some kick-back-funky interludes I wish lasted longer) makes up about a third of the disc; the rest has Vadim reining in his parchment-dry beats and existential-dread-knot instrumentals to make room for rappers. Scan for Swollen Members' lurid "English Breakfast" (basically, they're the Living Dead and the "Breakfast" is braiiiiiins) and Iriscience of Dilated Peoples; the other rappers have British accents, and if you're not Slick Rick or an original limey gangsta like Bob Hoskins, that's a curse.

-- Alex Pappademas


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