This page copyright 1998 The Shrubbery
By Larry Cabenero
Stepping further away from the nasty-girl-next-door image she created on her classic debut Exile in Guyville, Liz Phair's new album is more closely related to her lesser received sophomore effort, Whip-Smart. The difference though is that whitechocolatespaceegg is more polished and more daring. Its melodies are more pleasant and its attititute, more confident. The most obvious clue to Phair's growing up is that her voice is no longer rowdy and youthful but strives to cleanly hit every note. She may have given up raw, unadulterated appeal, but "Big Tall Man" and "Baby Got Going" prove that a little bit of age and a child don't mean you can't produce good music.
"Malibu"? "Petals"? I'm sure a lot of Hole fans curled their eyebrows to titles like that when they checked out the back of Hole's long-awaited Celebrity Skin. Time has passed since the tragedies that accompanied the release of Live Through This and so have several different phases of Courtney Love. The overwhelming anger and depression that controlled songs like "Violet" and "Miss World" have seemingly disappeared and in comparison can be roughly catergorized as a pop album. Hole surprisingly doesn't lose much in the end though. In fact, the relentless power that tramples through every song emphasizes an outpour of emotion. Feelings of need ("Under Your Skin") and insecurity ("Reasons to be Beautiful") are transplanted in song with hopeful tones. Celebrity Skin is nearly an example of some of the greatest rock that music has to offer in the late's 90's as Live Through This was for the earlier half.
DJ Shadow teams with James Lavelle to produce an album featuring several contributions by other artists who wrote and performed. As on Shadow's Entroducing..., heavy undertones repeatedly drone through minor scales creating a moody basis for a large portion of the album. Combined with simple drum lines, parts of Psyence Fiction can be as fun as the feeling of being alone on a Manhattan subway at 2 in the morning. Fortuneately, the first half of the album offers something slightly different on each track without breaking its dark, sometimes frightening, atmosphere. Track 6, a goofy advertisement for the game "Ballbuster", serves as a shifting point where less techno-associated artists like Mike D. of the Beastie Boys and Thom Yorke of Radiohead add to the album's extreme diversity, which is its greatest strength.
The Boy with the Arab Strap
On 1997's If You're Feeling Sinister, the octet of Belle and Sebastian relied on the appeal of their clever and humorous take on adolescent turmoil. Now, along with a significant progression in their music, their subject did also mature, meaning now they have a clever and humorous take on young adulthood. Their song construction remains the same. But complex catchiness is now accented by interwoven string and horn sections that masterfully accompany their quirky sadness on almost every track. The exception is the uncharacteristic "A Space Boy Dream", on which barely intelligible Trainspotting-esque Scottish babbling is followed by a psychedelic instrumental trip. Belle and Sebastian construct slick, unwrinkled folk-pop melodies. Simpleness may define them but their real talent is in their detail.
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