The downright evil track "Slaughtered" brings to mind the Pantera of old, ruthless and grooving. Here is a slice of the tight and intricate compositions which are closer to "Mouth for War" than anything else on the album. Here, one truly gets a sense of the sheer talent and tightness of the band.

But this fact remains: Pantera has lost most of the magic that fueled Vulgar Display of Power and now seems unable to even come close to its intensity. Such is the curse of releasing a standard-setting album. Nobody will be able to touch it. Not even Pantera.--Michael Lee Willis

Shyheim
A.K.A. the Rugged Child
(Virgin)

Shut up and sit, cause here come the hits, y'all. Shyheim's A.K.A. the Rugged Child kicks a street game for a new generation and a lyrical style that'll have you believe he's no Mac-Daddy and no Daddy-Mac. This 15-year-old Staten Islander pumps lyrics with an Old School swing nonstop. He's light-years beyond Kris Kross. This is not Another Bad Creation.

Shyheim collaborated with the chart-climbing WU-Tang to create a blend of slammin' beats that provide you with a rough and rugged tempo to ride to in your Jeep or low-rider. And you can clearly hear what Shyheim's lyrics are about; no goo-goo, gaga babbling here. Shy wants you to hear his message, a hard-core reality from a 15-year-old's perspective. Shyheim takes issue with black-on-black violence, drug dealers, life in the projects, teenage prostitution and drug addiction, and sheds a stark light on the reality he sees on the streets. It's hard to believe this kid existed around this stuff. If Shyheim can pull off these rugged sounds on his next album, we're gonna hear a lot more from this kid. A lot of shorties come off with one or two singles, but nothing like this. Shyheim is outta here!--Danielle Hollomon

Morrissey
Vauxhall and I
(Reprise)

On last year's highly successful album Your Arsenal, Morrissey achieved near-heartthrob status in the United States. Whenever he appeared on TV, you could hear teenage girls squealing in the studio audience as if they wanted to jump his celibate/homosexual bones right then and there; this album is designed to delight and enlighten that new sector of Morrissey fans.

The CD booklet opens up to reveal a soft-focus, head-to-crotch shot reminiscent of the lavish gatefold sleeve to the Here Comes Bobby Sherman album way back in 1970. Vauxhall and I's music also features a soft focus. The tunes are a lot less chipper this time around--don't expect to find rockabilly shuffles or "You're the One for Me, Fatty" here. Instead, you get a collection of baroqueish ballads reminiscent of the last Smiths album, the underrated Strangeways, Here We Come. One song, "The More You Ignore Me, the Closer I Get," is such a pleasant ringer for "Girlfriend in a Coma" that you can sing that entire song over the new number and achieve a bizarre, "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" effect.

The album's most poignant moment, "Hold On to Your Friends," wistfully recalls early Ray Davies. But it isn't long before Morrissey's back to his old miserable self, bitching about how his friends only call him when they're feeling depressed.--Serene Dominic

The Proclaimers
Hit the Highway
(Chrysalis)

Are you still so sick of "500 Miles" that you'd run 10,000 miles just to get away from Scottish brogues? Well, don't. The hardest-working siblings in show biz since the Menendez brothers are back with an album full of worthy successors to that hit.

And Charlie and Craig Reid will do anything short of killing their Mum and Dad to put a song across. Scream. Plead. Sweat, toil and bleed. Sure, they look nerdy and their stage presence borders on epileptic. Regardless, this duo is guaranteed to wear you down with charming ditties like "Don't Turn Out Like Your Mother" and "The More I Believe," where the brothers wax mystical on such diverse topics as fear of God and reincarnation (I'm noot coomin' buck as a floower").

Admittedly, the Proclaimers didn't consult the Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul for the correct pronunciation of "loonely," but this reverent, drop-to-the-knees cover version of "These Arms of Mine" doesn't disgrace the Big O's memory in the least. An album filled with doo-woppish songs celebrating marriage, the work ethic, religion and family might seem terribly old-fashioned, and it is--proudly, stubbornly so! The boys leave no room for misinterpretation in the title track--Yoo goo muy weee, or heet the hueyweee!" Rest assured the highway won't promise as fun a ride as this.--Serene Dominic

Hsker D
The Living End
(Warner Bros.)

If Warehouse: Songs and Stories was Grant Hart and Bob Mould's Double Fantasy, this live set from the band's last days is its Milk and Honey. As on those albums, Hart and Mould alternate lead vocals, and even bassist Greg Norton gets to bellow a few in between. The Living End offers a healthy, 20-song sampling of the Hskers' career from "New Day Rising" right up to two unreleased tunes the band was readying for its next album, "Now That You Know Me" and "Ain't No Water in the Well." Though this stuff was recorded only weeks from dissolution, the music sounds like anything but a death knell.--Serene Dominic

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