THIRTY DAYS BEFORE THE STEREOANOTHER MONTH'S WORTH OF REVIEWS, JUST FOR YOU

Blow Pops
American Beauties
(Get Hip)

There was an old Saturday Night Live joke between Chevy and Gilda that went like this: "Knock knock." "Who's there?" "Babs' uvula." "Babs' uvula who?" "I don't know, Babs . . ."

That's sort of the way I feel about this album. Not because it's bad, cause it isn't. It's just that the Blow Pops have crafted such a perfect carbon copy of Mersey Beat excess (with nips of the best of American cheese pop: Cowsills, Cyrkle, families DeFranco and Partridge, Emmit Rhodes) that it's like listening to the Rutles, for Chrissakes!

These guys are shameless. There are pristine, round-we-go-the-sun-is-shining dollops of harmony copped straight from "Feelin' Groovy (The 59th Street Bridge Song)" and broad strokes of--dare I say it--Peter & Gordon in virtually all of the 16 cuts. Trying to say one song stands out is like trying to differentiate between teeming, consecutive mouthfuls of various brands of sugar. The Pops even sing with British accents--and they're from Milwaukee! What the hell, it worked for the Byrds. If this stuff is up your alley, you'll be hanging out the "Do Not Disturb" sign at home with the stereo cranked; you'll be driving absolutely nowhere with a smile on your face, rewinding til the motor burns out. But then again, I don't know, Babs.--Peter Gilstrap

Raw Fusion
Hoochiefied Funk
(Hollywood Basic)

Homies just don't know when to let a bad thing rest. Raw Fusion is yet another rap group that fuses nothing but sexing females and weak beats. Ever since Dre and Death Row labeled sisters "hoes" and "bitches," everybody and his mother have hopped aboard the bandwagon. You can now officially add Raw Fusion to your list.

I don't know, maybe it's me, but if I hear one more Casio-keyboard-sounding bass line or referral to a sister as a "skeezer," I just might kill myself. Although much props go out to Money B and D.J. Fuse for a valiant effort, at times the music sounds as if your favorite Digital Underground CD is skipping on about every measure of melody. I'm going to make like the Pharcyde and pass this one by.--Danielle Hollomon

Johnny Cash
American Recordings
(American Recordings)

His voice is as familiar as the sound of a train passing in the night. The songs of prison and pills are the stuff--perhaps literally--of yore. He is the only living human to be a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Once upon a time, he was part of the Sun Records family that included Elvis, Jerry Lee and Carl Perkins.

And now he is a label mate of Slayer, Sir Mix-a-Lot, and Black Crowes.
Yes, Johnny Cash is under the wing of Rick Rubin, wild-man boss of the American Recordings label. What have the two of them come up with? Nothing shocking at all, really. Apart from a couple of live tracks, Rubin sat Cash down with an acoustic guitar and a microphone (in Rubin's living room and Cash's cabin) and let him have at it. Which may be somewhat shocking, after all. The essence of Cash is revealed without band or studio tricks: a simple, moving voice that, if anything, is more powerful now for the depth and emotion the years have brought to it. The performances are subdued and graceful, but never without nuances of pain and anger that fuel the 62-year-old's best work. No, don't think Johnny's doing Prince covers or something; the titles tell all: "The Beast in Me," "Redemption," "Why Me Lord," "Let the Train Blow the Whistle." There is an almost religious quality to American Recordings, which fits; you'd be hard-pressed to find Cash preaching his gospel in a more convincing light.--Peter Gilstrap Lush

Split
(4AD)

Listen to Lush and you'll feel as if your radio dial is stuck between an alternative and a New Age station, with no hope of zeroing in on either. No matter how exciting the tracks start off, whenever those airy-ethereal vocals glide in, it makes you think of the Singing Nun on Thorazine.

"Please let me start screaming," vocalist Miki Berenyi gasps at one point, but the larynx-shredding never happens. It doesn't matter whether she's singing about missing the deceased or being tied up by an abusive lover, every syllable is delivered with Bananaramalike disinterest. When she tries to rock out in a normal human register on "Blackout," the results are laughable, like Jon Anderson singing Black Flag. This music is all about distance, and the more distance you put between Split and yourself, the happier you'll be.--Serene Dominic

Varga
Prototype
(Zoo)

The Velveeta syndrome has finally caught up to speed metal with this overproduced, Megadeth-meets-Extreme collage of cornball tunes. Still, the album is chock-full of guilty pleasures, even though it's also loaded with predictable hooks and melodies that are too tight to let one piece of distorted fuzz get out of place. The mysterious, superbright acoustic sound on "Unconscience" and "Cast Into the Shade" is the band's most original submission, and the heavy use of double-bass drums does not go unappreciated. Also, Joe Varga is a talented lead singer, whether he's rapping, shrieking or harmonizing.

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