Much of the song material is not, however, just comic book, it's video game. Literally. Among the usual thank-yous microprinted on the inset, Varga credits both Sega and Super Nintendo as inspirations. It shows. Taking the well-worn complaint that TV news is the prime messenger of all those bad thoughts in Junior's head, "Film at Eleven" offers an immature and ham-handed condemnation. "Greed" comes off as supremely hypocritical given the band's own obvious quest for success. Looking closely, all the lyrics seem as distant and contrived as the plot of your average TV miniseries.--Ray Stern

Hard to Earn

Out of the gritty urban landscape of brownstones and battlefields comes GangStarr's fourth album, Hard to Earn. D.J. Premier orchestrates phat beats of dark, ghetto symphonies while Guru delivers with his dead-on monotone voice that hypnotizes you with mad lyrics.

As the title suggests, credibility and respect in hip-hop are hard to earn, as GangStarr shows in autobiographical tracks such as "The First Step," a story of wanna-be rappers using Guru as a steppingstone to their own careers. This isn't another Jazzmatazz--a Guru solo effort that was more jazz ambiance than rap. GangStarr continues to reach a higher level of ground and still manages to be the ill soul brothers with the skills that pay the bills.

Hard to Earn has breathed new life into an otherwise creative decline in rap. This is a flavor to savor.--Danielle Hollomon

Gigolo Aunts
Flippin' Out

If you want to know what the inside of my car has sounded like for the last month, go get a copy of Flippin' Out.

The Aunts (the name's derived from a Syd Barrett song) have been playing together since their junior high days in Potsdam, New York, in the late Seventies, a good time to soak up the raw, seething power pop that was allowed to grow and fester throughout our great nation back then. We're talking Cheap Trick, the Feelies, the Shoes--hell, Billy Squier and all the rest from New York to L.A., and apparently the boys in the Aunts were listening.

Check out the skyscraping balladry of "Figurine," "Where I Find My Heaven" or "Ride On Baby Ride On," and the crystalline bubblegum of "Mrs. Washington," "Gun" and "Pin Cushion." These are the kinds of songs that get stuck in the part of your brainpan reserved only for top-drawer stuff: Beatles licks, Big Star hooks, Brian Wilson harmonies. Make room for the Aunts. As they say in the world of beer, it just doesn't get any better than this.--Peter Gilstrap

Paul Weller
Wild Wood

Far From Home

Winwood, not Wild Wood, would have been a more apt title for this second Paul Weller solo outing. From the whirling circles on the cover art to the flutes, the jazz-rock beats, the incessant wah-wah pedals and the white-soul-man vocals, it's obvious that Weller is under a posthypnotic suggestion that he is the driving force behind Traffic. At least it's better than last time out, when Paul thought he was David Clayton-Thomas.

Just what is Weller's problem, anyway? In trying not to repeat what he did with the Jam, all he has succeeded in doing is make music that displays none of his former strengths. If the title "Has My Fire Really Gone Out?" doesn't say it all, then the Bob Seger-ish arrangement should leave little doubt. Since reunions are the thing this year, maybe Paul ought to fish through the pockets of his old mod suits and try to locate Bruce Foxton's phone number again. Not surprisingly, Steve Winwood and Jim Capaldi fare far better with the Traffic blueprints. Far From Home is an interesting study in contrasts.

Those tracks with optimistic titles such as "Riding High" and "State of Grace" sound like Winwood's predictable solo work, riddled with lazy synth sounds too dated even for re-creating the CHIPs theme. Songs with downtrodden titles like the exquisite "Far From Home" and "Nowhere Is Their Freedom" are filled with luscious Hammond B3 organs, flutes and soulful Stevie vocals, thus sounding (natch!) like pay-dirt Traffic. And note how the boys diplomatically handle the problem of Jim Capaldi looking like a pitted prune compared to the still-youthful Winwood--they print thumbnail-size photos of the duo wrapped in fog and haze! A shrewd return.--Serene Dominic

Various Artists
Tibetan Buddhist Rites From the Monasteries of Bhutan

Naysayers out there who ascribe the recent popularity in Gregorian chants to blatant New Age bandwagoning, who scoff that it's all merely another form of watery, ambient background music dressed up as an intellectual soundtrack, had better take a listen to this: four volumes of sacred rituals and dances, chants, folk and instrumental offerings from monks, nuns and various other holy persons, recorded live in Bhutan.

This is fearsome, shattering, transcendent, downright gripping stuff (these are Western ears writing, remember), difficult to take in large doses.

Volume one showcases the monks of the Drupka Kagyupa Order (which translates to the School of Oral Transmission of the Druk Sect); they chant, and produce lengthy, low, moaning passages on horns and drums made from human thigh bones and skulls, temple bells, gongs and cymbals.

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