Symphonic Music of the Rolling Stones
(RCA Victor)

Remember when the Stones used to release their own Muzak versions of the Jagger-Richards songbook? If you're looking for something as bad as the Andrew Loog Oldham Orchestra ravaging "Heart of Stone" with screeching female voices, check out opera star Jerry Hadley and the chorale bluster of "I killed the czar and his ministers," and "I'm in need of some restraint" on the compleeeeetely over-the-top "Sympathy for the Devil." Who'd have thought that "a man of wealth and taste" would ever sound like he was trying out for the lead in Les Miz? Equally hellish is Michael Hutchence's out-of-hand performance of "Under My Thumb." If they ever remake Mel Brooks' The Producers, there's no question of who should reprise Dick Shawn's role.

Yet all is not grounds for "camp" counseling. Jagger himself turns in a fine rereading of "Angie," and his former flame Marianne Faithfull croaks a sad and moving "Ruby Tuesday." Marianne's hit "As Tears Go By" is given a faithful treatment by Clannad's Marie Brennan. While "Paint It Black," "She's a Rainbow" and "Dandelion" all sound like appropriate choices for the London Symphony Orchestra to interpret, less melodic numbers--Street Fighting Man" (yeah, right--what melody?)--sound indistinguishable from the overture to Cats without Charlie's whomp and Keith's furious strumming. That the opening of "Gimme Shelter" still delivers the same thrills, sans Stones, is this collection's biggest surprise. And, in case you were wondering, there's absolutely nothing here from Exile on Main Street.

Willie Wisely Trio
Parlez-Vous Franáais?

Every once in a while, a music critic gets the opportunity to start a review with something like this: Every once in a while, an album comes along that jumps out of the speakers, off the turntable, that will change your life, etc. This is one of those whiles.

The Minneapolis trio plays wisely indeed; all ten songs on the disc were written by the clever and talented Mr. Wisely. The guitarist/vocalist mixes genres--and gets away with it--like you wouldn't believe; vivid jazz changes crop up next to soul/blues jams next to Neil Youngish acoustic passages next to hillbilly jug-pop next to hooks, hooks, hooks.

To make this perfectly clear in a name-dropping context, Parlez-Vous is sort of like NRBQ playing the White Album. But the standup bass/drums/guitar threesome is not merely another bunch of pop classicists relying more on calculation than feel; each song is rife with emotion and humor that come across perfectly through the beautifully lo-fi production values. Wisely's crystal vocals at times are almost falsetto monklike, especially on "No Surprise." Many of the tunes--the Lennonesque "So Alone" (the Girl-From-Ipanema-gone-nuts title track) and "Robe of Glory," a shuffling spiritual with the chorus of the year--were recorded "at home" on four-track.

There's only one problem here: There are only ten songs.

Walk On

Has it been seven years already?
It only took Tom Scholz two years to rewrite "More Than a Feeling" the first time around, but that's progress for you. Music hasn't changed much since Scholz last set foot on Earth, at least not on his limited palette. His self-inflated liner notes inform you that "the hand claps are actually people clapping, not a drum machine!" Furthermore, every Hammond B3 organ and piano passage was performed in real time, "not flown in by computer"; all played on "vintage instruments . . . not a synthesizer!" Yet there isn't one drum sound on this entire record that isn't being computer-triggered. Whoever heard of being halfway purists? The band's original lineup, save for Scholz, has abandoned ship, and the new lead singer is as bland as a melted, gray crayon on the sidewalk. If you need a generic Rockman demonstration disc, by all means grab your boarding pass. But you're better off taking the advice offered by two of Boston's album titles--Walk On and Don't Look Back!

Magnum Opus
Top Quality

Webster's dictionary defines magnum opus as "a great work, especially of art; a masterpiece." In Top Quality, rapper Magnum Opus belies his name.

Magnum's skills don't live up to his moniker. Top Quality is stuffed with musically disappointing selections; the title track is the only cut that stands out with its vicious loops and jazzy sample of Roy Ayers' "Step Into Our Lives." During the second track, "Someone So Fly," it becomes evident Magnum Opus could have used additional production time to create better rhythms. His lyrical style has potential, but the beats don't match. And the CD goes straight into the ground after that. Top quality? This is barely bargain basement.

Adrian Belew

Like Belew's work with the Bears, Here recalls the adventurous spirit of pop music circa 1967, while still sounding thoroughly modern. On this one-man travelogue, Belew plays every instrument, from toy koto to cello to African log drums.

He's all over the place lyrically, as well. On "Brave New World," he's bursting with enthusiasm about the advances we've made in technology; on "Burned by the Fire We Make," he's condemning these advancements for disfiguring Mother Earth. On the title track, he tells his lover he "swam across the sky" to be with her, but on "Fly," he concedes he's afraid of air travel and would rather be on terra firma, cutting himself shaving. It's these contradictions that make Belew's persona endearing; the melodies make that persona enduring. Forget he was ever in King Crimson--this man is a pure pop visionary.

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