RECORDINGS

Various Artists
Baywatch
(Scotti Bros.)

How many of you out there think of music when you think of Baywatch? Liars! 'Fess up--it's boobs and buns and bronze skin, defying gravity in the California sun, that you've got on yer mind! Superfox Pamela Anderson may chirp "watch my water!" at one of her lifesavin' buddies, but it ain't water the collective male viewing audience is watching as the unnatural blonde jiggles off to pull some slob out of the drink.

And, for you ladies, there are the undeniable charms of the dashing, hirsute David Hasselhoff. He may have traded in a talking car for a red buoyancy device, but he threw his shirt in with the deal, too. Ooooweee!

Which brings us to the reason you're reading about an insipid TV show in the music-review section. Because the newly released soundtrack to Baywatch is filled with insipid music. But I have to admit that in a really awful, cheesy way that makes you want to stab yourself in the ears, it's kinda good. I mean, listening to Hasselhoff (yes, some stars do their own singin') gruffly bleat his way through the overwrought "Lifeline," a song with the melodic intensity of a Toyota commercial and the lyrical depth of rest-room hand-dryer instructions, is so dumb it's funny. For one tune, he even teams up for a duet with has-been Laura Branigan. He sounds about as good as former Survivor vocalist Jim Jamison does howling the show's "I'm Always Here." The "song" lands somewhere between bad Michael Bolton and worse Michael Bolton.

But for pure, unadulterated crap, you can always count on the Nineties version of what used to be the Beach Boys to go the extra mile. Here we have Mike Love and the "boys" doing an abomination named "Summer of Love," kind of a parody of a typical Beach Boys song with Mike doing what must be the whitest rap ever recorded.

Dig the chorus, "Girls are always ready for the summer of love." Not "a" summer of love. Apparently, all women--oops, girls--are prepared at any time to step into some form of time machine and return to 1967. And everybody thinks Brian's the crazy one!

Like the endless tide that sweeps across the Malibu shores, I could just keep on going, but I won't. Actually, uh, Baywatch is about to come on, and, oh, never mind.

Madonna
Bedtime Stories
(Maverick/Sire)

After Madonna's 1992 strikeout (flop movie Body of Evidence, disappointing album Erotica and overpriced book Sex), many were quick to put the Material Girl on their What's Not Hot lists.

Her unlovable David Letterman appearance did little to dispel the notion that she's bad enough and smart enough but, doggonnit, people don't like her anymore. So it's no surprise that Bedtime Stories is Madonna's first album since her "Lucky Star" days that has been issued without a well-timed, full-blown controversy accompanying it. In fact, in the song "Human Nature," Ms. Ciccone sarcastically claims the way the public interprets her actions ain't her fault. "Oops, I didn't know I couldn't talk about sex" she squeals while Madonna's spoken id voice intones "I must've been crazy" behind her. No parental advisory label came with this album, since it's a universal given that M-a-d-o-n-n-a doesn't spell good, clean fun for the kids. Despite her lashing out "I'm not your bitch, don't hang your shit on me" at her critics, most of Bedtime Stories could pass for a hip-hop Diana Ross album. If Diana was still any good. Most of the cuts are similar in sound and mood to "Secret," her current, laid-back single. Other new twists to the Madonna formula include collaborating with Herbie Hancock on "Sanctuary" and with Bjork on the title cut, which sounds like a savvy update of Donna Summer's "Love to Love You Baby." The set's closer, "Take a Bow," reveals Madonna shedding crocodile tears at no longer being a lucky star, just a lonely one. If all the world's a stage for Madonna, it's because she invited the camera crew along to play Truth or Dare. Bedtime Stories is worth hearing, if only for revealing some part of Madonna we've inexplicably not seen: the part of her that is as tired of hearing about Madonna as the rest of us mortals.

Boogie
Under Da Influenz
(Relativity)

Attempting to prove that it ain't where ya' from, it's where ya' at, Boogie is on a mission to let his listeners know that rap's days of West Coast and East Coast domination are coming to an end.

Straight out of Nashville, he rips across the Mason-Dixon Line with a style consistent of mellow Seventies "Hustle" grooves and funky bass lines. Although his debut is packed with gangsta-style keyboards and thumping hooks and samples, the CD just ain't that great.

The subject matter of dope dealing, pistol whipping and an overall motif of getting high is too thin to label this CD as good listening material. Except for a few scattered tracks, such as the single "Shocked," where Boogie remembers a slain friend, none of the tracks will stick to your bones.

The only listenable track here involves a guest appearance from Boogie's mother on the track "Mother Son"; the old lady busts him and a friend smoking a joint. Just to hear moms curse him out is enough to call this piece fun. Otherwise, there's no worthwhile influence here to be under.

Etta James
Live From San Francisco
(On the Spot)

Yes, that city by the bay that recently played host to Van Morrison's recorded live set has also captured R&B legend Etta James in the raw. This just-released 1981 set at the legendary Boarding House marks James' return to live performing after being sidelined by that crazy little thing called disco. While her voice is a lot lower and gruffer than it was when she scored her biggest hit, "Tell Mama," in 1968, it's no less of an effective tool for conveying seduction and suffering. "Mama," which Janis Joplin scored a hit with not long after, is included on this set, as well as Etta's spellbinding "I'd Rather Go Blind." The song essays the anguish at seeing your former lover with your best friend and your own falling tears--all reflected in the same busy glass of Scotch.

Since yuppies turned blues into the live music of choice, some of these selections, like Jimmy Reed's "Baby What You Want Me to Do," suffer from overexposure. Etta manages to rescue this one by imitating peerless harmonica playing with her voice. She turns the Eagles' "Take It to the Limit" into a gospel call and response, and uncovers, of all things, a killer Kiki Dee composition titled "Sugar on the Floor." Live From San Francisco may not be as essential as Chess' recent compilation of her greatest recordings, but it sure makes you want to go and see her live now.

Blak Czer
Tales From Da Blak Side
(Relativity)

Take a pinch of Onyx, a drop of K-Solo and a smidgen of Snoop Doggy Dogg. Then find a rapper from Pittsburgh (Blak Czer) and a producer from L.A. (D.J. Battlecat). Add some funky beats and lyrics, combine them in a studio, press on aluminum and there you have it: Tales From Da Blak Side.

Blak Czer quickly demonstrates his polished lyrical skills, but ultimately comes up lacking in the originality department. Case in point: "Think I'm Going Crazy" is reminiscent of Onyx's rough and rugged, grimy sound; Czer is essentially imitating Onyx vocalist Freddo. You'll also find tastes of Domino, among other artists, as you listen to Czer's debut.

If you can somehow overlook the problem with originality, there is some good stuff to look for. You won't want to miss "Stick Up," with surprise guest, old-schooler Dana Dane making a long-awaited appearance. Another head nodder is "The Hood"; here Blak Czer rips lyrics over a hard, crisp beat and a bass line that's caressed by a smooth organ. The track titled "Versatile With Style" is no lie; Czer has mastered just about all there is to copy.

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