Inbreds
Kombinator
(PF/TAG Recordings/Atlantic)

Like a Calvin Klein undies ad, Kombinator is a study in minimalism. Except in place of pouty, sallow-eyed models are two grassroots rockers: bassist Mike O'Neill and drummer Dave Ullrich.

Although rhythm sections rarely score big on their own, the Inbreds harness a raw, chunky sound that makes the need for guitars seem vastly overrated. O'Neill's nappy bass lines have more fuzz than a Dunkin' Donuts parking lot.

These Canadian chart-toppers shovel as many decibels as most four- or five-piece rock bands, but Mike and Dave's biggest asset is their ability to write pure, provocative lyrics. While several of this album's 14cuts border on the obscure (especially the four-track instrumentals "Scratch" and "Last Fight"), centerpiece efforts like "Any Sense of Time" and "Turn My Head" display a stream-of-consciousness knack for taking listeners straight to the heart of truth. O'Neill's sparse crooning makes the recipe all the more palatable.

With Kombinator roaming the charts, the Inbreds could last long enough to father a whole lineage of rhythm-only duos in years to come.--Leigh Silverman

Beat Farmers
Manifold
(Sector 2)

San Diego's Beat Farmers are the band too tough to die. They've overcome obscurity, drummer Country Dick Montana's thyroid cancer and a series of recording-company scrapes to outlast all of their roots-rock contemporaries from the early Eighties.

With their mutant stew of rock, blues, C&W, punkabilly and lots of booze, these rough-and-tumble hombres are still making the same blazing roadhouse music as always: "raunch 'n' roll," if you will.

The twin guitar and vocal attack of Joey Harris and Jerry Raney is the nastiest, fire-breathing, two-headed dragon you could ever hope to hear. The Farmers balance that monster's ferocity with Country Dick's trademark trailer-park humor. You'd best pucker up to the tailpipe and suck the high octane from this Manifold.--Marlow Bond

Lenny Kravitz
Circus
(Virgin)

On the opening cut of Lenny Kravitz's latest album, the rock star falls just short of writing off his own existence.

The song "Rock 'n' Roll Is Dead" is a standard indictment of the fabled rock 'n' roll lifestyle: "You're living for an image ... you got 500 women in your bed."

Look who's talking. Kravitz himself has always played rock star to the hilt--not in gross displays of decadence, but rather through pronounced narcissism and pretentiousness.

Rock 'n' roll is clearly not dead, but (knock on wood) it has evolved from the days when rock stars seriously thought they were serious antihero sex symbols with a mandate to sermonize. Kravitz's continued adherence to this ridiculous, oft-parodied posturing is what makes him--even more than his decidedly retrogressive music--an anachronism in modern pop music.

And while bands like Urge Overkill get away with Kravitzlike stud rock because they riff with tongues in cheeks, Kravitz is all the more difficult to stomach because he's so lacking in irony.

However, if you can separate the music from the silly rock star who created it (or if you actually dig Kravitz's pose), then you can view Circus as a better-than-average rock recording. "Magdalene" bursts with as much melody and enthusiasm as Matthew Sweet; "Can't Get You Off My Mind" sways midtempo like the country-flavored rock of the Seventies; and "Don't Go and Put a Bullet in Your Head" is driven by a surprisingly nonretro drum-machine beat.

Circus is also interesting for its heavy religious content. Though Kravitz's hippified vision of world harmony goes back to his first single (1989's "Let Love Rule"), never has he sounded more overtly Christian than here on songs like "God Is Love" and "The Resurrection."

Traditional Christians will likely find his mix of sexuality (naked Lennys abound on the CD booklet) with religion offensive, while secular fans may call his beatitudes creepy. But if gangsta rap and left-wing folkare valid themes in pop music, there's certainly room for Kravitz's spiritual convictions and positive vibe.--Roni Sarig

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