Recordings

Green Day
Insomniac
(Sire)

I admit it: I was a punk rocker in the early '80s. I had my shoulder dislocated in the pit at a Dead Kennedys concert; I sipped out of the same longneck Bud as Exene Cervenka in the sweaty aftermath of an X show; and I was getting beat up for having pink hair when Billie Joe and Co. were tugging on their parents' sleeves for checkout-counter candy.

"I was there, man! The music was better then. Back in those days, it actually meant something." That used to be my mantra when asked about Green Day, Pennywise, the Offspring, et al. Sound familiar? If youhave Woodstock-generation parents, itshould. It's the same line of invalid crapthey fed us about Airplane, Hendrix, et al.

So let me be one of the first aging punks to cross the picket lines and offer Green Day some street cred: Insomniac isn't just adamn fine album. It's a damn fine punk rock album.

Musically, this project is as lean as a hard-core fan could hope for. Songs like "Bab's Uvala Who?" and "86" are so tightly mortared together, you couldn't slip a nickel between the riffs. "Brain Stew" explores a slower, more tense domain to terrific effect; you can't pogo to it, but there's nothing better for those triple-espresso 3 a.m. buzzes. "Jaded" will have punks who left the fold years ago crying "Oy!" in spite of themselves.

The production on Insomniac is harsh and honest--this album is to Dookie as In Utero was to Nevermind. Guess you have to sell a few million units before the record company will let you sound like what you really are.

Megafame seems to have left Billie Joe less than fulfilled. When he sings "The world is a sick machine/Breeding a mass of shit" in "Panic Song," you get the feeling that rags-to-riches hasn't turned out to be such a fairy tale for him after all. The aforementioned "86" is about returning to old haunts, only to find the bouncer at the door sneering, "What brings you around/Did you lose something the last time you were here?" It concludes, "Don't let the door kick you in the ass."

Insomniac does have itslighter moments. "Brat" is a smirking little ditty about waiting for your parents to die so youcan collect the inheritance, and the roaring guitar andhilarious lyrics to "Geek Stink Breath" make it probably the catchiest song about crystal-meth addiction ever written.

All in all, Green Day's second major release carries the torch of punk with authority; it files neatly between SocialDistortion's Mommies Little Monster and Bad Religion's No Control. The CDmaylook a little funny wedged amongst allthatvinyl, but with this record, GreenDay has earned the right tobe there.--JohnKinzler

Lisa Loeb & Nine Stories
Tails
(Geffen)

If you thought "Stay" made Lisa Loeb a one-hit wonder, you're absolutely right.

In a way.
In 1993, the single surged to the tip of the Top 40 charts, and Loeb's demi-tortoise cat's-eye glasses became a regular focal point in magazines and on MTV. But few in the record industry failed to note that, although "Stay" was included on the RCA Reality Bites soundtrack, Loeb was missing one thing in her tumble with success: a record deal. Any record deal.

Thus the fabled, fierce bidding war ensued. Loeb won, scoring a $1 million contract with Geffen. Many artists would have tripped over themselves in a frenzy to pump out a follow-up record. Because of a clogged concert calendar, though, Loeb didn't even start working on the album until last October.

Loeb and her band, Nine Stories, spent the next eight months writing and recording an album in boyfriend/producer Juan Patino's New York City apartment. Although not all of the 13 tracks on Tails rise above mediocrity, most of the selections (including "Stay," reissued 18 months after it first hit the charts) are effective folk-pop efforts.

Repetitive at times (Loeb squeezes the title slogan into "It's Over" 18 times before the song mercifully rests), the lyrics on Tails are verbal puzzle pieces melded to the melody and timing of their songs. Sometimes the fit is jagged, but often the phrases are vulnerable and striking. Try this on from "Sandalwood": Your hand, so hot/Burns a hole in my hand/I wanted to show you.

The current single from Tails, "Do You Sleep?" is the strongest pop-chart contender, followed by the spry "Waiting For Wednesday," and "Garden of Delights," which bounces along like a benign Paul Simon tune until Loeb stomps on her distortion pedal and digs into the chorus with a tough guitar riff.

Most of this record, however, flows in the vein of traditional, soft folk--it's easy to listen and hum along to. Loeb's music isn't confrontational by any stretch, and several critics, writing in the era of such in-your-face songwriters as Liz Phair, have called her a wimp. A writer for Us magazine even compared Loeb to a Twinkie when she admitted to missing her boyfriend in Stay.

But Tails is a folk/pop hybrid--it's supposed to be soft. So what if some of the cuts have strings? Loeb doesn't have to scream about everything she hates just because she's an educated twentysomething with a guitar in her hand.

Besides, she can so be mean. In "Garden of Delights," she even uses the "H" word: You see my face/You hate my words/I hate you too.

Not necessarily the sentiments of a spineless Twinkie.--Laurie Notaro
Lisa Loeb is scheduled to perform on Sunday, November 26, at the Rockin' Horse, with Once Blue. Showtime is 8 p.m.

Simply Red
Life
(EastWest)

So he has a bad haircut--Simply Red's Mick Hucknall also has one of the most soulful voices ever to find its way out of a scrawny white boy. Fat with leisurely grooves and subtle hip-hop touches, the incorrigibly mainstream Life contains some of Hucknall's best work to date. It's a buoyant mix of keyboards, sax and vocals, anchored by a rhythm section composed of Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare and Bootsy Collins.

Hucknall's lyrics are inspired musings from a 35-year-old who can take stock without getting morbidly self-absorbed. And the heart of these songs seems to emerge without compromise or embellishment--perhaps because of Hucknall's reported efforts to let the melodies form fully in his head before he committed them to tape.

That's not to say this record isn't a studio artifact: It is, and a well-produced one at that. It's just that Hucknall seems to have taken his completed vision into the recording room, rather than patching together fragmented ideas with slick electronics.

Mellow, but with a deep bass kick, this Life is worth living. Now, if he could just do something about that hair.--Matt Golosinski

M.C. Hammer
V Inside Out
(Giant/Warner Bros.)

The last time we saw Hammer, he was on the cover of his Funky Headmaster album, sportin' a badass bandanna and wrapped up in cellophane like a half-eaten gangsta combo sandwich. The reappearance of the"M.C." prefix is apparently Hammer's humble attempt to reconnect with the homies who fled his camp in embarrassment.

To read Hammer's two pages of thanks and no thanks inside Inside Out, you wouldthink the singer was the most persecuted figure since Job. Listen to the man, feel his wearywoe, y'all: "The pastthree years have been extremely painful--I was wounded in the house of my friends. Theluv of money consumed the minds andhearts of those closest to me. Who can be trusted?" What, does Hammer have agenealogical link to the Jackson family? In most organizations, greed starts at thetop, and I don't recall seeing anyone put a handgun to Mr. Burrell's temple, forcing him to do those KFC commercials.

This time out, Hammer accentuates the positive whenever it manifests itself. Albumfive opens with a reworking of the Reverend Al Green's "Luv-N-Happiness," only now it resembles a black man's "Reasons to Be Cheerful, Part 3." Better still is "These Are a Few of My Favorite Things," where barbecues, house parties, Kool-Aid and "spreadin' luvthru the hood" make thefinal cut, but "kittens with whiskers" and "schnitzels with noodles" do not.

Things stay cheerful until"I Hope Things Change"--Hammer's attempt at "What's Going On"-style social observation--where everyone from pregnant teens to junkies todespondent parents is cashing in his chips. Then,for those who couldn't find enough "Hammer Time" to sift through his accusatory liner notes, "Keep On" tries to shame every double-crossing, disgruntled ex-employee. Ironically, the track is set against what sounds like a sample of Chic's "Good Times," with soothing background vocalists urging Hammer to (what else?) "keepon" and "don't let 'em hurt you, they don't deserve you."

From Please Hammer Don't Hurt 'Em to "don't let 'em hurt you" in five years--quite a reversal of fortune.

But don't fret too much over this. Hard-core gangstas may have to call Hammer's rap "imitation," but you don't. Hammer's always been a consummate entertainer, and in that regard he hardly falters here. Ifyou suffered with (and not through) Hammer these past few years, take himupon his offer to "Let the Healing Begin."--Serene Dominic

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