Recordings

Boss Hog
Boss Hog
(DGC)

It's hard not to think of Boss Hog as the Mrs. Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. Not only is the Hog led by Cristina Martinez--Spencer's wife and fellow Pussy Galore alum--but Spencer himself plays guitar and shares vocals in the band. Barely even a side project, Boss Hog also mines Blues Explosion's Roger Corman trash aesthetic and ultraloose Zep/Stones heavy-blues attack. Still, the quartet's self-titled major-label debut is charged with Martinez's ferocious sex appeal and catchier songs than JSBE has ever managed. It could make Boss Hog the explosion of choice for sleaze-core fans in 1996.

Songs with such titles as "I Idolize You" and "I Dig You" may indicate a certain thematic limitation, but the go-go-girl stride of the former track and the latter's junkyard soul also point to a musical range that has developed considerably since the days of the savagely discordant Pussy Galore. And, though this brand of kick-ass rock 'n' roll has never relied on great lyrics, lines such as "I dig your groovy hips/I dig your barbecued lips" convey a hypersexual fury and fuzzy-dice preciousness that perfectly complement the band's overdrive buzz-saw riffs.--Roni Sarig

Erasure
Erasure
(Elektra)

It's been ten years since Vince Clarke and Andy Bell unveiled their debut album, Wonderland, and its strict, two-minute, 30-second format. It worked wonders on dance floors and in their flamboyant stage shows. The duo has since abandoned that short-and-sweet approach for a watered-down delivery accompanied by long, self-exploratory instrumentals. It doesn't work--the pair that was once the life of the party has become the long-winded couple that doesn't know when to go home.

Clarke, who first worked with Yaz and Depeche Mode, is by no means a knob-twirling novice. But on Erasure, he sticks to a "just bought a synth and I'm not afraid to use it" sound with a giddy, misguided vengeance. The sugary bleeps on "sono luminous," for example, sound like R2D2 with a mouth full of helium.

If you can stomach the sound of a man singing love songs to the soundtrack of a computer's random-access memory at work, then you might dig the tracks "Fingers and Thumbs (cold summer's day)" and "I Love You." Both are reminiscent of Erasure's early, more soulful sound--when it was still man versus machine, but man at least had a chance.--Leigh Silverman

L.L. Cool J
Mr. Smith
(Def Jam)

With 11 years in the industry and five consecutive platinum albums, L.L. Cool J--the once and future James Todd Smith--has long since qualified for his rap-star pension. And, at this point in his career, L.L. seems concerned with retaining the credibility of his Queens, New York, past while delving ever deeper into his Hollywood future. Conscious that he's more recognized as a sitcom star (NBC's In the House) than a rap pioneer, L.L. goes out of his way on Mr. Smith to lay out his hip-hop resume. He recaps past successes on "I Shot Ya," remembers those who paved the way on "Hip Hop" and even pumps out a little hard-core on "Life As..."

Ultimately, though, L.L. is just play-acting the street tough. While he claims one song won't "be getting no airplay" because of its off-color language, in reality the vocals on his sixth album are tame when compared with his earlier works. Cool J tries to play both sides and fails, letting his nice-guy, TVready persona overshadow the badass player of mid-'80s underground hits such as "I'm Bad" and "Go Cut Creator Go." He even celebrates his second career on "Hollis to Hollywood," a rap full of movie word play ("I'm making speed like Keanu Reeves/But too many true lies can make a honey bleed").

Of course, Mr. Smith is still at the top of his game when he's just playing the ladies' man: "Hey Lover" waxes R&B sultry with Boyz II Men on vocals, while "Doin' It" and "Make It Hot" get down-and-out sexy over impeccable grooves.--Roni Sarig

 
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