Recordings

Love Nut
Bastards of Melody
(Interscope)

As a genre, power pop didn't always guarantee great songwriting, a la XTC, Elvis Costello or Blondie. The term also covers second-tier acts like 20/20, the Dwight Twilley Band and the Producers, who consistently adhered to one simple formula: Leave the verses bland and perfunctory in the hope that, by virtue of their utter forgetability, dull verses would make a merely catchy chorus ring out like manna from heaven.

Love Nut's brisk revivalist debut contains many such seconds of dubious pleasure--and I do mean seconds. Turn a hot desk lamp on any listener of this CD, and he'll be hard-pressed to tell you much about "Into Battle" or "She Won't Do Me" beyond the irresistible choruses (usually the title repeated four times--no more, no less). But that's the way pop music's operated since the days of sheet-music vendors, the old "go to your local music dealer and ask for these tunes by name" bit.

Tin Pan Alley aesthetics aside, Love Nut makes a few stylistic concessions to alternative nation, such as redirecting lead vocals through a bullhorn (gee, that's new) and leaving flat and wobbly notes on its cover of the Lemon Pipers' 1968 No. 1 hit "Green Tambourine." The group's biggest bid for Space Needle status is "I'm a Loser," which owes nothing to either the Fab Four or Beck. Instead, it sounds like early Cheap Trick trying to invent Nirvana. The song kvetches for two and a half minutes, then rolls over and shoots itself in the mouth.

Once you know where all the hooks are on Bastards of Melody, listening to it is like trying to get worked up about a card trick you've seen up close too many times. But hey, this is power pop--it's instant, it's disposable, and it's only meant to get you to your next fix.

--Serene Dominic

Various artists
America Is Dying Slowly
(Red Hot/Eastwest)

After putting out seven highly successful AIDS-benefit compilations that covered genres from surf to country, the Red Hot organization has finally released a hip-hop collection. With African Americans now accounting for 60 percent of the AIDS victims in America, it's a little delayed. Apparently, it took last year's AIDS-related death of original N.W.A rapper Eazy-E to put this project on Red Hot's agenda.

Earlier recordings in the Red Hot series have concentrated more on raising funds than awareness, but the casual, conversational quality of rap lyrics lets the who's-who roster on America Is Dying Slowly address the disease without sounding awkward or preachy.

Domino tells us to "sport that raincoat," and Biz Markie, Chubb Rock, and Prince Paul warn, "No rubber, no backstage pass." The messages aren't always on the mark; there are bits of the usual conspiracy theories (c/o Mobb Deep) and entirely too much finger-pointing at "Nasty Hoes" (Sadat X, Fat Joe, and Diamond D.) and "No-Good Hoes" (Spice 1, Celly Cel, and Ant Banks). But the compilation delivers sensitivity and subtlety from some of the most unlikely groups. For example, Wu-Tang Clan's title track lopes along a simple two-chord piano loop that makes for some of the most melancholic hip-hop ever waxed. And Eightball and MJG offer "Listen to Me Now," a rap told from the virus's perspective--AIDS, after all, has long been the most ruthless and indiscriminate gangsta in town.

--Roni Sarig

 
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