Be Here Now
A couple of years ago, a British writer suggested to Oasis mastermind Noel Gallagher that his obsession with the Beatles might be getting a little out of hand. "It's not an obsession," Gallagher responded. "It's a way of life."
Years from now, pop historians might point to Be Here Now, Oasis' third album, as the point where Gallagher's lifestyle choice cooled off enough to become a mere obsession. It's akin to John Hinckley deciding to stop shooting presidents for Jodie Foster, and maybe just dropping her a line from time to time. See, it's not quite true that Oasis has developed an original sound; it's merely that it's becoming slightly less slavish about its rip-offs.
For one thing, Oasis' devotion to the three-minute-song form flies out the window on this album, in favor of trippy, chill-out-room dirges, four of which clock in at longer than seven minutes apiece. The result is a mixed blessing. For the most part, this material is not as brazenly derivative as earlier stuff like (What's the Story) Morning Glory's "Don't Look Back in Anger," a sideways job on David Bowie's "All the Young Dudes." Unfortunately, nothing here is as immediately striking as that tune, either.
Gallagher was inspired by his recent collaboration with the Chemical Brothers on "Setting Sun," and he provides this album with the kind of layered wallop Oasis has hinted at but never achieved before. The effect is highly forced and purely cosmetic, kinda like discovering mascara on a pinata.
Behind the wall of sonic dust, Liam Gallagher affirms his position as the most expendable rock singer since Roger Daltrey (and at least Daltrey could swing his mike around). As a matter of fact, when brother Noel takes over lead vocals on "Magic Pie," only a trained voice analyst could spot the difference.
For his part, Noel Gallagher continues to write the most brain-cell-munching lyrics this side of Tim Rice. Sample this from "Stand by Me": "Made a meal and threw it up on Sunday." Could it be that "Champagne Supernova" was playing on the BBC at the time? And what's up with Gallagher's latent shoe fetish, which rears its ugly heel with probing questions like, "Who'll put on my shoes while they're walking?" and "D'you dig my friends? D'you dig my shoes?" Hmm, your friends are okay, but those penny loafers are shite.
The biggest annoyance here is that Gallagher seems to have misplaced one of his few undeniable assets--his sense of pop economy. The single "D'You Know What I Mean?" stretches a two-minute idea into an eight-minute track, without offering any real sonic payoff for the padded length. At times, on Be Here Now, you feel as though the engineer fell asleep during what were supposed to be the fadeouts.
Gallagher does serve up a couple of catchy rockers ("My Big Mouth," "I Hope, I Think, I Know") to remind you why Britain dropped its knickers over these guys in the first place. Any hope for this album, however, is buried by "All Around the World," a dreary, repetitive, nine-minute pseudo-anthem that apes the long second half of "Hey Jude," complete with endless "na-na-nas." Before crawling to its conclusion, this song also pipes in harmonic echoes of George Harrison's "Isn't It a Pity" and a horn chart from John Lennon's "Nobody Loves You When You're Down and Out." Just in case that's not enough of a bad thing, the song reprises for two more minutes at the end of the album. It's enough to make you long for Klaatu.
If there was one disappointing thing about the recent Lilith Fair concert, it was that Sarah McLachlan's new album, Surfacing, had not yet been released by the time the tour hit our fair town. Therefore, many of the songs McLachlan performed were being heard by the audience for the very first time.
But aside from that unfortunate bit of timing, the show was a success, and the new album reveals that McLachlan hasn't lost her touch in the more than three years since her last studio album, Fumbling Towards Ecstasy. Surfacing is somewhat more upbeat than McLachlan's previous work, but it's clear that her strength remains her ability to tap into darker emotions. Though as a whole the album may not be quite as satisfying as Fumbling, there are a few songs that rank favorably alongside McLachlan's best.
The standout on the album is "Angel," a song about people who turn to drugs to deal with life's problems. McLachlan reaches the grim conclusion that, for so many, the only way to escape addiction is through death, as she ends the song with the words "You're in the arms of the angel/May you find some comfort here."
The first single, "Building a Mystery" (co-written by producer Pierre Marchand), proves that McLachlan hasn't lost her flair for intriguing lyrics ("You live in a church/Where you sleep with voodoo dolls/And you won't give up the search/For the ghosts in the halls"). The song "I Love You" showcases two of McLachlan's trademarks: a heartbreakingly beautiful melody combined with lyrics of longing and unfulfillment. From the title, it may sound as though McLachlan is making a positive statement of contentment, but a closer listen reveals otherwise as she sings "I forgot to tell you I love you." The feelings of yearning are again present on "Do What You Have to Do," where she sings "I have the sense to recognize/That I don't know how to let you go/Every moment marked with apparitions of your soul."
McLachlan spent more than two years touring in support of Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, then took six months off before entering the studio to record Surfacing. After fighting through a period of writer's block, she reportedly scrapped many songs she was unhappy with and started over last fall. Then she worked feverishly to get the new album ready for its targeted release date. Yes, it's good to have her back.
Return of the DJ Volume 2
In 1995, David Paul--former editor of the Bay Area hip-hop zine Bomb--issued Return of the DJ Volume 1, a compilation of superintense funk collages strung together by some of the country's most proficient turntable/cross-fader wizards. Its aim was obvious: remind hip-hop of its DJ history, a history stretching back to late-'70s Bronx house parties and early-'80s DJ classics like Grandmaster Flash's "The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel."
Chock-full of technical smarts, lyrical flow, sick jokes and a little wry irony, Return's follow-up substantially betters its predecessor. Album opener "Beyond There" (representing London) references old-school antecedents (Afrika Bambaataa, Jazzy J, Red Alert) and samples Boogie Down Productions' classic "The Bridge Is Over," all above a taut, soundscape groove, creating a sound clash between history and innovation so vivid you can almost see it while you feel it.
Cooler still is the very next cut, by Mr. Dibbs/2000 Hobos (representing Cincinnati), whose "B-Boys Revenge 96 Porkopolis Turntable Jazz" conflates Nintendo skills and cross-fader prowess by playing a sample of Mortal Kombat off a sample of Jeru the Damaja singing about "mortal combat/fatality."
For Return . . . Vol. 2's social critique, you've got Tommy Tee (representing funky, funky Norway), whose atmospheric "Aerosoul" draws a strong, if obvious, street-art parallel between hip-hop history and graffiti writing. What's a Norwegian doing stringing together a history/critique of NYC street art?
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Return . . . Vol. 2 isn't only about DJing as hip-hop fundament; it's also about hip-hop's ability to resonate outside the boundaries of Afro-American culture. French hip-hop (Frog-hop?) specialist LF Pee strings together airy flutes, Cypress Hill, and a silly-ass guitar-drum freakout to create the album's wildest pop moment. Finland's Pepe Deluxe relaxes on its own syrupy, tuneful good groove as mean, jazz-funk trap drums and a buoyant cowbell take the emphasis off the DJ's cut. Equally musical, but for very different reasons, is "Static's Waltz" by Quebec's Kid Koala, in which a Ralph Norton bass jam is turned into a freakish, off-kilter ungroove that's as propulsive as it is odd and intriguing.
Yet the most obviously accessible cuts come from Phoenix. Z-Trip bookends an obscene scratch session with the album's most memorable nonmusical samples--one prurient ("hey, little girl, I just bought a super new camera"), one Puritan ("there are lots of people who touch us, but they shouldn't touch our private parts"). The track itself is pure scratch-wank; it won't change any musical world views, but its simplicity is as classically pumpable as Return . . . Vol. 2 gets. Then there's the sublime, album-ending Z-Trip solo joint, "Rockstar," which finds room to reinvent Van Halen's "Eruption," Iron Maiden's "Iron Man" and "War Pigs" and, most potently, AC/DC's "To Those About to Rock (We Salute You)." The result is a Bambaataa-style coup d'etat. Hip-hop purists, would you dance to Angus Young? Metal heads, would you air-guitar over a breakbeat? Well, you can tonight.