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Candlebox is back, but we never knew it was gone. How could we? The band's eponymous debut has sold almost four million copies and stayed in heavy rotation on MTV and commercial radio like an old sweat sock that someone keeps forgetting to take out of the dryer.

To maintain its ubiquity, Candlebox now delivers a predictable new dose of the same bad medicine. The same tortured stories of roller-coaster relationships. The same signature Seattle song structures of mellow, whispered verses crashing into hoarse screams and growling guitar choruses. Yawn.

Since Nevermind hit the mother lode, how many lesser bands have smelled a gold rush, staked a claim and tried their luck? Kurt Cobain may be dead, but copies of histreasure map have become the blueprint for rock 'n' roll riches in the Nineties. And there's still gold in them thar hills--just ask Candlebox, Foo Fighters, Stone Temple Pilots or any others in the line of prospectors. Trouble is, even though that material fetches a pretty penny from the public (and there's little doubt the perfunctorily polished Lucy will sell), to this assayer it looks like fool's gold and is worth even less.--Marlow Bond

Various artists
Working Class Hero: A Tribute to John Lennon

The first thought that crosses one's mind listening to Working Class Hero is that any serious student of music who buys this recording rather than a bona fide John Lennon album ought to be taken outside the Dakota hotel and shot. Repeatedly.

Lennon is one of the few artists whose life cannot be separated from his art. Hearing these intensely personal songs--from "Walls and Bridges" to "Imagine" and especially "Plastic Ono Band"--it's impossible to believe the words coming from anyone but the ex-Beatle who lived them. Lennon sang about his pain, not some jerk in Collective Soul or Sponge, and one resents them even trying. None of the artists on this "tribute" even had the good humor to cover "Oh, Yoko!"

Glancing at the roster of bands on Working Class Hero, it's easier to "imagine there's no countries" than to envision a Flaming Lips fan who could give two shits about Mary Chapin Carpenter covering "Grow Old With Me," or a Candlebox devotee truly digging George Clinton's infusion of R&B into "Mind Games." In trying to please every demographic, the organizers of Working Class Hero come closer to pleasing no one. Nutopia!

So who is this album really for? Well, 50percent of net profits go to the Humane Society. I can't speak for the kitty kingdom, but when Toad the Wet Noodle's flaccid version of "Instant Karma" came on, my border collie, Eddie, got up from a deep sleep to go lie down somewhere else. I guess Lennon was wrong about one thing: "God" isn't "the concept by which we measure pain"--"dog" is.--Serene Dominic

The Show, the After Party, the Hotel

Unlike the other pseudo-bad-boy groups that have saturated the R&B market, Jodeci smartly sticks within the realm of true rhythm and blues. There are no booming Jeep beats, no awkward singing over hip-hop loops, none of the tasteless crossbreeding of rap and R&B that so many other acts attempt. Instead, Jodeci supplies an even balance of upbeat cuts and sultry, I-wanna-sex-you-up numbers.

Gospel professionals since childhood, the two sets of brothers who make up Jodeci wrap their individual talents into a refined follow-up to their debut album, Forever My Lady, whose title single blew the top off the R&B charts. (Jodeci's second recording, Diary of a Mad Band, drowned in a bog of poor promotion.)

Fashioning himself after his idol, the Artist Formerly Known As Prince, Donald "DeVante" DeGrate is Jodeci's musical mastermind, producing and arranging all but two of the 11 tracks on The Show (his use of lush strings is an especially nice touch). Donald's little brother, Dalvin, takes over on the more upbeat numbers "Fun 2 Nite" and "Get On Up." In the past, Jodeci's faster numbers have been lackluster, but "Get On Up" is a rich, funky track strongly reminiscent of the Seventies R&B sound.

The Hailey brothers--Jo Jo and Cedrick "K-Ci"--handle vocals throughout the album. K-Ci's raspy baritone (which sounds remarkably like Bobby Womack's) and JoJo's high tenor complement one another and the DeGrate brothers' exquisite production on this soulful, erotically charged album.--Danielle Hollomon

Jodeci is scheduled to perform on Friday, November 10, at America West Arena. Showtime is 7:30 p.m.

I Am []

If I had an obscenely large disposable income, I'd take the set of K's fingerprints on the cover of his debut album to the nearest crime lab to see if they match Tracy Chapman's. Whatever happened to her, anyway? A sex-change hypothesis goes a long way in explaining her mysterious disappearance from the pop scene, as well as K's uncanny ability to sound so much like Ms. Fast Car.

Perhaps the open-ended title of this album is a halfhearted attempt to reveal the shocking truth. Just listen to K tackle the high notes on his AAA radio hit "Strange World" or his cover of Melanie's "Lay Down," then see if you can resist the urge to have a couple of bloodhounds take a whiff of a copy of Chapman's Crossroads LP. My guess is that all roads will lead to either K or Chapman in a shallow, unmarked grave. Hey, adult alternative can be murder!--Serene Dominic

Various artists
Red Hot + Bothered: The Indie Rock Guide to Dating

Red Hot + Bothered sounds like "Parents' Day at Indie Rock Academy"--all the alterna-kids are at their sharpest and most likable. And well they should be. Bothered is the latest AIDS-benefit compilation from Red Hot, an organization that raised more than $5 million with Red Hot + Blue and Red Hot + Country.

Every one of Bothered's 18 performers graciously rises to the occasion, and the album exhibits the best qualities of indie rock--from cheeky to melancholy, from rootsy to avant-garde. Some of the artists appear incognito--Guided by Voices and the Deal sisters (of Breeders fame) play under the name Freedom Cruise, and the Magnetic Field's Stephen Merritt shows up as Future Bible Heroes. Others showcase their side projects: Busy bees Jenny Toomey (Tsunami, Simple Machines) and Lou Barlow (Sebadoh) donated tracks from Liquorice and Folk Implosion, respectively.

True to the indie-rock ethos, Bothered also features several small-timers who deserve a big break, including East River Pipe, a one-man band from Queens; Chicago's watery soul-stirrers the Sea and Cake; and Boise, Idaho's Built to Spill, and Caustic Resin.

With all the major-label subsidiaries and affiliates represented here, Bothered is technically not all indie rock. But rest assured--from Lisa Germano's coy sarcasm to Heavenly's jubilant sneering--it's all indie at heart.--Roni Sarig

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