Jesus and Mary Chain's "Psychocandy" (Reprise)--This candidate for rock album of the year is a strange, exhilarating blend of '60s-echoing pop-rock romanticism and unrelenting guitar feedback.
Prince's engaging "Kiss" (Paisley Park), seven-inch version.
Elvis Costello's "King of America" (Columbia)--Easily Costello's most appealing album since 1982's "Imperial Bedroom," the former Angry Young Man of British rock focuses on the American rock, country and blues influences that have always been underlying features in his work. He still seems to be guilty of trying to go too many different ways at once in the album, but there are some moments as personal and poignant--notably "Indoor Fireworks"--as anything he has done. CD available.
Stan Ridgway's "The Big Heat" (I.R.S.)--Ready for something different? Ridgway exhibits in his first solo album much the same tension and understatement that characterized his work with his old band, Wall of Voodoo. Yet there is definite growth here as he explores his storytelling instincts on some late-night, B-movie scenes that you might expect in a Tom Waits album. However, Ridgway rejects Waits' sentimental attraction for "ordinary" people in favor of a more wry commentary on the human condition.
Falco's "Falco 3" (A&M)--You're probably sick enough of "Rock Me Amadeus" to scream at even the thought of buying this Austrian popster's entire album, but there is a constant sense of pop invention and fun that makes the LP surprisingly entertaining. The targets of his whimsy range from American tourists to other pop stars' stylistic habits (chiefly the florid melodrama of early David Bowie). CD available.
BoDeans' "Love & Hope & Sex & Dreams" (Slash)--The easiest way for current scene-watchers to think of this Wisconsin rock band is as a soulful version of Marshall Crenshaw, which means the historical link dates back to Buddy Holly and Del Shannon. But the group has also listened a lot to Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and John Prine. They show their roots at times, but they frequently connect on songs that are about everything the album title suggests.
Husker Du's "Candy Apple Grey" (Warner Bros.)--The Minneapolis trio's last Roxy appearance was a disappointment because the band exhibits so little personality live. Everything seems like such hard work on stage. On record, however, Husker Du continues to open up its once brutally forceful rock style with Grant Hart's warm, personal ballads.
Sigue Sigue Sputnik's "Love Missile F1-11" (Manhattan). This blatant calculation works because of its wonderful mix of synthesizer-produced tension (these folks have obviously listened to Giorgio Moroder records) and energy-filled pop-rock hooks (a la the Sweet). 12-inch version; Bob Seger's gale-force "American Storm" (Capitol) and Belinda Carlisle's sugar-coated "Mad About You" (I.R.S.), seven-inch versions.
Steve Earle's "Guitar Town" (MCA)--Don't worry about whether this Texan is mostly country or mostly rock, just check the quality of Earle's songs and the conviction of his singing in this collection, which explores the roots-conscious, blue-collar terrain of the likes of John Fogerty, Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp.
George Clinton's "R&B Skeletons in the Closet" (Capitol)--The Wild Mind of funk has used some of these sonic tricks before, but that's almost part of the gag. The lyrics and musical touches are so outrageous at times that you're tempted to break into applause in your living room. When's the last time you even made up a song title as brazen as "Do Fries Go With That Shake?"
"Woman Talk: Caribbean Dub Poetry" (Heartbeat)--This follow-up to "Word Soun' 'ave Power," the label's anthology of Jamaican dub poets, features female poets. It's uneven, but there's a freshness to the best moments that revives the social urgency and optimism at the heart of the most affecting reggae music.