** CLUB NOUVEAU. "Listen to the Message." Warner Bros. Things can get tough when good buddies break up. Writer/arranger/producers Thomas McElroy and Denzil Foster split from Club Nouveau--best known for 1986 hit smashes like "Jealousy" and "Lean On Me." The duo currently has a black hit single with Tony! Toni! Tone!'s "Little Walter." Their former partner Jay King has regrouped Club Nouveau with backup vocalists Valerie Watson, David Agent and Kevin Irving and delivered an unrelentingly downbeat album. (Both factions appear next sunday at the Greek Theatre.)
"People are so dirty, so cold and ruthless," King grouses on one cut. On "Envious," which seems to be aimed at his former partners, backbiting jealousy, gossip and deception--subjects that frequently crop up in his songs--get rehashed once again. One of the bright spots of the album is Watson's vocal contribution. She can hit a glass-shattering high note, then rock out like a funkified Valerie Simpson. Given good material to play around with, Watson can be counted on to give it youthful sass and distinction.
King's songs touch on weighty themes that are worth exploring: bigotry, poverty, child abuse, drugs, gangs and war. On one tune he presents himself as someone who has addressed the "hatred of life" in his music, adding, "I've tried to undo this but people don't listen." You want to listen any time an artist tries to go beyond trivialities to get to the true heart of people's lives. King does that pretty well on "It's a Cold, Cold World!" Elsewhere on his album he gets caught up in judgmental finger-pointing that doesn't inspire you to want to do anything except put a different record on the turntable-- quickly .
CHECK LIST **** Great Balls of Fire *** Good Vibrations ** Maybe Baby * Running on Empty