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What's New, Pussycat? : A Tom Jones for the '90s

October 23, 1994|Chris Willman

TOM JONES, "The Lead and How to Swing It" ( Interscope )***

In the '90s pantheon of second acts to American lives--or in this case, Welsh American lives--Tom Jones too, is back. And this time he's wailing his way into the "90210" set, not the 89109 (that is, Las Vegas) bunch.

Wishful thinking? Not necessarily. His rock comeback album's first single, "If I Only Knew," starts off with an extended scream that's both bloodcurdling and, of course, sex personified. Vocally he's no pussycat, and Jones goes on to creditably sing the living hell out of every track; mother and daughter may be able to bond in a home panty-tossing party.

Too many producers don't quite spoil the broth, though the who's who of big names (Teddy Riley to Flood to Jeff Lynne to Youth, and more) makes for interestingly inconsistent results. A couple of ballads aim at maintaining oldster support, while conversely, Riley's tracks stretch contempo-casting in requiring Jones to sing about his "crib." But mostly he's a willing, able and appropriate vessel for reinvention, and a brassy tonic for the lately too-cool world of dance music.

New albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).

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