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A Whirlpool of Glistening Sound : ** 1/2 WATER "Nipple" MCA

March 20, 1995|MIKE BOEHM and Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good, recommended), four stars (excellent).

Taking its name literally, Water has come up with an album that alternately swirls, surges, glistens and ripples. All the varied tides and currents cohere in 10 songs that form a unified body and take a listener on an emotional journey.

The band's sound is complex but clearly defined, comprising many layers of gracefully arrayed guitars with additional strata supplied by sideman Peter Holsapple, the former dB's member, on Hammond organ.

Mark Cohen's bass lines do double duty as a propulsive engine and a melodic spine for the instrumental attack. The turbulent yet crafted sound calls to mind the layered-guitar constructs of the Church, but Water also can march and chime like Television (in "Strained") or attain the stateliness of a Pink Floyd ("Oven") or a Genesis circa "Wind & Wuthering" (passages of the rocking lullaby "Spin"). Touches reminiscent of R.E.M. and U2 blend on "A Moon's Afterlife."

Dean Bradley's voice gives the band its chief claim to distinction. It is rich, chesty and whole-grained, and capable of taking flight into a thrilling high range--general characteristics Bradley shares with Michael Stipe without sounding like a mimic. Each song has its own strong melodic signature and several have more than one good melodic hook, a sign of strong pop craftsmanship.

Bradley's sketchy lyrics provide just enough substance to invite and direct a listener's speculations and to illuminate the music's emotional direction.

The journey begins with the urgent idealism of "Thoughts," a title that in a lesser song would seem terribly pretentious; then proceeds toward peaks of sensuality and romantic reverie with "Spin" and "Seeds." Emotional dissonance and a sense of struggle grow as the album proceeds and the band descends from visionary peaks to fight it out in life's murkier trenches.

At the end, the listener isn't let off easily. "Oven" could be a swan song for Sylvia Plath, and the concluding "Spirit Room Lady" evokes a battle with depression before rising in the end to an unabashed, prayerful call a la the Who's "Love Reign O'er Me." It's an involving, undulating trip that should hold listeners through the entire ride.

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