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'Homosapien' a Solidly Crafted Effort

March 14, 1997|ROBERT HILBURN



Razor & Tie

Though this early '80s synth-pop by one of the co-founders of England's Buzzcocks rock group stirred slight commercial interest at the time, the critically admired recordings helped shatter the image of synthesizer music as something sterile and cold.

In fact, Shelley injected his songs with such wonderfully stimulating and evocative touches that you could picture such diverse pop-rock figures as Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor and Pulp's Jarvis Cocker both being influenced by these tracks as youngsters.

For Reznor, "Homosapien"--the single and album--pointed to ways electronic music could be used to frame tales of emotional extremes. At the same time, Shelley's music may have underscored for Cocker the wonders of the seductive pop melodies and sweeping arrangements.

In these 15 tracks, drawn from two solo albums, Shelley creates an extraordinary musical tension at times by contrasting bright, bubbly textures with themes of overpowering obsessions--romantic and otherwise.

It is solidly crafted and disarmingly vulnerable pop, filled with moments of unchecked desire and paralyzing insecurities--told with a witty sophistication reminiscent of David Bowie and Bryan Ferry.


** Patti LaBelle's "You Are My Friend: The Ballads," Epic/Legacy. LaBelle is a captivating presence on stage, full of vitality and spirit, but she can often smother a song in melodrama.

The good news about this release is that she is at her most restrained. On such numbers as "Don't Make Your Angel Cry" and "Little Girls," she even offers a winning intimacy that fits the tender songs quite nicely.

Unfortunately, much of the material--taken chiefly from her solo albums in the late '70s--is marginal, and she's not a gifted enough vocalist to make them anything more. Though she has made appealing records, LaBelle really comes most alive on stage, where the occasional vocal histrionics may make you shudder, but also sometimes sweep you up with their passion.


* Meco's "The Best of Meco," Casablanca/Chronicles. With the return of the "Star Wars" trilogy to movie screens, the timing is perfect for this retrospective built around "Star Wars Theme / Cantina Band," a disco-styled take on John Williams' celebrated score that topped the U.S. sales charts for two weeks in 1977.

No doubt many assumed at the time that record producer Meco Monardo was a Eurodisco importa la fellow producer Giorgio Moroder, who recorded as just Giorgio for a while. The liner notes reveal that Meco hailed from Johnsonburg, a small coal and paper-mill town in northeast Pennsylvania.

He also wasn't a one-hit wonder, as many surely expected him to be at the time of the "Star Wars" success. Meco returned to the Top 100 charts seven times between 1978 and 1983 with such singles as "Theme From Close Encounters" and "Themes From the Wizard of Oz," both of which are included here. Meco, according to the liner notes, also co-produced such delightful disco-era hits as Gloria Gaynor's "Never Can Say Goodbye" and Carol Douglas' "Doctor's Orders."

The reason we are spending so much time on liner notes is that you've got to do something while the disc is playing. The notes are a lot more interesting that the mostly empty music itself.

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

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