Likewise, Amos doesn't always reveal what she sees, leaving the interpretation of her reinterpretations up to the listener. Themes of violence, guns and killing provide a slender common thread among such disparate tracks as Depeche Mode's "Enjoy the Silence," Slayer's "Raining Blood" and 10cc's "I'm Not in Love," which are mostly lyrically faithful, often radically rearranged and always stamped with her distinctive vocals, by turns ethereal, plaintive and wry.
Not all the reworkings are particularly compelling or redefining, however, which makes one wonder if the overarching idea was merely a grand excuse to do a covers album. But Amos does flip Eminem's "'97 Bonnie & Clyde" to absolutely chilling effect. His lyrics drip poisonously from her hushed mouth as the cello-driven music rattles like dry bones, stripping away all catchiness to bare the twisted heart of a man who murders his ex-wife--and makes a game of dumping the body with his little daughter so he can own his child completely.
-- Natalie Nichols
* * * BEN FOLDS "Rockin' the Suburbs" Epic
Trends are mostly irrelevant to the music of Ben Folds. While his now-defunct Ben Folds Five offered some teary comic relief in the grunge '90s ("Brick"), his wise-guy piano pop is closer to the timeless Randy Newman tradition: The jokes and festive grooves barely mask stories of disappointed romance and small humiliations.
Likewise, his solo debut is tough and even taunting amid his obvious vulnerability. Now that Folds has relocated to Australia and plunged into marriage and fatherhood, the singer-songwriter is freely exploring post-adolescent themes, charting sad and inevitable life transitions in "Fred Jones Part 2." And he is unashamedly sentimental on the album-closing love song, "The Luckiest," while falling far short of the maudlin.
After the orchestral scope of the Five's "The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner" concept album in 1999, "Rockin' the Suburbs" has a refreshing, home-grown feel. Folds plays almost all the instruments himself and sounds more comfortable with a simpler brand of piano-based pop, landing somewhere between Brian Wilson and Vince Guaraldi.
Not that Folds has abandoned his bigger musical ideas. Although never as epic as Rufus Wainwright's grandest productions, he does resort to occasional strings, horns and electric guitar. Folds even manages an astonishing approximation of ex-Rage Against the Machine vocalist Zack de la Rocha on the title track. A strangely festive mix of melancholy and bliss.
-- Steve Appleford
* * * JOHN HIATT "The Tiki Bar Is Open" Vanguard
Wrestling with ghosts is a tricky business. Try to tighten your grasp and they're gone. Maybe that's why veteran singer-songwriter Hiatt moves away from his characteristically straight-to-the-point writing style here in several songs about coming to grips with specters from the past.
Doing so lets him circle his often-elusive targets--those flaws within the heart's deep recesses that make people do the inexplicable things they sometimes do to the ones they love.
Plugging in again with hard-rocking Louisiana-based backing band the Goners gives him more musical muscle for latching onto what he finds in "a place where the ghosts do the talking," as he puts it in the eerie, inward-looking "I Know a Place."
The atmospheric "I'll Never Get Over You" is made all the more haunting by Sonny Landreth's slide guitar. In the brutally confessional "Something Broken," he may not understand his actions, but he accepts responsibility for the pain he's inflicted.
Those treks through the darker sides of the soul give his nods to love realized--"Rock of Your Love" and "Hangin' Round Here"--the ring of well-earned victory. Hiatt plays Oct. 13 at Universal Amphitheatre and Oct. 18 at the Sun Theatre in Anaheim. Randy Lewis
* * * P.O.D., "Satellite," Atlantic. A giant leap forward for the San Diego quartet, "Satellite" sharpens the emotional and spiritual edge of its platinum-selling debut, "The Fundamental Elements of Southtown," and manages to transcend the antagonistic attitude and formula beats of most rap-metal bands. Reggae, hip-hop and heavy rock grooves shimmer under passionate expressions about violence, faith and hope on melodic morsels such as "Youth of the Nation," "Without Jah Nothin" and the inspiring single "Alive."
-- Lina Lecaro
* * 1/2 The Isley Brothers, "Eternal," DreamWorks. Look at the number of outside writers and producers it took to create this album, and it's tempting to ask: Do the Isley Brothers really need this much help? After all, original members Ronald and Ernie Isley wrote most of the group's signature hits in a career that's spanned more than 40 years. There's no questioning the expert input from R. Kelly on "Contagious," an engrossing soap opera about the bold and bodacious. But the album's other contributors sound as if they're trying to update and fix something that was never broken.
-- Connie Johnson