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Record Rack

Nas finally lives up to his hip-hop billing

December 15, 2002|Soren Baker; Steve Hochman; Kevin Bronson; Steve Appleford; Dean Kuipers; Ernesto Lechner

Nas

"God's Son" (Columbia)

*** 1/2

Long revered as one of hip-hop's brightest stars, this Queens rapper has rarely lived up to the hype. His albums have been inconsistent affairs that highlight his striking storytelling abilities and his use of metaphors as narrative tools, but that also showcase his inability to distinguish his essential work from his lesser music.

But Nas gets everything right on his stunning sixth studio album, which was scheduled to be released Friday. On the funky "Get Down," the Public Enemy-like "Zone Out" and the muscular single "Made You Look," he raps with the type of flair present on nearly all of the major hip-hop recordings of the middle and late 1980s

Unlike most rappers who claim to "keep it real," Nas takes an impressively personal take on "Warrior" and "Dance," which feature him rhyming extensively about the death of his mother earlier this year. The uplifting "I Can" is equally impressive, as Nas encourages children to believe in themselves and gives a history lesson designed to instill hope in the hopeless.

Nas emerges here as a legitimate rap voice without the aid of a slew of A-list guests or overtly commercial cuts. For anyone doubting rap's relevance, "God's Son" is a reason to get excited about hip-hop again.

-- Soren Baker

Carrabba speaks to alien nation

Dashboard Confessional

"MTV Unplugged 2.0" (Vagrant)

***

There's delicious irony when an alienated, isolated voice in the wilderness is surrounded by adoring fans who all feel the same way. That's the essence of a lot of pop music, and rarely is it so acute as at a Dashboard Confessional concert. There, clean-cut kids don't just take in Chris Carrabba's edge-of-anguish accounts of the tough search for love and truth in a young life. They sing along. Every word. On every song. Loudly.

This "Unplugged" combo audio CD and video DVD (in stores Tuesday) fully captures this scene, a summer camp hootenanny where "Kumbaya" is supplanted by "Screaming Infidelities" chronicles of the searing pain of being lied to by a girlfriend and other treacheries. The sharing-session setting expands Dashboard's emotional range by giving it a meaningful context -- it's the vantage of youth, where everything that happens to you is very important, and much of it reeks.

That he does it with folkie earnestness rather than nu-metal rage or Blink-182 slapstick is a plus. And on much of the session Carrabba is joined by his stellar band, giving the songs new life. It's that kind of progress that could add many more voices to the fan chorus.

-- Steve Hochman

Catchy hooks and a few jabs

The Snitches

"Star Witness" (Oh!Tonito)

***

The Reunion Show

"Kill Your Television" (Victory)

** 1/2

Give the Reunion Show credit -- the Long Island foursome has seen the garages emptying and suspects the bandwagon is getting full. "It's all been done before," proclaims the call-out on "New Rock Revolution," a rollicking number that wouldn't be out of place on any revivalist's playlist. "We are rebels with no yell / We are idols in the prime of nothingness / Let's do it for the right reasons ... / Let's do it for a cause."

OK, let's. Let's ride that cranky old Moog that careens across your title tirade to somewhere special. Or recall those jagged guitars that pinprick the princess in "Star Training." Alas, too infrequently on the band's gutty debut does its bombast advance beyond wallowing in self-loathing.

While the Reunion Show might have aimed for Weezer's "Pinkerton," the Snitches show what might happen if the Buzzcocks stole Weezer's gear. The veteran Montreal collective's third album brims with lean riffs, bouncy synths and tongue-in-cheek snappiness that is indebted to bands ranging from the Cars to the Clash.

While displaying formidable range in tempo, the Snitches peak on the relentlessly catchy "Right Before My Eyes." They reference the revolution too, but seemingly only to mock -- in a rib-poking, French Canadian way -- anybody who takes it too seriously.

-- Kevin Bronson

Quick spins

Alanis Morissette

"Feast on Scraps" (Maverick)

***

Morissette matters most when resisting the demons of society and herself, as she does erupting on the frantic "Sister Blister" or the big, windy "Fear of Bliss." Quieter songs tend to lose that fire, but "Simple Together" is delicate and true, transforming this two-disc collection into more than curious leftovers from "Under Rug Swept." Add a DVD disc and you have odds and sods for true believers and the rest of us.

-- Steve Appleford

Stellastarr

"Somewhere Across Forever" (Tiswas)

***

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