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Pop Music | Record Rack

A Dose of Confidence Added to the Mix

July 28, 2002|Robert Hilburn; Lina Lecaro; Randy Lewis; Kris Ex; Soren Baker; Kevin Bronson

*** 1/2

BETH ORTON

"Daybreaker"

Heavenly/Astralwerks

After an immensely promising 1997 debut album, "Trailer Park," in which Orton experimented effectively with traditional pop-folk songs and subtle dance/world textures, this English singer-songwriter seemed stuck in neutral in her 1999 follow-up disc ("Central Reservation").

Orton seemed so uncertain about her next step after the acclaim of the debut that she ended up doing a song twice--once in an acoustic version and once with techno-dance strains.

All the tentativeness is blown away this time out. In "Daybreaker," Orton has regained her confidence, mixing the folk and electronica touches so boldly that this collection makes "Trailer Park" now seem hesitant.

Not only are the sonic elements in this album (due in stores Tuesday) more aggressive (production credits on the album range from Victor Van Vught and Orton to the Chemical Brothers and William Orbit), but Orton's vocal phrasing too shows far greater character and force.

None of that aggression and force, however, keeps the music from having vulnerable elements. Indeed, the album's themes deal chiefly with the tender edges of relationships. Although her imagery is sometimes vague, the best songs speak about the mysteries of romance and desire in a winsome, philosophical, convincing tone.

In such tunes as "God Song" and "Anywhere," Orton, who is joined on the album by such guest artists as Emmylou Harris and Ryan Adams, doesn't present herself as either a victim or a survivor, but someone trying to make sense of life's emotional swings. In the melancholy "Thinking About Tomorrow," she sings, "These habits are so hard to break/And they're so easy to make."

Indeed, the music on "Daybreaker" is so eloquently designed that it's easy to digest, but the emotional truths are so hard-hitting that the music is difficult to shake.

--Robert Hilburn

** 1/2

LINKIN PARK

"Reanimation"

Warner Bros.

It's one thing for J-Lo to put out a remix release, but when the biggest-selling rap-rock band of 2001 decides to revamp the multi-platinum debut that put it on the map, it's an irrefutable event. Linkin Park's "Hybrid Theory" was accessible to so many because its appeal had less to do with the novelty of its blended genres than with the band's ability to craft passionate and extremely catchy tunes.

Although the inevitable rap-rock backlash seems to be on the horizon, "Theory" is not only still on the national album charts (approaching 7.5 million in sales), it still holds up musically. A reinterpretation could have ended up feeling unnecessary, but although there are some dead spots in the album, they are countered by some enjoyable moments.

An impressive lineup of quality hip-hoppers (including members of Jurassic 5, the Roots and Dilated Peoples) adds fresh 'n' funky word flows and wiggy-wiggy wax tricks to the local quintet's dark grinds--and the result feels rejuvenated.

Too bad the rock collaborations lack the same rhythmic and innovative spark. Korn's Jonathan Davis lends his mournful croons to the blockbuster single "One Step Closer," while Staind's Aaron Lewis adds some harmonies on "Crawling," but neither cut does more than magnify the atmospherics of the original.

Still, the band's revisiting of both their funky and ferocious material, should offer fans of the disc a fresh perspective while they wait for something really new. Meanwhile, this album (due Tuesday) offers those less familiar with the band another chance to see why its heavy yet melodious hybrid worked in the first place.

--Lina Lecaro

***

LAMYA

"Learning From Falling"

J Records

Think Sade meets Joni Mitchell, and you'll have a rough approximation of the latest pop discovery from Clive Davis' J Records.

Born in Kenya of Omani parents and schooled in England, this 28-year-old singer-songwriter worked her way through the ranks as a backup singer for David Bowie, James Brown and Duran Duran, and was featured on a couple of Soul II Soul albums.

On this solo debut (due Tuesday), she cuts a wide swath through the fabric of international pop. That's the Sade connection: sensual, loping beats that meld hip-hop sensibility with Middle Eastern percussion tradition beneath snaking melodies rooted strongly in Western pop and rock.

The Mitchell thread is her expansively literate lyrics that often open up into free verse instead of compact pop verse-chorus form, though at times tighter editing would bring her points home more forcefully.

Her other contemporary touchstone would be Alanis Morissette, with whom Lamya shares an affinity for confession that can be self-affirming ("Black Mona Lisa"), disarmingly vulnerable ("Never Enough") or powerfully assertive ("Empires"). Vocally, she can sound coquettish, purring and sexy, or roundly assertive, sassy and even effectively cocky in the Tina Turner tradition.

-- Randy Lewis

In Brief

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