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RECORD RACK

True to an ideal of good songs

August 24, 2003|Lina Lecaro; Soren Baker; Steve Hochman; Natalie Nichols; Ernesto Lechner

Rancid

"Indestructible" (Hellcat)

*** 1/2

Ever since they broke out from the underground with the infectious, Clash-style stomps of "And Out Come the Wolves" in 1995, Rancid has polarized the punk community like no other band since. Are they sellouts, or simply the most commercially viable hard-core crusaders?

Eight years and three releases later, the debate will continue louder than ever -- but that's just because "Indestructible" is so excellent. Well, it might also be because of the band's distribution deal with Warner Bros. (though it's technically still on the indie Hellcat label), or because the single "Fall Back Down" is a midtempo ditty with a video featuring Kelly Osbourne and a member of Good Charlotte.

Whether leaders Tim Armstrong and Lars Frederiksen have abandoned their anti-mainstream ideals or not, judged on its own merit "Indestructible" is undeniably effervescent and may be their finest work. Catchy and beat-driven, the album has effortlessly laid-back, heartfelt moments but is angry and aggressive when it needs to be.

Frantic ska grooves culled from the pair's early incarnation in Northern California band Operation Ivy and Armstrong's recent side project the Transplants ("Red Hot Moon") leap into spirited pit riffs and rants ("David Courtney," "Out of Control"). Whether they can have it both ways remains to be seen, but this meld sounds like something that could please both old school purists and the new generation of pop-punk adolescents.

At this point, though, these seasoned rockers don't really need to care.

-- Lina Lecaro

Exciting hip-hop from down home

Nappy Roots

"Wooden Leather" (Atlantic)

*** 1/2

This Kentucky rap sextet's major-label debut, 2002's stellar "Watermelon, Chicken & Gritz," established it as a credible, thoughtful hip-hop crew that embraced its humble country beginnings. The hit singles, "Awnaw" and "Po' Folks," also helped set the stage for the South's current reign as ruler of the hip-hop scene. Although they've now been embraced by a nation of fans who once shunned rappers of their kind, Nappy Roots shows that success hasn't shaken it.

The group's second straight knockout of an album (due in stores Tuesday) builds on the themes of struggle and the simple life that it explored on "Watermelon." The group's tag-team rapping approach keeps the listening experience exciting, because you get to learn and appreciate each group member's personality.

"Leave This Morning" and "Work in Progress" are soulful ruminations about personal perseverance, while the single "Roun' the Globe" features the group illustrating how people have more in common with their Southern neighbors than they realize. With introspective rhymes and stirring production that varies from blues to rock, Nappy Roots emerges as one of hip-hop's best groups.

-- Soren Baker

Techno pioneers in high gear

Kraftwerk

"Tour de France Soundtracks" (Astralwerks)

***

In the 17 years since Kraftwerk's last album, an explosion of new figures has entered the electronic dance music race, equipped with increasingly sophisticated gear and split into countless subgenres. But the German team, which more or less invented the form, cruises back into the lead position like Lance Armstrong.

Transportation, the world of motion and the interaction of human and machine have long been the group's foremost themes, and the occasion of this return, the 100th running of the Tour de France, provides the perfect inspiration.

The album is at core an update and expansion of Kraft- werk's 1983 single honoring the bicycle race, but even the five reworkings of that original sound fresh -- the rhythms of breath, heartbeat and muscle action flowing through pedals, gears and wheels turned into music on machines played with a very human touch.

The rest of the tracks take on other aspects of the human-technology interface as impressionistic electro-mantras. It's all done with a colorful array of distinctly Kraftwerkian computer beats, blips and altered voices, and with inimitable restraint. Too bad the group couldn't pace itself well enough to get this out before Armstrong's recent fifth straight Tour de France win.

-- Steve Hochman

Smash Mouth in need of freshness

Smash Mouth

"Get the Picture?" (Interscope)

** 1/2

San JOSE'S No. 1 quasi-classic-rocker has made monster hits by melding the sound and feeling of sunny '60s Cali surf, hippie pop and garage with pop production and punk exuberance. But although Smash Mouth's sense of goofy innocence crossed with party-positivity remains appealing, its fourth album shows that winning formula wearing decidedly thin.

"Get the Picture?" is full of slick, melodically expansive anthems that are often fetchingly trippy but breezy to the point of flimsiness, such as the inspirational "Hang On" and the vibrant, electronica-flavored "Whole Lotta Love" (not the Led Zeppelin tune). . But the quartet cops from itself too much, as "Fun" recalls the boisterous lilt of "All Star" and "Hot" resembles a grittier variation of "Walkin' on the Sun."

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