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The $50 Guide

Robert Hilburn's guide to keeping up with noteworthy pop albums on a budget of $50 per month.

October 26, 2003|Robert Hilburn

September

The Raveonettes' "Chain Gang of Love" (Columbia)

As if there weren't enough reasons to enjoy the film "Lost in Translation," the song in the closing scene is one of the most glorious three minutes of magic in post-'60s rock: the Jesus and Mary Chain's "Just Like Honey," a mix of beautiful, uplifting melody with brutal, desperate guitar lines. This Danish duo comes up with an opening track, "Remember," that was clearly influenced by "Just Like Honey" and is almost as captivating. Without straying far from the Mary Chain game plan in the rest of this full-length debut, the Raveonettes add zestful touches of Buddy Holly here and Beach Boys there. The music lacks the dark obsession of the Mary Chain, but it's hard to resist the album's relentless energy and fun.

Beth Gibbons & Rustin Man's "Out of Season" (Sanctuary)

Gibbons, who achieved cult status in the '90s with the trip-hop outfit Portishead, sings about the mysteries of relationships with even more unflinching honesty and depth in her partnership with Rustin Man (former Talk Talk bassist Paul Webb), who surrounds the vocals with exotic, dreamlike textures, sometimes as chilly as a night winter wind, other times as comforting as the faint light in the darkness. Gibbons and Rustin Man will be at the Avalon tonight.

Rufus Wainwright's "Want One" (DreamWorks)

Few artists have arrived with such a breathtaking display of musical prowess as Wainwright did in a 1998 album that combined the intimacy of the troubadour tradition of his father (Loudon Wainwright III) and the grand Broadway tradition of Cole Porter. Two albums later, he fulfills the promise of that work, applying that raw talent to convey some of the discoveries in his own journey as a musician and a man.

*

October

OutKast's "Speakerboxxx/The Love Below" (Arista)

There's more than two hours of music in this two-disc package, which immediately raises fear of the F-word (filler!) in a pop age when few acts give us more than two or three interesting tracks per outing. But almost everything in these two solo albums by OutKast's Andre 3000 and Big Boi is world-class. Big Boi's "Speakerboxxx'' is a street-smart electro-funk excursion in the manner of past OutKast albums, while Andre's "The Love Below" is an unruly survey of romantic titillation and disillusionment, fusing R&B, jazz and pop in sometimes heartfelt, sometimes outlandish ways.

Sparks' "Lil' Beethoven" (Palm)

It has been almost 30 years since this left-field L.A. duo came up with "Kimono My House," an album that dealt in fresh, smart and downright irresistible pop-rock sensibilities that were as much Gilbert & Sullivan as Lennon and McCartney. Brothers Ron and Russell Mael have been stuck in the shadows of the pop mainstream ever since, but they might break out with the most ambitious album of their career, a song cycle (complete with lots of sweeping orchestral touches) that casts a wary eye on pop fads ("What Are All These Bands So Angry About?") and pop tyrants ("Your Call's Very Important to Us. Please Hold"). It's at once funny and deadly serious, penetrating and a total goof.

Shelby Lynne's "Identity Crisis" (Capitol)

In torch songs as gripping as "If I Were Smart," this sultry singer-songwriter recaptures the edgy confessional punch of her 2000 gem, "I Am Shelby Lynne." But the album also expands the focus of that CD in bright, even playful ways. There's an explosiveness to "Lonesome" that conveys the emotional fire of Patsy Cline's most urgent ballads.

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