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Pop Music | RECORD RACK

You could call it rock 'n' roil

January 23, 2005|Robert Hilburn; Richard Cromelin; Randy Lewis; Dean Kuipers; Baz Dreisinger | Times Staff Writer

Not surprisingly, the music is heavy on acoustic guitars and steel drums, light on powerhouse percussion, making for a musical tour as relaxing as a ride in a hammock strung between two palm trees. And about as uneventful.

If only Chesney's powers of perception were as keen as his undeniable ambition.

-- Randy Lewis

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Breakthroughs from their lab

Chemical Brothers

Push the Button (Astralwerks/Virgin)

*** 1/2

The Chemical Brothers have crafted an inconsistent coup, an evolution in big beat and sweet dance-pop loyalty as hard-hitting as their mid-'90s works "Exit Planet Dust" or "Dig Your Own Hole."

The first single, "Galvanize," makes it plain the brothers have left breakbeat behind for pop radio takeover. It's a well-made hip-hop pastiche designed to further upset the modern-rock-hip-hop-dance club balance, with Q-Tip rapping over a Middle Eastern string hook and tabla beat.

It vies to be the future of rock radio with the second track, "The Boxer," the kind of epic drubbing we've come to expect from Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons: a massive beat, a melody that's pure pop, and Tim Burgess' soft and loutish Britpop vocal. And then they kick it up a notch. "Believe" is straight and towering Chicago house, and "Come Inside" has a bass line just a hop, skip and thump from the classic "White Lines."

Along the way there are soft electro-pop wonders and even a kind of psychedelic alt-country manifesto. But it's at the very end that you find the real crowd-pleaser, "Surface to Air."

What starts off like a satisfying Tangerine Dream faucet-dripper evolves organically into the most ecstatic and uplifting traveling song that Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark never wrote. Except better -- a straight-up new wave catharsis. If entire car ad campaigns are not built around this song, I'll eat my hat. And if this isn't one of the best albums of this fresh year, I'll eat yours too.

-- Dean Kuipers

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A game effort at rap stardom

The Game

"The Documentary" (Aftermath)

***

THIS Compton rapper is like Frankenstein's monster: Spawned by a mastermind (Dr. Dre, who signed him to his record label), the former gangbanger and the only West Coast member of G-Unit is poised to be big.

And like the fictional monster, the Game is a derivative creature on his debut album -- a composite of rappers, styles and stories we've heard before. His genre evokes 50 Cent -- genial gangsta pop, or gangsta rap you can sing along to. His throaty vocal style, unremarkable and chameleon-like, echoes 50, Nas and Eminem.

The Game (whose real name is Jayceon Taylor) might have distinguished himself via setting: He sees himself as the long-awaited reincarnation of California gangsta rap. But instead of demonstrating that musically, he tells us so in lyrics so weighed down by hip-hop nostalgia and industry name-dropping that they're not rap but meta-rap.

And instead of richly documenting his travails, the Game often shrugs them off with boastful gangsta cliches: "Been there / done that /sold crack / got jacked / got shot / came back / jumped on Dre's back."

But in contemporary hip-hop, lyrics and flow can be mere side dishes; studio wizardry produces a gratifying main dish. "The Documentary" is proof of that.

It redeems itself via the ominous allure of Dre's keyboard-backed beats or, in the stellar "Dreams," the lush, layered production of Kanye West. This CD is easy to enjoy because it's a triumph of production and persona over performance.

-- Baz Dreisinger

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Allies leap to Faithfull's aid

Marianne Faithfull

"Before the Poison" (Anti-)

***

For a veteran artist whose style is firmly fixed and not about to change, the trick is to avoid repeating yourself. Marianne Faithfull, the '60s Swinging London thrush who resurfaced in 1979 as pop's matriarch of misery, has hit on a pretty good method: Find some young collaborators.

On her last album, 2002's "Kissin' Time," she enlisted Beck, Billy Corgan, Bonnie Prince Billy and other writer/musicians. The results didn't quite live up to the promise of the premise, but for "Before the Poison" (in stores Tuesday), Faithfull has more sympathetic partners, teaming with PJ Harvey and Nick Cave to form an unholy trinity of musical grim reapers.

Jon Brion and Damon Albarn also have a track each, but Harvey is the main helpmate, producing, writing (or co-writing), playing and singing backup on five of the 10 songs. Harvey generally toils in the realm of cathartic release, but Faithfull mingles in her cabaret/chanteuse qualities to create a subdued tension in such songs as "The Mystery of Love" (about slavish longing) and the venomous "My Friends Have" (about friends who really aren't).

Cave, who co-produced his contributions with Hal Willner, serves Faithfull a couple of his elegant, melancholy ballads, but it's his "Desperanto," a fevered, organ-fueled blues conflagration, that jerks the album out of its somber tone. The title, as explained in the lyric, could be the watchword for this whole gothic gathering: "Today I hear it everywhere / It is the language of despair."

Richard Cromelin

On the Web

To hear samples from Bright Eyes' "Digital Ash in a Digital Urn" and Marianne Faithfull's "Before the Poison," visit calendarlive.com/rack.

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.

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