New on CD 5/16

Friday, May 16, 2003

'Out of the Vein'

On their third CD, "Out of the Vein," Third Eye Blind produces the same solid middle-of the road rock as on their previous discs. But they take their formula one step further for what is the San Francisco-based group's most personal creation to date.

The album doesn't provide any song as catchy as the group's first single, 1997's "Semi-Charmed Life." Instead of churning out radio-ready singles, frontman Stephen Jenkins uses "Out of the Vein" as a "break-up album," trying to figure out what went wrong in his relationship.

Jenkins turns to astrology on the impressive "Palm Reader," admitting an addiction to hope provided by fortunetellers and horoscopes. Instrumentation takes a rare back seat in the chorus as Jenkins' heartfelt entreaty that his girlfriend "Believe in me/and this lie/Tell me everything will be alright," is allowed the attention it deserves.

The lack of an obvious standout means it's necessary to listen closely to appreciate the album's merits. One of those is "Crystal Baller," which features a shimmering acoustic guitar and quiet, contemplative delivery from Jenkins.

"Out of the Vein" is not the place to look for the infectious, sing-a-long singles that tend to dominate summertime radio. Instead of producing potential summer anthems, Third Eye Blind has created excellent music for after the beach party ends.

'Falling Uphill'

Talented kids living in the middle of nowhere Canada get bored, learn some instruments and write some songs.

Throw in several accomplished producers (Linda Perry, Phillip Stier and The Matrix) overseeing some of the latest in North American pop, and thus is born Lillix -- a quartet of teenage and young twentysomethings who sing about angst and life with eternal girl-powered optimism.

"Falling Uphill" is a solid but not groundbreaking debut, and one that will please the teen set -- even those looking for some edgier bubblegum.

A blend of tight harmonies (the track "Quicksand" is a great example) and adolescent ruminations, several of the tracks show bursts of creativity and sparkle. The band members -- Kim Urhahn, Louise Burns and sisters Lacey-Lee and Tasha-Ray Evin -- harmonize well together and are capable musicians.

Clearly, the work done in the studio is a how-to on mixing good singers with excellent producers, evidenced by "It's About Time," which flurries with laid-back, swarming melodies a la Avril Lavigne. No surprise, since it was produced by The Matrix, who helped Lavigne surge.

Whether the band can hold its own, however, depends on how well it matures and, more importantly, how it can define itself. Clearly, "Falling Uphill," is a challenge to do both.'The Golden Age of Grotesque'

Headbanging riffs prevail on Marilyn Manson's "The Golden Age of Grotesque."

"Use Your Fist and Not Your Mouth," and "mOBSCENE," with its taunting cheerleader chants, carry a heavyweight sound of bludgeoning rhythms and chainsaw guitars.

Perhaps most engaging is the title track, a trawling hummer of a bummer; it's melodramatic vaudevillian style recalls Pink Floyd's personal crises of "The Wall" and fades with a chorus similar to Iggy Pop's "Passenger" as it celebrates an age where the profane is profitable.

'From Paris with Love'

The heyday of The Skatalites in the 1960s was brief but pivotal. The rhythm and melodies they forged became seared in the Jamaican musical psyche, turning up over and over again in both ska and reggae.

In late 2001, the members of the group went into a Paris studio and recorded several of their most famous tunes, collected here on "From Paris with Love." The modern studio has afforded the band an opportunity to lay these classics down with precision and clarity. Songs like "Garden of Love," and "Ska Fort Rock," retain their original bouncy uptempo energy, but have an added polish. The familiar theme songs "From Russia with Love" and "Guns of Navarone" are also included in this superb collection of ska classics.

'Ain't Giving Up'

The group Third World is probably best known for reggae classics like "Now that We Found Love" and "Try Jah Love." Those exhilarating dance floor anthems from the late 1970s and early '80s typified the groups embrace of R&B and disco, and earned them a permanent place in the annals of Jamaican music.

No such magic musical moments exist on this record. Things get off to a bland start with the title track, an upbeat if uninspiring account of trials and tribulations. The group' version of Bob Marley's "Natural Mystic" showcases lead singer Bunny Rugs' fine vocals and there is some lovely acoustic guitar ornamentation, but it sounds a bit watered down.

That's true of much of this record -- the harmonies are well-executed, the melodies are smooth, but the material just lacks any innovation or edge. The lyrics are inspirational, but the songs are not very inspired.

'La Gioconda'

"La Gioconda" may be the greatest Verdi opera that Verdi didn't write. Completed in 1876 -- when Verdi was in the midst of a 16-year gap between composing "Aida" and "Otello" -- it is filled with enough impassioned and melodious arias, duets and ensembles to keep the heart of any opera lover pumping. If that's no enough, there's the "Dance of the Hours" ballet.

It's the only one of Amilcare Ponchielli's operas still performed today, but recently has become something of a rarity because there are few singers around to do justice to the six demanding lead roles (one for each vocal category).

The chief attraction here is the performance by the Lithuanian mezzo Violeta Urmana in the title role of the ill-fated street singer. Though the role is written for a soprano, Urmana is impressive, with an unusually bright and secure top to match her ripe lower voice. As Enzo, the prince-disguised-as-a-sailor on whom she bestows her unrequited love, tenor Placido Domingo sings ardently, but at this stage of his career he can't muster the suppleness needed to make his aria, "Cielo e mar," sound free and easy. As Laura, mezzo Luciano D'Intino rises to the occasion for her show-stopping duet with Urmana, "L'amo come il fulgor del creato," in which the two women try to top each other in declaring their love for Enzo. The rest of the cast is merely adequate.

-- AP

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