What a stunner! There I was, sitting in the office of a friendly editor at a prestigious trade magazine, and he popped in the brand new CD single he’d just received that very day. “Hey,” he grinned, “guess who this is!”
Frankly, I had no idea. And when he told me it was the first single from the forthcoming Unplugged album by pop group Nirvana–whom I gather are quite popular–I was, admittedly, mildly chagrined. Shouldn’t I have known that?
Ironically, at that very moment, the phone rang–so I left his office, forgot all about it, and found a quarter by the Coke machine. A happy coincidence? Who knows? Still, I thought that brief snippet from my extraordinary life as a pop music critic might bring us closer together–and, more importantly, reassure you: Either this column will provide you a worthy, professional analysis of pop music, or I’ll personally refund the cost of this very magazine!
Thank you for your time.
IDAHO This Way Out (Caroline) Despite this fascinating local band’s refusal to name their record Famous Potatoes–and wouldn’t that be something?–they’ve done little else wrong on this, their second exemplary album and surely one of the year’s finest. Stark, intimate and noisy–as, by common consent, all alternative rock records must now be–This Way Out boasts a rare intelligence and warmth that sets it apart from the feeble-minded, samey-sounding competition. Were I the type to lazily employ bogus critical comparisons, I might suggest that the overall effect here is of Paul Westerberg or that Cobain fellow being backed by the American Music Club. Quite wonderful. 4.5/5
ROBERT FORSTER I Had A New York Girlfriend (Beggars Banquet U.K.) As one-half of the Go-Betweens, perhaps the very best band of the 1980s according to me, Forster here has casually tossed off his version of Pin-Ups–and good taste be evident in abundance. With Australian backup including former Triffids and Moodists and current Bad Seeds, the lanky Forster lovingly covers Dylan, Guy Clark, Mickey Newbury, Spirit, Neil Diamond, Grant Hart, and even new wave giants Martha & the Muffins. While a hefty batch of original material would be preferable, one must give this onetime Public Wearer Of Dresses his due: for a one-off, this boasts tangible zest. 3.5/5
ED KUEPPER Character Assassination (Hot/Restless) Known to some as founder of both the Saints and Laughing Clowns, to others as a contributor to the soundtrack of the timeless 1987 classic The Garbage Pail Kids Movie, Kuepper actually deserves the horrendous “legendary” tag accorded him when in town a few months back. Another cultish Australian yahoo, this man has yet to make a lousy record–or, for that matter, one that sounds much like anybody else’s. His reward? Pointless obscurity, actually being referred to as “God” by enthusiastic British music journalists, and occasional visits to the offices of prestigious trade magazines. It’s likely he’ll never cover “Life’s Been Good.” 4.5/5
WALTER BECKER 11 Tracks Of Whack (Giant) Though the biggest hurdle Steely Dan fans face in appreciating the solo career of band co-founder Becker may be accepting the guitarist’s unexpectedly gravelly voice, it really isn’t that much of a leap. Think Triple-A radio format, think Chris Rea, think earthy, think coffee-stained, and think quirky. Think Whack. Much more reminiscent of early- rather than late-period Steely Dan, this, given a few careful listenings, should appeal to youngsters in their late 30s and early 40s alike. 4.5/5
PORTISHEAD Dummy (Go!/FFRR) An engaging sonic mishmash that at times suggests Sade Gone Bad–which conceptually would not be a bad thing–Portishead make atmospheric, semi-psychedelic music that sounds great late at night in your car, particularly if you’re inclined to drive without wearing pants. Warning: Think twice about approaching just any record store clerk and asking, “Do you have Portishead?” 3.5/5
SINEAD O’CONNOR Universal Mother (Chrysalis/EMI) The always-perky O’Connor never fails to amuse, and here she offers us what may stand as her all-time lyrical peak. “I’m not no animal in the zoo,” she chirps midway through the colorfully-titled “Red Football.” It’s interesting: Only the very harshest of critics would contend her talent might be better served were her head to be reshaved and then painted orange for a new, emotional video rendition of the timeless classic “Glow Worm.” 2/5