808 State Defies The Odds Again With A Consistently Fine Album

Posted: February 09, 1993

Flair, flavor and flow - the three principal elements that go into making a great night on the dance floor - are also the principal keys to producing a solid full-length dance album. 808 State has those principles down cold.

808 State's Gorgeous (Tommy Boy * * * ) is the sixth long-player by the Manchester, England-based trio. Composed of two DJs who emerged from the frenetic Manchester rave scene and a musical experimentalist in the mold of Brian Eno, 808 State has defied the odds. In a genre in which careers are defined by short bursts of singles, Darren Partington, Andy Barker and Graham Massey have become one of the few "underground" dance acts to produce consistently danceable and listenable albums.

Gorgeous loosely follows the blueprint of the band's 1991 stunner, ex:el (Tommy Boy) and comes complete with the requisite star cameos. A hard-core rave track, "Colony," kicks off the disc and soon segues into the languid dance ballad "Moses." (Where ex:el featured New Order vocalist Bernard Sumner's earnest croon, this time 'round, Ian McCullough, formerly of Echo and the Bunnymen, gets the honors.)

A three-song set then pays homage to the previous generation of new-wave ravers without bowing to nostalgia. "Contrique" samples the bass line to Joy Division's "She's Lost Control," "10 X 10" evolves into a gospel-house extravaganza built on the foundation of the Jam's "Start," and "One in 10" remixes and remodels the decade-old UB40 reggae track of the same name.

The mood shifts with the lovely "Plan 9," an ambient instrumental with shuffling rave rhythms that wraps a fragile flamenco guitar line with a billowing cascade of synthesized strings. Siesta time. Cool down, close your eyes, and take a breather. Caroline Seaman, once of the 4AD project This Mortal Coil, drops by to yodel like a fairy-tale princess on the chiming ''Europa."

Fortunately, just before "Europa's" Alpine air begins to reek of a chilly Enya outtake, 808 State takes a bracing turn toward the slightly menacing. ''Black Morpheus" clears away the ether with a slinky, mesmerizing groove that conjures vague memories of Bitches Brew-era Miles Davis.

"Southern Cross" and "Nimbus" steer into percolating trance territory before Gorgeous erupts with fusillades of aggressive dance beats and video- game histrionics. "Timebomb" explodes with a vengeance, rattling the

windows and shaking the floor with enough force to wake the dead - or those of us lulled into a slumber by the preceding flow of dreamy tracks. From then on, it's manic tempos, rapid-fire rhythms and gritty synth bits. As if to remind you that dreaming has its place, but life is on the dance floor.



(Epic * * * )

A concept album of sorts, Dusk finds The The's Matt Johnson wrestling with a monster that would put Godzilla to shame - a knotty, seething mess of angst, guilt, lust, doubt and despair.

As rock-and-roll theologians go, he is no Soren Kirkegaard. This Englishman lacks the Dane's gifts of irony, analysis and finesse. But neither is he Phil Collins. No sanctimony, no sermonizing from the rock-arena bully pulpits, here. Johnson is just good enough to wallow in his own torments while whipping

himself in public. In the process, he pulls off a surprisingly good record - a heartfelt slice of white-boy blues designed for the end of the century.

Johnny Marr's guitar prevents Dusk from becoming a victim of Johnson's dread. Marr - having played with the self-obsessed king of the international mopers, Morrissey - is more than a sideman/sideshow to Johnson's tortured existential saint. He is a sidelight, able to throw Johnson's mordant musings into high relief with guitar lines that shadow and give depth to Johnson's troubling spiritual portraits.


. . . If I Ever Fall in Love

(Gasoline Alley * * * )

Shai (pronounced SHY) traffics in creamy smooth soul harmonies that melt together like buttah. Pretty suave stuff. Four young gents with a gift for classic vocalese, Shai forsakes the gritty street echoes of doo-wop - the kind that sent Philadelphia's Boyz II Men, their R&B-vocal brethren, to the top of the charts -for a more streamlined sound, big on tender romance and high-gloss polish. The album includes the quartet's top-10 a cappella hit, "If I Ever Fall in Love," and a surprisingly understated remix of the same.


Reviewed by Karl Stark


Moments Like This

(Chesky * * * 1/2)

She is the queen of smoky rooms, the duchess of depression. Singer Peggy Lee can stretch out a song like an echo in the Grand Canyon, and she can make it as sweet as saltwater taffy or as depressing as cheap wine.

We find her here, in exquisite settings arranged by pianist Mike Renzi on a label known for its recording excellence. Lee, happily, is up to the treatment, which showcases her singing and lyric-writing. She is able to evoke both passion and potential heartache, sometimes in the same phrase, on the aching "I'm in Love Again," one of her wonderful collaborations with Cy Coleman. She can adopt any of a stable of characters worthy of Dorothy Parker and Dashiell Hammett. The tough blonde, the lovesick barfly, the fed-up lover - Lee takes on a song's persona the way other women throw on a boa.

Her unadorned delivery puts the lyrics at center stage and highlights her every vocal nuance. There's ambiance to everything she sings. The angry "Why Don't You Do Right?" ends hauntingly with whistling and fingers snapping, while she sings "Manana" with a Spanish accent that's gently humorous. That's about the only light moment. An hour of these tunes can make you hanker for comic relief, but every song is well-etched.


Six Pack

(GRP * * * )

This is a star-studded affair. Prodigious firepower on every tune. From the time he burst onto the scene in the late '60s, vibraphonist Gary Burton has often featured great guitarists, and here he joins with six masters in a jam- packed session ranging from the vigorous blues of B.B. King to the classical guitar of Ralph Towner.

Over a dozen tunes, Burton reunites with the searing tones of John Scofield, holds forth with the lightness of Kevin Eubanks, trades riffs with Jim Hall, and introduces a leprechaun-light Kurt Rosenwinkel. All this is accomplished atop the churning rhythms of drummer Jack DeJohnette and the backing of pianist Mulgrew Miller and bassist Steve Swallow.

Were this recording the sum of its talented cast, we would be writing these words in neon ink. Unfortunately, while it swings, Six Pack has the feel more of Miller Light than V.S.O.P. Burton doesn't seem to want to unleash his wrecking crew, but rather to run it through some pleasant, albeit narrow patterns.

Highlights includes Burton's duet with Towner on "Guitarre Picante" and the melodic "Lost Numbers," with its plaintive lead. King, who kills pretension wherever he goes, fits in nicely on the funky "Double Guatemala," on which he is backed by bassist Will Lee and pianist Paul Shaffer of David Letterman's Late Night.

Burton shows himself to be a master recruiter and a devastating technical force who seems less adept at communicating from the heart.


* * * * Excellent

* * * Good

* * Fair

* Poor

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