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Carlos MenciaCarlos Mencia, Take A Joke America (Warner Bros. 2000) - Carlos Mencia is a comic from East Los Angeles who has been performing for more than a decade. While his language is certainly colorful (Mencia uses the "F" word more than Quentin Tarrantino), and his humor often ethnic (focusing on his Latino roots), Mencia delivers the goods.

Carlos MenciaThere are lots of jokes about beaners and Mexicans and how they are really an integrated part of American society, together with a long piece about President Clinton in "The President Was Impeached," in which Carlos declares the absurdity of impeaching a President for engaging in, in Mencia's opinion, some much-needed stress-relieving sexual shenanigans.

The material was recorded at the Comedy Works in Denver, and was edited and mixed in the Icebox by Brian David Willis.

Carlos MenciaWith five segments, Take A Joke America is a solidly-assembled comedy collection. Says Carlos, "I want my comedy to be funny, but I also want people to turn on the news or open a newspaper later and remember a joke or something I talked about. And if I give someone a different perspective and maybe change their way of thinking, then I'm doing my job."

Carlos MenciaAnd if the cracks about Tiger Woods (the "fried chicken" incident), the Taco Bell Chihuahua dog, and trailer parks seem a little sharp, that's the whole point. According to Carlos, "I've gotten in trouble with every race you can imagine. They say, 'I can't believe you talked about this - you're racist.' And I answer, 'How can I be racist? Isn't racism exclusionary?' If you are offended, that's because I'm including every race in my jokes."

Carlos MenciaComedy is always a subjective matter, so it's hard to describe its appeal. Take this: if you liked Robert Schimmel, you'll dig Carlos (although Carlos focus more on race than sex). Or think of Archie Bunker, with a lot more of Redd Foxx' colorful language.

There's no easy description for Take A Joke America. And you'll never hear this material on mainstream radio. But if you enjoy sharp comedy, focusing on classism and current issues, then Take A Joke America will have you rolling.

AC/DCAC/DC, Stiff Upper Lip (Elektra 2000) - Now on their 16th album in a 24-year recording career, it's hard to argue with the success of AC/DC. Stiff Upper Lip (their first studio album in five years) finds the Australian lads reunited with original producer George Young [who recorded their pre-Mutt Lange albums, such as Let There Be Rock (1977)].

Stiff Upper Lip shows solid results on such blues-based power rockers as "Safe in New York City" (a good radio track) and "Can't Stop Rock 'n Roll."

AC/DCAC/DC consists of brothers Angus Young (on lead guitar), Malcolm Young (rhythm guitar), Brian Johnson (vocals), Cliff Williams (bass), and Phil Rudd (drums).

AC/DC started gigging in the early 70s in Sydney, Australia, at the Chequers Club (also frequented by such artists as Sammy Davis, Jr. and Frank Sinatra). The band soon gelled into a rock-solid outfit, including Angus' trademark schoolboy attire.

AC/DCThe band's biggest album, the classic Back in Black (produced by Mutt Lange, now husband of Shania Twain), was a bittersweet release, as it was recorded after the death of their original singer, Bon Scott. (Great quote from Bon Scott: "I was married at the time I joined the band and my wife said: 'Why don't you write a song about me?' So I wrote 'She's Got Balls,' then she divorced me.")

AC/DCAC/DC remains true to form. Quips Angus, "We've learned never to pay too much attention to the trends, or to what to expect the experts are telling us is The Next Big Thing. Our fans know what to expect from us. And that's how we approach making a record."

The band takes no prisoners on "SatelliteBlues" and "Give It Up," which bring to mind the good old days of ZZ Top. Power guitars, power rock, power vocals - it's AC/DC through and through. Says Angus, "It was fun to make this record. We never like to be under pressure, and no band should make an album like it's some sort of a chore."

AC/DCVocalist Brian Johnson says that "'Can't Stand Still' reminds me of everything that's fun and alive about rock and roll. I sang it through in one take and if you listen at the end you can even hear the boys applauding. That's the kind of atmosphere we had throughout the making of this album."

Brian Johnson continues: "I can always tell if we're making a good album, when the smokes are going before, during, and after a take. This one was a 135,000-cigarette album."

Stiff Upper Lip finds AC/DC as unflappable as ever, and will reward fans.

Smashing PumpkinsSmashing Pumpkins, Machina/The Machines of God (Virgin 2000) - The mercurial Billy Corgan delivers another slice of and drang with Machina. Featuring 15 tracks draped in feedback and loud guitars, Corgan shows no signs of letting up (although he has announced that the band will wind down at the end of the year, making Machina the fifth and final release from the Pumpkins).

Billy CorganNot that I really understand the Smashing Pumpkins. I've heard some songs that just blew me away, such as "1979" from Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. But a lot of the Pumpkins sounds like noise to me. Well-executed noise, but noise, just the same.

And that's my assessment of Machina as well. Lots of driving tempos, loud guitars, and in-your-face lyrics. I can do Led Zeppelin, but 70 minutes of high octane rock is difficult to digest.

The new chickThe band on Machina includes songwriter and front man Billy Corgan, James Iha on guitars, D'arcy on bass, and Jimmy Chamberlin on drums. The new album was co-produced by Billy Corgan and Flood. (Bass player, D'Arcy Wretzky departed the band after Machina was recorded, and was replaced a month later by former Hole bassist Melissa Auf Der Maur.)

Corgan is a solid studio veteran, but Machina is no Pet Sounds. Corgan's songs, such as "Age of Innocence" and "The Crying Tree of Mercury" remain difficult to decipher, in part because the vocals are so far down in the mix.

Smashing PumpkinsThere's a great rock band in here - I just keep looking for the catchy melodies, though "I of the Mourning" comes closest. Machina continues to show flashes of Corgan's brilliance, but his message remains an enigma.

The Pumpkins always convey that Doors feeling of "something different, something not quite right." The difference was that Jim Morrison pushed his lyrics up front and center, while Corgan takes his message and buries it in the mix.

The old daysCorgan has long been said to be a difficult chap, controlling and even domineering in the studio. Band members remained quiet, considering the group's increasing success. Their first album, Gish released on independent Caroline Records, achieved worldwide sales of 1.5 million units, while their major label debut Siamese Dream (from 1993) racked up impressive sales of 5.5 million albums.

Smashing PumpkinsAnd their 1995 double disk set, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness peaked with sales of 11 million albums and was certified eight times platinum in the U.S.

But the success has not continued: Their last album, Adore, only reached sales of three million and was said in many respects to be a Billy Corgan solo album, as he controlled all facets of the recording and production.

Smashing PumpkinsAnd Corgan got into a recent tiff with Ozzy Osbourne's wife, Sharon Osbourne, who resigned after only three months as the Smashing Pumpkins manager. More pointedly, Mrs. Oz-Fest was quoted in January 2000 as saying that, "Unfortunately I must resign due to medical reasons -- Billy Corgan was making me sick."

Will Machina restore the fortunes of the Smashing Pumpkins? Only if you want 73 minutes of dense, pounding rock and roll. A match made in heaven for some, but a heady brew for many.

- Randy Krbechek © 2000

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