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Music Reviews

Randy's Buttons

August 3, 1994

Marvin the Album

FrenteFrente!, Marvin the Album (Mammoth 1994) -- Frente!, an Australian quartet fronted by 21 year-old lead singer (and songwriter) Angie Hart has an acoustic pop sound that is reminiscent of Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians. With its playful attitude, Marvin the Album is a guileless, engaging disc.

Having already made a big splash Down Under, Frente! (which is Spanish for "front") wants to return a gentler sensibility to pop music. In assessing the band's mesh of acoustic jazz & pop sensibilities, lead singer Hart says "It's kind of an anti-rock thing. We think rock 'n roll has lost some of its power, and volume has become boring. We're not big on solos, and as for lyrics, I'm not big on dicking around with them. Once you've said something, you've said it."

With pleasant, unassuming tracks such as "Accidentally Kelly Street," and the more pop-oriented "No Time" (with a strong piano lead ala 10,000 Maniacs, and a smooth, chord-changing string background that is reminiscent of Love), Frente! has an acoustic-oriented, mellow sound. Though lead singer Hart has a bit of a reedy voice, the group's innocence and honesty carry it through the 14 cuts on the album.

With its focus on songwriting and folksier influences, Marvin the Album's emotional and sonic openness is refreshing in this age of grunge and thrash. College/alternative fans will dig this album's etherial charms.

The TheThe The, Solitude (Epic 1994) -- The The is a British band that is centered around singer and guitarist Matt Johnson. Solitude is a greatest-hits collection (of sorts), and consists of live versions and re-mixes of songs previously released by the band. The result is intense, brooding English romanticism at its best.

The The has released only half a dozen albums during its 15-year career, and serves primarily as a springboard for the Goth-influenced musings of Johnson. While an early incarnation of The The worked as a group on the first two albums (including the debut release, Burning Blue Soul, on 4AD), when Johnson suffered a physical breakdown in the mid-80s, The The disbanded as a permanent band.

Throughout the rest of the 80s, Johnson gathered a wide variety of musicians for his various The The projects (such as the acclaimed Infected). In fact, over 300 different musicians have been featured on albums from The The, including Nenah Cherry and Sinead O'Connor. In 1991, Johnson decided to reform The The as a permanent touring unit, and recruited Johnny Marr, a guitarist best known for his work with The Smiths, Dave Palmer, a drummer who formerly played with ABC, and James Eller, a bass player who had previously worked with Julian Cope.

The result is a strong, guitar-oriented band (with an occasional organ and horn section) that reveals the dark underbelly of English pop culture (ala Nick Cave in the good old days). For the disenfranchised, the disoriented, and the disillusioned, this Bud's for you.

Thus, on songs like "Dogs of Lust," with its line, "I've got it bad/I got it blue/I got the sweetest sadness I ever had" and "Helpline Operator (Sick Boy Mix)," in which Johnson sings "Put your tongue into the mouthpiece/And whisper in my ear/Admit to me/The things you can't admit to yourself," The The's brand of depravity, sexuality, and despair are mixed together to form a potent brew.

Like other post-punk British rockers, Johnson knows that life ain't always pretty, but it is real. Solitude has the coherency that's lacking on the new album from Morrisey (Vauxhall & I); Johnson's messages are as plain as day, and he's not concerned about being coy. Punk and goth fans will love it.

16 Most RequestedVarious Artists, Academy Award Winners: 16 Most Requested Songs (Columbia Legacy 1994) -- Columbia's 16 Most Requested series features re-issues from easy listening artists of the 40s, 50s, and 60s such as Percy Faith, Ray Conniff, and Rosemary Clooney. While most of this music appeals to an older generation, Academy Award Winners is a pleasant surprise. Sticking to the same easy listening formula, the album mines the rich lode of Academy Award winning songs to produce a winning collection.

While a few of the tracks are taken from original movie soundtracks (such as the enchanting "Shadow of Your Smile" by Tony Bennett, and the ever-dapper Fred Astaire's "The Way You Look Tonight"), the majority of the cuts are re-recordings by well-known artists. Thus, Johnny Mathis gives a great reading of "You'll Never Know"; Doris Day displays her charms on the engaging "Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Sera, Sera)"; and Dinah Shore shows why she was a big star on "Baby, It's Cold Outside." Unlike most movie song collections, Academy Award Winners doesn't simply lift tired recordings from the original soundtracks. Featuring cleaned-up recordings and virtuoso performances of some of the most memorable songs to come out of Hollywood, Academy Award Winners is sure to please listeners of all ages.

What is Rock? "Rock 'n roll is a term that's been heavily abused. It's not something you can buy in a record shop. It's an attitude." Adam Clayton (of U2).

"If your parents don't hate it, it ain't rock 'n roll." Producer Jim Dickinson.

"All the shit they play on the radio today -- it lacks the true meaning of rock, which is sex, subversion, and style. Rock 'n roll is pagan and primitive and very jungle, and that's how it should be. The moment it stops being those things, its dead." Producer and promotor Malcolm McLaren.

-- Randy Krbechek

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