VARIOUS ARTISTS, Fire and Skill: The Songs of the Jam (Epic/Ignition) Combining the best of mod energy, punk attitude, and Paul Weller's astounding skills as

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A tribute to the Jam, Poster Children, and more.

VARIOUS ARTISTS, Fire and Skill: The Songs of the Jam (Epic/Ignition) Combining the best of mod energy, punk attitude, and Paul Weller's astounding skills as a songwriter and lyricist, the Jam are recognized as one of the best and most influential rock acts of the '80s. However, while the caliber of artists contributing to Fire and Skill (Oasis, Beastie Boys, Garbage) is a clear indication of the band's lasting legacy, this tribute is in fact an insult. Fire and skill? Smoke and ineptitude is more like it. Things get off to a promising start with Oasis singer Liam Gallagher's faithful, lazy reading of "Carnation," before nose-diving into the Beastie Boys' wretched, irresponsible desecration of "Start." Reconfigured as a harmonica-inflected (infected?) lounge romp, it sounds like a studio afterthought that lacks even a trace of the original's galvanizing power. Garbage's "Butterfly Collector" is suitably sinister but falls flat, as does Buffalo Tom's surprisingly anemic "Going Underground." Ben Harper's "The Modern World" is embarrassing in its sincerity. Noel Gallagher's Stones-esque "To Be Someone" is simply mystifying in its badness. Successes amid the failures include Heavy Stereo's rocking update of "The Gift," and Everything But the Girl manage to retain the heartfelt romantic simplicity of "English Rose." Jam fans will find Fire and Skill interesting only for its hidden Weller track, though this new composition is itself mediocre. A better option is to dust off those copies of All Mod Cons and Setting Sons, sit back, and remember what was.—Tim Scanlin

POSTER CHILDREN, DDD (spinART) If I was 16 again and driving my VW Rabbit through the sleepy streets of my seaside town, I'd roll down the windows and turn the first song of Poster Children's self-produced new release way up. And right through track four, me and the Children would be drowning out the muffler in our own power-pop world. The first 15 minutes of the Champaign, Il., band's latest bring back those bad-hair high school days when all it took was a good hook, a simple guitar line, and a touch of keyboards to get your juices flowing. But about halfway through DDD, the record takes a turn. Even at 16, I would've had the sense to hit the eject button. Dull, staccato guitar leads, fat bass lines, easy rhymes like, "Silhouette/I can't forget," and overly busy drum work leave the taste of bad '80s metal in your mouth and make you wonder if an outside influence in the studio would have been a better idea. Matter of fact, where is Steve Albini? Albini engineered a few of Poster Children's earlier releases, and I'd bet that the man who recorded the classics Surfer Rosa and In Utero would have scrapped songs like "Persimmon," which sounds like a Spinal Tap outtake or a Guitar Player magazine sampler called "Play along with Yngwie Malmsteen." Anything that reminds me of being a carefree teenager with the windows rolled down can't be all bad, but when I buy a record, one thing I deserve is a cohesive set of well-thought-out and purposeful songs. I mean, do any of us deserve to taste bad metal again?—Laura Learmonth

ALEX CHILTON, Set (Bar None) In the Replacements' 1987 ode to Alex Chilton, Paul Westerberg proclaimed, "I'm in love with that song." Now Chilton makes a similar proclamation on his first new recording since 1995, a shoot-from-the-hip assortment of covers of the classic and modern Southern music he holds dear. The New Orleans resident often raves about the Deep South's plentiful AM dial and champions record labels such as Jackson, Mississippi's Malaco Records, which Chilton likens to a newfangled Stax. Selected from a bevy of songs recorded during a single late-night session in early '99—much of it off-the-cuff—Set veers from jazz to soul, crisp to sloppy, sarcastic to straightforward. It mostly follows a soul blueprint, mapped out with Allen Toussaint's "Lipstick Traces," Alfred J. Smith's "The Oogum Boogum Song," and the obscure "You've Got a Booger Bear Under There" (an Ollie Nightingale track from the stable of the respected Memphis R&B label Echo Records). Chilton's trio moves to jazz for Vernon Duke's "April in Paris" and "Shiny Stockings," the Frank Foster number recognizable to fans of Count Basie and Dexter Gordon. After "Single Again," snatched from the country songbook of mid-'70s honky-tonker Gary Stewart, Set signs off with the soulful "Goodnight My Love," an old Jesse Blevin standard that used to end one of Chilton's favorite Memphis radio shows.—Scott Holter

 
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