Shades in Bed
(On the Beach, U.K.)
Starry-eyed U.K. power pop resurrected.
Power pop is seemingly on the cusp of a revival, with recent waxings by Mayflies USA, Bigger Lovers, and the Quags handily updating the genre kick-started three decades ago by the likes of the Raspberries and Big Star. This expanded/remastered reissue of the U.K.-based Records' '79 debut, then, couldn't come at a better time. Fueled by the Lennon/McCartney-styled songwriting partnership of drummer Will Birch and guitarist John Birch, the band's Shades in Bed (simply titled The Records in America) was produced by the future Mr. Shania Twain, Mutt Lange, and after the song "Starry Eyes" took off, the band would enjoy a couple of years' worth of moderate fame; one memorable moment came when they performed live on a Cars-hosted broadcast of The Midnight Special. It's easy to see why the band is still so revered by pop acolytes— "Teenarama" is classic Coca-Cola and ribbons-in-hair crunch-pop, "Up All Night" marries Revolver to Big Star's #1 Record, and "Affection Rejected" offers the perfect blend of wimpy, lovelorn balladry and ornately arranged guitar crunch. And, of course, "Starry Eyes" is as tuff 'n' timeless a jangly pop artifact as the Plimsouls' "Million Miles Away" or Tommy Tutone's "867-5309/Jenny." Speaking of pop artifacts, there's a dusty gem lurking among the 10 bonus tracks, which include the original 45 version of "Starry Eyes," a cool remix of "Teenarama," and covers of Kinks, Spirit, and the Stones. Also resurrected here is Blue Ash, an obscure Ohio band whose '73 album No More, No Less remains criminally overlooked as a proto-power pop artifact; the Records' churning version of the band's "Abracadabra (Have You Seen Her)" is a flashback thrill par excellence. FRED MILLS
YOUSSOU N'DOUR & ETOILE DE DAKAR
The Rough Guide to Youssou N'Dour & Etoile de Dakar
(World Music Network)
Africa's version of a pre-funk JB meeting a pre-op Jacko.
Before he became Peter Gabriel's aide-de-camp or Africa's biggest international pop star, Youssou N'Dour was a Senegalese cross between the young Michael Jackson and the pre-funk James Brown: an unholy charismatic, freak-voiced teenager who intensified local rhythms until they nearly snapped apart. Paradoxically, the problem with the Rough Guide compilation of his first band, Etoile de Dakar, is that it isn't nearly as rough as it could be. The disc glosses over some of the singer's most severe work—where, for instance, is the astoundingly intense "Thiely," possibly N'Dour's greatest recorded moment? —in favor of an almost folky flow. Regardless, little about these 11 songs could be called polished. The 12-minute "Thiapathioly," from 1983, is typical, starting subdued and working itself into a lather, with coruscating tama drums hyping the beat and horn parts shouting out more and more urgently with every reiteration. "Diokhama Say Ne Ne" moves fast from the jump, its goosed-up rhythm guitar holding the center of what sounds like a shambolic party. Loose and beautiful, it's village music on the cusp of transforming a large portion of the world. And if it leaves you hungry for more, four excellent volumes of Etoile de Dakar's work on the Stern's African Classics label remain in print. MICHAELANGELO MATOS
A Rush of Blood to the Head
Mellow "Yellow" hit makers toughen up.
On their lovely 2000 debut, Parachutes, Coldplay distinguished themselves from the rest of the U.K. hordes eager to fill Radiohead's leftover guitar-band shoes by crafting music as free of bombast as a Sarah McLachlan single—even the band's big hit, "Yellow," was so prom-night-ready it made genteel peers such as Travis seem like reformed frat boys. So it's a nice surprise that Coldplay's highly anticipated second album, A Rush of Blood to the Head, still succeeds despite the band's efforts to roughen up their sound. Mostly that means a newfound sense of swagger in the songs: "God Put a Smile Upon Your Face" and opener "Politik" throb with muscular minor-key urgency, and "Daylight" and "A Whisper" swirl with the menacing atmospherics shoegaze bands like Ride used to favor. Of course, frontman Chris Martin is still the kind of guy who'd probably take you to the library before pulling over to a make-out spot, so "Green Eyes" hums with a relaxed C&W thump while lead single "In My Place" comes on like a killer "Yellow" rewrite with an irresistibly gooey coda. With a couple more albums like this, it's likely Coldplay will find the perfect balance between brain and brawn. MIKAEL WOOD