MISSY ELLIOTT

Under Construction

(Elektra)

And the winner is . . . Miss E.

If hip-hop gave out awards for formal manipulation, Missy Elliott and

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CD Reviews

MISSY ELLIOTT

Under Construction

(Elektra)

And the winner is . . . Miss E.

If hip-hop gave out awards for formal manipulation, Missy Elliott and her songwriting/producing partner Timbaland sure would have plenty of prizes. Most of them would be for seriously blurring the line between R&B and rap (and a couple would be for wearing cool jackets), but Under Construction, Elliott's fourth album, might warrant a new one: On it, the two apply their trademark future- shock sheen to a self-consciously nostalgic celebration of hip-hop's past. Elliott has acknowledged the recent deaths of Aaliyah and Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes as a large part of the record's inspiration, and, as on the new TLC disc, it's impressive how ably she's brought that sobriety to bear in songs that could start any party right. When Elliott scrapes the bottom of her vocal register in the chorus of the ebullient "Back in the Day," she allows despair to momentarily shadow Jay-Z's Day-Glo verses. Lead single "Work It" pulls a similar trick, Elliott rapping backward about her bikini line so well it'll break your heart of glass. The explicit Aaliyah/Lopes elegy "Can You Hear Me," which features the surviving two-thirds of TLC, is soppier than it should be, and the CD doesn't hold together like Elliott's knockout 1997 debut Supa Dupa Fly did, but, damn, give a visionary a break—meaningful retro-futurism is hard work, and harder when your friends aren't around to help. MIKAEL WOOD

VELVET CRUSH

Soft Sounds

(Action Musik/Parasol)

The Crush emerge with a home-recorded soft-rock symphony to God.

The Velvet Crush's first album of new material since 1999 comes as advertised—it's a delicious, blowing-through-the-jasmine-of-your-mind soft-rock trip that sounds like something you'd cue up on the Peaches listening post, circa 1978. Now a duo—multi-instrumentalist-vocalist Paul Chastain and drummer Ric Menck—the Velvet Crush tracked this 12-song collection over a two-year period in Chastain's Rhode Island music room and at Matthew Sweet's L.A. casa. It's got the sonically humble feel of a piecemeal living-room recording and enough wounded-heart pathos to keep it from sounding like a Bread/Climax Blues Band revival. Not that the principals would consider that a knock. Fragile weepers like "In Your Time" and "Some Kind of Light" resonate with Big Star desperation, while the McCartney-esque ballad "Staying Found" examines heartbreak from a slightly sunnier point of view and has a chorus-drenched guitar solo to die for. A trio of covers ups the soft-rocking ante. Menck steps to the mike with a fetchingly childlike voice to take on the Box Tops' song of road-tested innocence, "Rollin' in My Sleep," and Chastain does Fleetwood Mac's Tusk nugget "Save Me a Place" proud without the benefit of limitless production gauze. Soft sounds but very good ones. PATRICK BERKERY

HELLO FROM WAVELAND

Strangeways

(Mt. Fuji)

Unadventurous yet appealing set from local roots-poppers.

That Seattle-based Hello From Waveland have drawn comparisons to R.E.M., Wilco, Big Star, and the Byrds is hardly surprising given their obvious dedication to melodic guitar pop with a rural tinge. A few harmonies from the Lennon/ McCartney school notwithstanding, Waveland's pedigree is as all-American as it gets. Lead vocalist/ songwriter Michael Jaworski cut his teeth in Omaha, which may partly explain the band's sturdy, broad-shouldered approach (a useful contrast here would be with California's sun-kissed Beachwood Sparks, who draw upon a very similar palette yet yield far more delicate and dreamy results). Consistency is the watchword on Strangeways—the record sets its tone immediately and leaves the hooks in place throughout, though I'm most partial to the catchy melodies propelling "Hourglass," "Big Beautiful House," and "Temptation." There isn't a single clunker in the bunch, but Strangeways' somewhat narrow focus probably won't hold much sway over those who prefer lyrics ripe with bluster or musical takes on Americana that lean toward the adventurous. There are also spots where the group is perhaps a bit too reverential for its own good—the "All it does is fuckin' rain around here/Makes me feel like I am dying" line on "Strange" sounds like a pedestrian pickup from an Uncle Tupelo outtake. Strangeways, however, never pretends to want to reinvent the wheel, delivering a fully realized, and awfully strong, synthesis of some esteemed influences. PAUL FONTANA

Hello From Waveland play I-Spy on Sat., Dec.14 at 9 p.m. with Jackpot and Graig Markel. $8.

 
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