Madonna + Kate Bush

Also: The Cops.

KATE BUSH

Aerial

(EMI)

MADONNA

Confessions on a Dance Floor

(Warner Bros.)

Why listen to records by old people? The point of pop music is to laugh at naive opportunists who imagine themselves to be talented (if they've been told that enough times) or lucky (if they haven't had their pound of flesh extracted by the industry yet). The form requires a fearless conviction unspoiled by exposure to life's depredations. Pop records are not especially difficult to make—they don't require years of training like classical or indigenous forms, only loose allegiance to the norms of whatever subculture the artist imagines his or her audience belongs to. So once somebody's old enough to figure out how to make records, and to be reasonably sure of their own identity without recourse to cultural material they once drew upon, where's the interest value in their latest product?

In Kate Bush's case, the interest factor is the spectacle of seeing somebody completely forget how to record memorable songs, interesting textures, or lyrics that reveal any identification with life as it is lived and experienced by most listeners—and taking 12 years to do it. Bush's early records were charming teen-diary folk-baroque; then she met Peter Gabriel and turned to pastel prog–as–backpacker pop. Fretless basses, delicate drumbeats, wind-and-rain sound effects, portentous piano-chord preludes and prologues to every wandering, lengthy track—the two-disc Aerial is Delicate Sound of Thunder–era Pink Floyd with the stadium introversion of David Sylvian, along with frequent alley-wino spoken-word and birdsong interruptions. Most of Aerial is a hazy, muted reprise of the more incoherent, immobile moments on Bush's previous records, except there are noticeably more repetitions of the words "beautiful" and "lovely." (Maybe Utah Saints could make "something good" happen again?) When the standout song (about doing laundry) reminds you of Phil Collins' "Against All Odds," you know you've got a record only Patrick Bateman could love.

Madonna is less prone to floating into the solipsistic ether—if not structurally immune to it—but a working grasp of reality is a given with her. However, the art of making albums that don't get excruciatingly boring around the halfway mark has always eluded her, and there's almost an air of resignation about designating Confessions on a Dance Floor's bright spot—the first Madonna single based on an already universally known sample (Lenny Kravitz doesn't count)—as the opening track. "Hung Up" also misleadingly brings back the wonderful rodent voice that made her a star, but the rest of the album is sung in overbearing Evita tones—the dry, grating American Life bark is also unfortunately gone, although the lack of acoustic guitar is a relief. The idea of making a French-disco (somebody moving the EQ faders up and down a lot in the studio) record with a professional Frenchman impersonator (Stuart "Jacques Lu Cont" Price) as a producer is fun, as is the N.Y.C. song, but disco records are not supposed to sound as long as they really are, the reverse of the case here. And every token mystical track takes her further from being the working-class hero that Swept Away proved she could be. DAVE QUEEN

THE COPS

Get Good or Stay Bad

(Mt. Fuji)

As a free gift with mail-order purchases, British post-punks Wire recently offered a sample of cologne called "The smell of YOU." What, I wonder, does a typical Wire fan smells like? Crisp and clean with notes of lemon, cucumber, and analog tape, maybe? (Or Ivory soap, like me?) Apropos of the Cops' faithful cover of Wire's "Lowdown," I sniffed out a few distinctive tropes in their music: '80s college rock, British mod, and garage. PBR, Devon cream, and musk—mmmm. Where the Seattle quartet's smart, dishabille debut EP, Why Kids Go Wrong, took vintage pop hooks down to the basement, Get Good smooths out the kinks with cleaner production, but without sacrificing spontaneity—as if they've rehearsed like mad to sound spontaneous. "Controller" circumvents bouncy guitar with backing vocals and Brian Wall's natty bass-line bridge. Drummer Dave Weeks' deft, hotfooted rhythm opening "Invisible City" sounds ready for a club remix. Despite the juvenilia of signature phrase "I wanna be your inner void," the guitar breakdown and Michael Jaworski's spit delivery and ad-libbed tics—equal parts Paul Westerberg and Lenny Bruce—of the rerecorded "Don't Take It Personal Dave" sound like the band hit puberty between records; and "T.V. Lieyes" and "New Economy," they smell like burning rubber. KATE SILVER

The Cops play High Dive with the Emergency and Shotgun at 9 p.m. Fri., Feb. 10. $6.

 
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