Love, pop the Sonic Youth way

Sonic Youth

"Rather Ripped" (Geffen)

* * *

AFTER several years with producer-guitarist Jim O'Rourke as a fifth member, Sonic Youth has scaled back to its original lean four-piece -- fittingly, as this is the band at its most intimate. The SY love album? Well, yes, starting off with Kim Gordon breathily cooing, "You keep me coming home again," in the opening song, "Reena," perhaps the bubbliest (and non-ironically so) pop song of the band's 25-year career as an alternative pace setter.

Of course, this is love and pop through SY's revealing lens. The former is anything but straightforward, with Gordon and fellow singers-writers Thurston Moore and Lee Ranaldo exploring various, often contradictory, constituents and corollaries -- security, dependence, lust, affection, friendship, obsession, infidelity, paranoia. There's even faith in "Do You Believe in Rapture?" where the end times may or may not be a metaphor for earthly love.

And there are still plenty of the band's familiar musical leaps into the void with free-floating instrumental diversions and digressions. But most striking is the abundance of catchy melodies, smartly and effectively handled -- not by the limited (if expressive) singers, but by the guitars, with many songs marked by simple yet hummable leads. It almost makes you wonder what would have happened if Television and Peter Frampton had worked together. That's a compliment.

By the final song, "Or," a somber sketch of a fan or friend, the band seems drained and exhilarated. Sounds like love.

Steve Hochman


Rhymes' wild style gets tamed down

Busta Rhymes

"The Big Bang" (Aftermath/Interscope)

* *

THE idea of Busta Rhymes -- one of rap's most enduring and consistent acts -- joining Dr. Dre -- the best producer in rap history -- on Dre's Aftermath Entertainment roster had the promise of a landmark release. But the result (in stores Tuesday) is a disappointingly and surprisingly pedestrian affair that lacks Busta's typical flair and Dre's signature polish and excitement.

In fact, Busta seems to have dumbed down his lyrics ("Get You Some," "I Love My Bitch") and settled for simplistic rhyme patterns (the sexual "How We Do It Over Here," the confrontational "Cocaina") instead of delivering the dazzling and maddeningly complex flows that were hallmarks of such previous hits as "Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See" and "Break Ya Neck."

When he shows flashes of his former brilliance, as on the spare "Get Down," the skeletal chorus drains the momentum Busta creates. Much of the production from rap A-listers Dr. Dre, Timbaland and others rarely reaches the type of crescendo needed to take the songs from typical to extraordinary.

Leftfield cameos from Stevie Wonder on the somber, autobiographical "Been Through the Storm" and the late Rick James on the funky "In the Ghetto" are more exciting on paper than in reality, an all-too-typical result for this "Bang," one that never truly explodes.

Soren Baker


Moorer moves from the country

Allison Moorer

"Getting Somewhere" (Sugar Hill)

* * 1/2

THERE'S still some of the Neil Young/Crazy Horse hurricane-force power that characterized her 2004 album "Duel," but this time the Alabama singer-songwriter and producer Steve Earle (her husband) are more interested in showing off Moorer's power-pop chops, veering wide and far from her country roots.

That leads to a few cuts that scream "hit single," but light and breezy romance has never been what has made Moorer worth seeking out. The leadoff track, "Work to Do," and the "Got to Get You Into My Life"-inspired "If It's Just for Today" bring a level of thoughtfulness to bouncy and hummable tunes that puts them a notch above most of what's on Top 40 radio -- not that these are likely to wind up there. Her darker stuff is far more compelling.

If "New Years Day" isn't a direct reference to the childhood tragedy she and her older sister, Shelby Lynne, suffered when their father shot their mother to death and then killed himself, this ominous tale may as well be. That leads into "How She Does It," in which Moorer sings in third-person admiration of a mother of young children who risks escaping an abusive relationship.

A heartfelt ode to love such as "You'll Never Know" may bring emotional balance, but it fades into the woodwork in the company of "Hallelujah," her offering of thanks for the strength that comes through sheer survival. Earle's production prizes raw sound -- grungy electric guitars, no flattering reverb to artificially pretty up Moorer's inherently beautiful voice.

Getting somewhere? Maybe, but she also has some work to do.

-- Randy Lewis

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