album reviews

    Fever

    Kylie Minogue

    Capitol Records

    ***

    Remember going to the roller rink in third grade and waiting for that ’80s cover of “”Locomotion”” to come on? Thirty-three-year-old Aussie pop princess Kylie Minogue can claim responsibility for that track, and she has returned to American shores after a 13-year hiatus. The Stateside release of Minogue’s newest album “”Fever”” denotes her attempt to recapture the United States and establish herself as worthy of mononomial nomenclature here.

    All of her albums since the late ’80s have been wildly successful in Australia, the United Kingdom and elsewhere.

    However, the United States, as always, has proven the hardest market to crack. Capitol Records evidently believes that the United States, enjoying a climate of tentative acceptance for dance pop, is ready for Minogue at long last.

    The ubiquitous “”Can’t Get You Out of My Head”” is not all that’s served up on this release.

    The album is a bearable sampling of poppy house and trance cuts, all Kylified with the singer’s breathy vocals and super-sappy demeanor. There’s the requisite Spanish guitar house track, “”Your Love,”” and the soaring, trancey “”Fragile.””

    It’s hard to point to any one track as filler, when most discerning ears would probably tag the whole album as a sampling of pop pap. Though it may be this, it’s still a fun foray into the world of Euro-happy house and smooth production.

    Indeed, Minogue has a track record of working with successful producers and writers. Her other huge ’80s hit, “”I Should Be So Lucky,”” was produced by yesteryear heartthrob Rick Astley’s production team, and the biggest hit from her last album, the frisky “”Spinning Around,”” was co-penned by none other than the great Paula Abdul. On “”Fever,”” Minogue resurrects ’80s diva Cathy Dennis for songwriting assistance, and Dennis lends a hand on three tracks, including “”Can’t Get You Out of My Head.””

    “”Fever”” won’t win any Grammys next year, but that’s not to say it’s unworthy of your attention. Take this one to the discoteque, though, and not the roller rink.

    — Jennifer Sposito

    Senior Staff Writer

    Unwritten Law

    “”Elva””

    Interscope

    ****

    Without abandoning their genre-specific image as the fountainhead for SoCal punk-style music, Unwritten Law breaks back onto the scene with something new and slightly different.

    Launching their fourth album, “”Elva,”” this San Diego-based quintet headed by vocalist Scott Russo and propelled by guitarists Rob Brewer and Steve Morris shows that rules are made to be broken. Fortunately, the punk-rock institution is founded on this very notion of going against convention, even though it’s steadfastly rooted in a loud-and-fast three-chord harmony.

    Although the band is dedicated to touring and being directly in touch with their fans through live performance (as we saw with the release of their chart-busting self-titled 1998 album), the main goal of “”Elva”” is to experiment with a variety of sounds and try new melodies. The band certainly has come into their own.

    The hooks fly fast and frequently throughout, starting with “”Mean Girl,”” a song that introduces the album as the usual angry punk beat, but instead we find there is a touch of electronica and a good bass line that alludes to the diversity and experimentation that lay ahead.

    The contrasting of sounds is heard in songs such as “”Up All Night,”” a catchy yet spastic pop-punk swagger powered by a hard beat created by drummer Wade Youman. It is also evident in the already much-acclaimed “”Actress, Model …,”” a light, comic spiel that has already hit the radio stations.

    Other songs, such as “”Sound Siren,”” provide a squishy pop-punk sing-along that will surely become a big hit among concert goers.

    Then there are other tracks such as “”How You Feel,”” “”Seein’ Red”” and “”Geronimo,”” all excellently harmonized ballads with ingratiating guitar riffs that really contribute to setting Unwritten Law apart from other punk bands.

    Then they traverse over to songs such as “”Blame it on Me”” and “”Hellborn”” — hard rock anthems that nod back to the rebellious origins of punk.

    With the variety of sounds on the numerous tracks of “”Elva,”” this should surely be on your list to buy.

    — Sabrina Morris

    Staff Writer

    Billy Bragg and The Blokes

    “”England, Half English””

    Elektra

    ***

    Politically conscious and active with socialist tendencies, the talented British folk-blues singer-songwriter Billy Bragg can combine politics and music like no other. Prominent on the British music and political scene since 1984, Bragg has been known for using his electric guitar and stark intimate vocals to convey his political and social commentary on British society.

    In his first new album since the 1998 Grammy Award-nominated “”Mermaid Avenue”” with Wilco, which featured lyrics from the late Woody Guthrie, Bragg returns to his political tendencies, this time to comment on the importance of the mixed heritage of English society and identity.

    The versatile Bragg can go from beautiful personal revelations such as in “”Some Days I See the Point,”” to biting political commentaries, as in “”Take Down the Union Jack,”” while maintaining a light and enjoyable listening experience. The Blokes are also quite musically impressive as they creatively use a plethora of common and ethnic instruments that add a unique complexity and flavor to the simple rhythms and melodies.

    Nowhere is this theme of multiculturalism more apparent than in the title track, which features the Nigerian udu and the Egyptian bendir backing Bragg’s overtly English vocals. The music, inspired by a traditional Algerian folk song, combines with brilliantly hilarious lyrics such as “”My mother was half English and I’m half English too/I’m a great big bundle of culture tied up in the red white and blue.”” One cannot help but notice the humorous sarcasm epitomized in the line “”Dance with me to this very English melody,”” which happens to be the one line in the track that sounds the least “”English.””

    Other standout tracks are the upbeat and quirky “”St. Monday”” and the powerful “”NPWA.”” The former is a playful ode to workers; with its simple melody, steady rhythm and warm, folksy vocals, it is impossible not to sing along to the lyrics of “”I’m a hard worker but I ain’t working on a Monday.”” The latter is a musically catchy and strong protest about the job market being threatened by foreign competition.

    Overall, the album definitely deserves a listen for its unique concept, even if it most likely isn’t going to become one of the best albums you’ll ever listen to.

    “”My job as a songwriter is to reflect the world around me … it’s about everyone who sees themselves as English,”” states Bragg.

    Unfortunately, for those who are not English, the album’s saturation of all things English may prove to be just a little too much and could end up detracting from the full enjoyment of the collection.

    — Helen Pang

    Contributing Staff Writer

    Joey Kingpin

    “”A Beat Down in Hell Town””

    Radikal Records

    ***

    Is Joey Kingpin yet another fish in the sea of new trance and techno artists on Radikal Records, a label best known for ATB and Zombie Nation?

    Thankfully, no.

    In fact, he is in a completely different league of his own, blending punk rock, melodic electronic music and dancey, big-band rhythms on his debut album, “”A Beat Down in Hell Town.””

    Joey Kingpin is the alias for Steve Hoffer, who grew up between the punk and rave scenes in El Cerrito, Calif.

    “”I set out to make a fun and diverse sounding record that could showcase all of my musical influences from The Beach Boys to The Prodigy. The rock kids and the dance kids both seem to dig it,”” Hoffer said.

    Most of the songs embody the theme of high-energy rock and techno — some complete with casino sound effects that evoke an upbeat and fun attitude. It gets a bit more intense and varied in style, however, toward the end of the album.

    What is mostly absent is the long and repetitive beat buildups often heard in tasteless techno. In fact, most of the songs are fairly short, direct and genuine. The album is also mixed so that each song flows smoothly into the next with no breaks.

    A notable track is the interesting “”Sweet Valley,”” which has a great catchy guitar theme combined with rhythmic drumming, contrasting vocals and an effective electronic melody. Other standouts are “”Transylvania A Go-Go”” and “”Rock It,”” the latter not unlike Apollo Four Forty’s “”Stop the Rock”” with its pumping guitars and male vocals.

    Overall, this is a very solid techno album, few of which I’ve heard since Crystal Method’s “”Vegas.”” I didn’t expect much of it at first, with all the horrible techno out there nowadays, but it turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Maybe it will be for you, too.

    — Helen Pang

    Contributing Staff Writer

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