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Hiphop Hooey

D-12 World (Shady/Interscope)

So we’re told that Eminem is “just another group member” when he’s rapping with D-12. That’s not necessarily incorrect, but every group has an overachiever, and let’s be honest: D-12 wouldn’t be anywhere without their old buddy Marshall. Without his talent and, apparently, guidance—he’s given a prominent executive-producer credit, and the record was released on his Shady imprint—these guys would be just another bunch of foul-mouthed jackasses shooting playground insults back and forth at each other.

That said—and this should be obvious by now, if you’ve spun through the radio dial at any point in the last few months—“My Band” is one of the best singles of the year. It displays a self-effacing sense of humor that belies the brutish machismo so common in the rap game. Obviously, these guys aren’t taking themselves too seriously; they realize why people are paying attention to them in the first place and they’re willing to make themselves the punchline. And anytime a Roxanne Shanté reference comes along, you can’t help but smirk. Otherwise, there’s little to suggest D-12 as anything more than a gangsta version of 2 Live Crew.

Perhaps that’s not a completely valid statement. To be fair, there is a little substance: Surely, anytime Slim Shady’s involved, this is hot stuff. The opening salvo, “Git Up,” finds Em spinning a children’s word game into a “don’t fuck with us” anthem, and there’s some mean club-style battling on “How Come.” Key guest appearances from Cypress Hill’s B-Real and Eminem protégé Obie Trice pad some lean stretches, and most of the tracks are tight and hooky (sounds like Marshall’s picked up some tricks from his own mentor, Dr. Dre).

Unfortunately, when the rest of the “band” are allowed free of the coattails, the quality suffers severely. Swift and Proof have some bright spots, especially on “Loyalty” and “Good Die Young,” but the whole thing is weighed down significantly by the presence of the none-too-special rhymes of Kon Artis and Kuniva. Then there’s the just-plain-untalented Bizarre, whose “Just Like U” might be the one of most foul tracks made available to the public en masse in a dog’s age; so vulgar, in fact, that certain lyrics and phrases had to be deleted prior to the album’s release (and rightfully so—even the most liberal listener should take offense to lines like “You’re eight years old, it’s time to start fuckin’ ”).

It’s a shame that D-12 World is such a disappointment, because you get the impression that they could be capable of more if it weren’t for a childish preoccupation with the f-bomb. There are 139 of them on this record, and that’s not counting the “skits,” which brings up another point: Is this supposed to be hiphop or comedy? These inane skits are only funny on the first listen, if at all; after that, they’re just needless filler. If these guys could pull their heads out of the gutter long enough to put together a few more tracks as clever as “My Band,” they would be onto something. Instead, this album is, for the most part, a 70-minute-plus assault of empty-headed misogyny and violent imagery.

—John Brodeur

Glenn Tilbrook
Transatlantic Ping Pong (Compass)

It’s impossible not to compare Glenn Tilbrook to his former band, Squeeze. Though co-leader and co- songwriter with Chris Difford, it was Tilbrook’s voice that established a large part of their identity. His vocals possess perfect pop-rock sonority plus an additional quality that lends a mysterious emotive presence to the songs. Even lyrics of good cheer are compellingly undercut by the subtly powerful force of melancholy.

For his second solo outing, Tilbrook’s identity remains as it has been, with thoughtful arrangements built around carefully wrought songs, half of which were written alone, the others in tandem with a few collaborators. Notable among the latter is the appearance of his erstwhile writing partner. The pair’s first new song in six years, “Where I Can Be Your Friend,” finds wordsmith Difford rather clearly addressing the unraveling of Squeeze. Elsewhere, the songs stick to the familiar terrain of domestic dysfunction, interpersonal distances, social discomfort, and hope held in check. The set closes with an instrumental that shows how Tilbrook’s musical inclinations mirror the small private dramas played out in the other songs: “One for the Road” dances along with the infectious propulsion of a surf ditty, but as its melody gently dances atop a chord change elevating the minor, it resonates with a reality borne of fleeting sadness, warm and sweet.

—David Greenberger

Burning Brides
Leave No Ashes (V2)

With their debut album, Fall of the Plastic Empire, Philly’s Burning Brides seemed positioned to capitalize on the garage-rock renaissance that occurred around the time of its release, and might have done so had they been willing to fence in their sound. Instead, on Empire, and now on their latest, Leave No Ashes, we’re given witness to a band that’s forming its own identity by raiding their old gatefolds and boiling them down into a stamping, stammering reduction. While Empire showed that lead Bride Dmitri Coats has a strong flair for melody and songcraft, with more than a little love for late ’60s psychedelica (the drugs, mostly), it also kicked rock & roll ass, and had its share of seriously awesome metal moments (check out the Slayerrific coda to “Arctic Snow”). With Ashes (due July 2nd on V2 Records), the band picks up where it left off, and then some.

Right out of the gate, “Heart Full of Black” is a swift kick in the pouch, adding fuel to the argument that AC/DC might well be the most influential band of the last 30 years. “Alternative Teenage Suicide” burns the barn and bulldozes the remains, while “Dance With the Devil” sounds like the Strokes jamming on a late-period Screaming Trees tune jamming on Blue Cheer’s version of “Summertime Blues.” “This is the sound of a rockin’ band,” Coats dutifully informs on the roaring title track, kicking off Ashes’ second half—bonus points awarded for making a record that divides comfortably into classic LP format—as a canned audience goes wild behind him. He knows it and he knows we know it. “To Kill a Swan” ambles along on a riff that would make Tony Iommi kowtow, as Coats strings threats/promises like “I’ll see you at the crime before I see you at the fuckin’ trial” through the head of a one-note melody that’s eventually woven into one of the album’s best hooks (even if it’s only for five seconds at a time).

The mood comes down considerably for the album’s final third, which is almost startling in the wake of the preceding mayhem. “Pleasure in the Pain” and “Last Man Standing” are well-constructed Oasis power ballads; “From You” is a compact pop-rocker with a Tom Petty bent (perhaps a side-effect of their collaboration with Petty’s producer, George Drakoulias). A cheesy farfisa organ and a team of rejects from a Nick Cave sound-alike contest garnish the closer “Vampire Waltz,” or, if you will, “Haunted House of the Rising Sun.” It’s deep, dark, moody, and bloodthirsty, much like the rest of Leave No Ashes.

—John Brodeur

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