Rotation

I'm not sure the Offspring were ever really a punk band, but anyone who complained that they were pretenders missed the point, which is that playing at punk is what they're best at. When they let go of that pretense, which they too often do here, they're just a Boston for the '90s. (** 1/2)

-- Brad Tyer

Ginger Baker Trio
Falling off the Roof
Atlantic Records

Jazz is somewhat new for Ginger Baker, though nearly anyone alive for the past 30 years is familiar with his work with Eric Clapton and Cream. Baker can swing better than Charlie Watts, and his Baker Trio plays a far more modern music. But as Falling off the Roof proves, you can take the drummer out of the rock band, but it's harder to take the rock out of the drummer. Still, Baker does his best to explore the line between jazz and rock, ably aided by bassist Charlie Haden, guitarist Bill Frisell and guest Bela Fleck, who's on hand to steer the record away from boredom with a funky pluck. What success Baker enjoys here is owed strictly to his sidemen.

On "The Day the Sun Came Out," Frisell stretches his usual genre-slashing-rock while Baker shows off his falling-down-the-stairs style of drumming. Frisell has recorded with artists as varied as Arild Anderson and John Zorn, and is Zappa-like in his breadth and quest for technical proficiency. Frisell's slinky fretwork moves listeners through the narrow passages of Haden's soft opus "Sunday at the Hillcrest," the herky-jerky swing of Thelonious Monk's "Bemsha Swing" and the light cover of Charlie Parker's "Au Private." Haden himself is nearly invisible, though he scores a terrific assist.

The record production places the drums on top, and this makes some adjusting necessary, unless you're used to listening of Ludwig Drums Presents Audio How-To Drum Rolls. While camping on the jazz side of the river, Baker comes off, expectedly, a little heavy-handed and stiff at times, but nowhere is he out of time. (*** 1/2)

-- Brendan Doherty

Tonic
Lemon Parade
Polydor

Tonic's debut CD says almost nothing about anything except the propensity of Los Angeles to regularly spit out gobs of test-marketed mediocrity -- but what's left to say about that? -- and so after half a dozen agonizing listenings, I've found another slight peg that might connect this four-piece boy's club of guitar rockers to some small chunk of sad reality: They demonstrate, nearly perfectly, the Dishwalla Principle. To wit: Write a song so bursting at the seams with sonic and lyrical cliches that no one could listen without plotting suicide, then settle back to wallow in the royalties. Go figure.

Tonic's entry in the radio sweepstakes is "Open Up Your Eyes," a swaggering piece of arena crock that speaks for the album surrounding it by being a thoroughly homogenized malt of Led Zeppelin and Live. Tonic knows how to get preapproved sounds out of its amplifiers, and like Pearl Jam, it'll coast for a while on the strength of an exceptional guitarist. But competence is the best thing Tonic has to offer, and the band mistakes it for profundity every time. Any tune, for instance, that begins with the line "She came down the mountain" had better be able to follow up with something heavy, and "Mountain" shouldn't have even tried. Likewise "Celtic Aggression," with its musings on "the death of culture."

Hell, likewise everything here. It's always been the goal of cover bands to sound as much as possible like the musicians they mimic, but Tonic's only original, and not particularly welcome, trick is making original music that sounds like someone else's generic cover tunes. It's tempting to call this group faceless and let it rest at that. But Tonic does have a face, several pretty ones in fact, which I grant them only so that they'll have something to stick between their legs and kiss their asses good-bye. (*)

-- Brad Tyer

CDs rated on a one to five star scale.

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