If you're thinking such formulaic, mid-tempo drudgery resembles a majority of the middlebrow wares John's been hawking since 1976's Blue Moves (which, incidentally, was just re-released), think again. It's worse. Even a fresh coat of studio gloss can't save this junk. Things turn so sour, in fact, that you might well find yourself craving a nibble of the silly naivete that marked Taupin's Old West fantasy phase circa Tumbleweed Connection, back when Elton John could still pen a chorus that clung to the skull's interior much like that new AT&T jingle. Hey, wait a second, that is Elton -- and in fine form, too. (* 1/2)

-- Hobart Rowland

Craig Mack
Operation: Get Down
Street Life/All-American Music

On his second release, Operation: Get Down, Craig Mack, the Peppermint Patty of hip-hop, sounds royally pissed. And why not? Back in 1994, Mack unleashed "Flava in Ya Ear," one of the most influential rap tracks of the decade. Mack's outrageous pitch was just the thing rap producer/performer/label entrepreneur Sean "Puffy" Combs needed to boost his new Bad Boy label. Inevitably, though, a more profitable option came along for Combs (the Notorious B.I.G.), and Mack's golden armor began to rust.

Although Mack said the split between him and Puff Daddy arose due to "creative differences," it appears the pain runs deeper than that. And now Mack, never one to be quiet for long, has used Operation: Get Down to make a cocky declaration of independence. Writing every track and working with various in-the-know producers and engineers (Eric B., Demetrius Shipp and former Fat Boy Prince Markie D), Mack is obviously spitting mad. On "Jockin My Style," he vents his disgust over second-raters who cashed in on his attitude, and on "You" he not-too-delicately rips into Combs and his Bad Boy parvenus.

Those expecting the abrupt sonic-boom feel of his debut CD, Project: Funk Da World, will find that on this effort Mack is all suave funk, toning it down a notch to allow the grooves to marinate in his hard-earned sweat. Low-riding tunes such as "Rap Hangover" and "Sit Back and Relax" slide politely into high-decibel numbers such as "Today's Forecast" and "Style." Get Down does have its share of missteps (following the sly love-letter opener "Can You Still Love Me?" with the groupie gang-bang "What I Need" is no mood enhancer). Still, Mack makes it resoundingly clear on Get Down that when it comes to his music, the future is undoubtedly a one-man show. (*** 1/2)

-- Craig D. Lindsey

CDs rated on a one to five star scale.

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