Hurricane #1
Hurricane #1
Sire/Warner Bros.

The American public has been largely monogamous -- if serially so -- when it comes to its relationship with '90s Brit-pop, saving its affection for just the right combination of hooks and hubris, distended ego and nostalgia-laden esoterica. Last year, the object of adoration was Oasis, who elbowed their way into our hearts. But already, America's feelings for the Gallaghers have cooled considerably. These days, the Verve show every indication of becoming the next English suitors to win over our masses. Still, if I were the Verve's leader, Richard Ashcroft, I wouldn't be buying any expensive California real estate just yet.

Fact is, there simply isn't room on the U.S. airwaves for more than one pretentious U.K. sensation at a time. As a result, few people on this side of the pond batted an eyelash when Brit-pop underdogs Ride, commercially frustrated and interpersonally fried, closed up shop in 1996, terminating the fruitful six-year partnership between chief songwriters Andy Bell and Mark Gardener. The band's parting shot, Tarantula, was a melody-ridden wonder, but it was also one of a handful of great English exports victimized by Oasis's runaway success.

Sad to say, it's reasonable to predict that Bell's post-Ride project, Hurricane #1 -- and its mostly splendid debut CD of the same name -- will succumb to a similarly unfortunate fate in the States. All chiming, layered guitars, towering choruses, brazenly Beatlesque interludes and heady, unchecked ambition, Hurricane #1 gracefully traverses familiar territory. True, there isn't much here you haven't heard already, but rarely have the various British Invasion, psychedelic and glam-rock vaults been raided with such unabashed sincerity.

Bell's self-indulgent, neo-hippie splendor manifests itself most convincingly on the Hurricane #1 tracks "Faces in a Dream," "Mother Superior" and "Step into My World," all of which are replete with Moog washes, Hammond organ fills, wah-wah effects, backward tape effects, bloated arrangements, soupy orchestration and even soupier lyrical imagery. Another standout is the moving ballad "Let Go of the Dream." Striking a reflective, autobiographical note not unlike Ian Hunter's "The Ballad of Mott the Hoople" some 25 years ago, Bell seems to be addressing not only his former Ride cohort Gardener, but all of those potential fans on whom he failed to make an impression: "When you're walking home, will you remember who I was? / And when you get back home, will you remember that it was only rock and roll?" The impact is as gorgeous as it is devastating.

The rare glitches in Bell's heartfelt formula come when Hurricane #1 gets sidetracked with trying to beat its contemporaries at their own game -- as on "Just Another Illusion," "Chain Reaction" and "Touchdown," which sound for all the world like Oasis B-sides. But such transgressions are few and far between. And, indeed, they're understandable. For in order for Hurricane #1 to push its way into America's heart -- and push all its rivals out -- they do have to be heard. (*** 1/2)

-- Hobart Rowland

Jimi Hendrix
South Saturn Delta
MCA/Experience Hendrix

For an all-too-brief period in the 1960s, hearing a new Jimi Hendrix release was an event. But since his death in 1970, listeners have been beaten down by half-baked collections, poor bootlegs and legitimate releases that exhumed parts of the legendary guitarist's history that should have been left buried. South Saturn Delta, however, is a glowing exception. It's a smart, highly listenable compendium of previously unreleased songs, alternate mixes and tracks off posthumous Hendrix efforts that make their CD debut here.

South Saturn Delta -- assembled by alleged Hendrix authority John McDermott, original Hendrix engineer Eddie Kramer and a Hendrix family representative -- may not make all Hendrix fans delirious with glee, but a good chunk of the late-'60s psychedelic electric-blues represented here does carry a dimension of excitement rarely heard in rock these days.

Perhaps the best track on South Saturn Delta is "Here He Comes" (a.k.a. "Lover Man"), a fusion of studio takes recorded soon after Hendrix finished Electric Ladyland. The song expands on B.B. King's "Rock Me Baby" with stunning fret work that could have spiraled off into the stratosphere if it weren't for the plodding, earthbound grooves of the Experience rhythm section, drummer Mitch Mitchell and bassist Noel Redding. The version of "All Along the Watchtower" unveiled here was ultimately rejected by Hendrix for use on Electric Ladyland, yet it makes a favorable impression, thanks to assured vocals and the preternatural eloquence of Hendrix's guitar. The blistering licks that carry 1969's "Midnight" sear like lava. "Midnight Lightning," an unfinished, slowish blues number with only the slightest amplification, features an assertiveness that suggests a young Muddy Waters. Meanwhile, the 1970 studio jam "Pali Gap," with bassist Billy Cox, drummer Mitchell and percussionist Juma Sultan, shows just how easily Hendrix could conjure up the pained majesty of his blues-inflected playing.

Not everything on South Saturn Delta merits revisiting: "Sweet Angel" is delivered in a disconcertingly embryonic form, marred by electronic keyboard clicks, while another work-in-progress, "Drifter's Escape," features sub-par lead vocals. Still, the hitherto unreleased alternate mix of 1968's "South Saturn Delta," with its awkward jazz horn section, makes an odd curio. And for the most part, South Saturn Delta properly celebrates the eloquence of Hendrix's genius. (****)

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