With Adore, either the music is strong enough to outweigh the typically whiny singing and lyrics (sample: "You remind me of that leak in my soul"), or the lyrics and singing have improved. Probably, it's a little of both, plus the fact, that for all his talk about the ambition of previous efforts, Corgan's never really put it on the line like he does here.

How so? For starters, he succeeds where David Bowie, U2 and Madonna have failed, merging rock and techno for the pop/rock mainstream the way Blondie blended rock and disco on "Heart of Glass." Songs like "Ava Adore," "Daphne Descends" and "Tear" incorporate electronic dance grooves and washes of ambient synthesizer without sacrificing rock's essential visceral kick, and they do so without a hint of a grunge aftertaste. Corgan and James Iha have dramatically expanded their six-string palettes, delivering some of the coolest tubular-buzz, EBow leads since "Heroes" (the Bowie/Eno/Fripp version, not the Wallflowers cover).

But that's only half the album. In his usual schizophrenic style, Corgan devotes the rest of Adore to tender, acoustic ballads that expand on the Pumpkins' earlier rendition of Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide." There are beautiful moments in "To Sheila," "The Tale of Dusty and Pistol Pete" and "Annie-Dog"; the latter is particularly effective because the lilting, piano-driven melody contrasts with lyrics that seem to portray Corgan's pal and former lover Courtney Love ("Amphetamine Annie-Dog has a leash and a face / She is Venus, she is Mars / She's electric"). Then there's "Behold! The Nightmare," which somehow combines both of the album's approaches and a better imitation-Pet Sounds vocal break than indie-rockers like the High Llamas could muster. Best of all is "For Martha," a moving tribute to Corgan's recently deceased mom. Naturally, he pulls out all the stops on this one, coming up with an elaborate mini-symphony the likes of which hasn't been heard since Genesis on Selling England by the Pound. "I will follow you and see you on the other side," he croons, before building to a thunderous climax with an elegiac, way-over-the-top guitar solo. Even the most cynical alterna-teen ought to be damp-eyed after that one.

Still, is any of this really as revolutionary as the forthcoming wave of Pumpkins adoration is likely to say it is? Hell no, but it's certainly the band's best yet. And now that alternative rock is officially dead and buried, that leaves Corgan as the last American rock star of his generation -- which should count for something, no? (*** 1/2)

-- Jim DeRogatis

Goodie Mob
Still Standing

Normally, when I pop a new CD into the player to review for the benefit of the Press's rabid rap readership (all two of them), I'm able to gain some sort of a perspective on the album as a whole by the end of the first track. But in the case of the Goodie Mob -- whose eccentric name mirrors its eccentric sound -- I was midway through Still Standing before realizing I couldn't make heads or tails of the damn thing.

Perhaps I should be grateful. For, at a time when hip-hop from even the most devoted acts has been homogenized, saturated and stripped of its backbone to accommodate the mainstream, the Mob often sounds as if it wouldn't mind alienating the fans it has now. Still, as nihilistic as that might sound, as hospitable Southern gentlemen, their love for all those who dare venture into their way of thinking exceeds all else.

In this follow-up to their 1995 debut, Soul Food, this Atlanta-bred foursome soothes its way through every scaly rhythm and throaty rhyme. Their down-home ghetto ramblings might remind some of OutKast (the Mob guested on OutKast's platinum-seller, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik). But, unlike their Georgia countrymen, the Mobsters are all over the place when it comes to their sound, taking to the mike like hyper-conscious wild men. On "Black Ice," organ and bluesy guitar pump the Mob into a controlled frenzy as they wax surprisingly poetic with the OutKast crew. "Fly Away," "Gutta Butta" and "Ghetto-ology" are energetic shout-outs to their urban home territory, while "Just About Over" is as close as rap gets to heavy metal without changing color. Also refreshing is "Beautiful Skin," on which the guys espouse the virtues of self-respect, offering a sort of anti-sleaze pep talk to those women who choose not to dress like Lil' Kim.

Still Standing is a mess, but it's a forgiving, all-points-in-between mess. And with the production super-team of Organized Noize supplying the nervy beats, the South seems poised to rise again. As for their part, the Goodie Mob are about as controllable as Viagra-giddy Shriners at a strip club. (*** 1/2)

-- Craig D. Lindsey

Joe Ely
Twistin' in the Wind

There's a long-standing enigma when it come to Joe Ely: How can an artist of such consistent quality and adventurous tastes continue to have his just commercial due elude him? Sure, here in Texas, Ely is an institution. Yet despite the glowing endorsements of everyone from the Clash to Bruce Springsteen, Joe Six-Pack remains sadly unaware of Ely -- even though Joe Six-Pack just might dig Joe Ely.

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