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-- David Simutis

Busta Rhymes
Extinction Level Event
Elektra

As the 21st century creeps up on you and you pace yourself for the hundreds and thousands of renditions of Prince's "1999" that you'll be hearing just about everywhere you go, it seems that rappers are taking on another role in their job description: armchair prophets. Practically every new rap release (Method Man's Tical 2000: Judgement Day, for example) also doubles as a forecast on future global annihilation. It's the end of the world as we know it, and for most of today's rappers, they feel fine.

No rapper is looking forward to a possible apocalypse more than Busta Rhymes. Some of y'all who have seen his in-your-face, headache-inducing videos might have perceived him as a crazy-ass party rapper, the Tasmanian Devil with a mike and rope-sized dreadlocks. But as anyone who has listened to his last two albums will tell you, Busta has a catastrophic way of thinking. He's the kind of hip-hop cat who probably watches Irwin Allen films for inspiration. (His last two albums were called The Coming and When Disaster Strikes, for chrissakes!)

On his latest, Extinction Level Event, Busta reaches his cataclysmic peak. Busta's calamitous, full-assault rhymes (most of them done too damn swift for me to transcribe and write up here) play well with the kitschy, madhouse samples that can be heard on such tracks as the title number, "Where We Are About To Take It," and "Everybody Rise." But there are still some crowd pleasers, laced with those catchy choruses that have become a staple of Busta's work. (I don't think the record label would release the damn thing if there weren't.) A staccato-backbeat pace sets "Tear da Roof Off," while electro beats reign throughout the possible club hit "Do the Bus a Bus."

The guest spots are even more tantalizing. "What's It Gonna Be?!" has him getting his funk on with none other than Janet Jackson. "This Means War!!" has him performing with Ozzy Osbourne and the Lordz of Brooklyn on a Puff Daddy-style rendition of Black Sabbath's "Iron Man." (Beavis & Butthead would be pleased.) He even bounces off walls with the equally verbally acrobatic Mystikal on "Iz They Wildin' wit Us & Gettin' Rowdy wit Us?"

Unadulterated as it is sublimely unflinching, Extinction Level Event casts Busta Rhymes as the ultimate gatecrasher: one who can get a party started off right while scaring you with prophecies of the new millennium. Remember, you've been warned.

-- Craig D. Lindsey

Bottle Rockets
Leftovers
Doolittle/Slipdisc/Mercury

With all the hubbub about musical Americana these days, great American rock and roll bands are still in short supply indeed. That's why most anything from the Bottle Rockets is music to be cherished. Mixing Lynyrd Skynyrd crunch with a Midwestern populist consciousness, this foursome has managed to put its li'l hometown of Festus, Missouri, on the musical map, thanks to three lyrically smart and musically tough albums and nonstop road work, where the potency of its recorded sound is kicked up a good notch or two and enhanced by the on-stage charm of lead Rocket Brian Henneman.

Leftovers is almost just what it says it is: an eight-song collection of odds, sods and outtakes, some of which are obviously the sort of tunes that were tracked for the band's own enjoyment as much as anything else. But the lead-off tune, "River Get Down," is worth the price of this CD alone. The band's contribution to the PBS special River of Song, it's a stately and potent slice of Mississippi riverside life from flooded Festus that features not only an inescapably catchy chorus but also cheeky verses that spotlight Henneman's uniquely dry wit such as "Looks like the Gulf of Mexico down by the Texaco."

Nearly as notable is "Dinner Train to Dutchtown," a crunchy 12-bar blues about a train ride catered by a fine Cajun chef (who else would write about such subjects? I dunno). Sure, some of the other songs here, such as the cheap motel debauchery of "If Walls Could Talk" and the raunch rock of "Chattanooga," are dispatches from the road that these guys came up with to provide themselves with some laughs as the van rolled down the road to the next gig. But even such leftovers as "Skip's Song" (an elegy to a musically correct fan) and "Financing His Romance" (where the protagonist yearns for the bar owner's lady and knows as he spends his cash on drinks that it's only enabling the barkeep's relationship) demonstrate this act's knack for expressing the pathos of the little folks one meets along the rock and roll circuit. And to ice the lyrical cake, the Bottle Rockets rock with an incendiary passion and precision that the alt-rock kids only dream they could manage.

Sure, this album is merely a stopgap measure as band members prepare their next real record. But if everyone's leftovers were as tasty as this, contemporary rock might not be as lacking in nutritional content as it is.

-- Rob Patterson

Steve Vai
Flex-able Leftovers
Epic

During and right after his tenure with Frank Zappa in the early '80s, Steve Vai cut Flex-able, an album filled with adventurous production, guitar gymnastics and that Zappa madman stuff. Vai's follow-up to Flex-Able was called Flex-able Leftovers, a ten-inch EP of eight songs that didn't make it to Flex-able. Released in 1984, Leftovers lived up to its title, sounding like an extremely twisted collection of outtakes. When Flex-Able was issued on CD in 1988, Vai added four of the tamer songs from Leftovers and discontinued the EP. Now, Vai has issued the complete Flex-able Leftovers with four previously unreleased tracks as a full-length CD.

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