Ricky Martin, Jennifer Lopez, Jordan Knight, Juno

But there is such a thing as overkill. Her ultramajestic "No Me Ames" duet with Marc Antony is too over-the-top. The ready-for-the-clubs "Waiting for Tonight" (and its Spanish rendition, "Una Noche Más") garishly tries to attract the dance-pop crowd. And the unsavory sappiness of "Could This Be Love" has her sounding more like that slain Tejano star she once played in a movie. But Lopez pulls off enough weighty moxie on this album to show she's not a Mariah Carey-in-training.

The spicy spurts of daring that often permeate the music of Lopez and Knight is something the still-young Martin should take into consideration. It's hard for audiences to believe somebody is living la vida loca if it sounds like he's faking it. (Craig D. Lindsey)

This Is the Way It Goes and Goes and Goes

Juno is part of the answer to pop music's current state of disarray.
Juno is part of the answer to pop music's current state of disarray.

The cynic says alternative rock is at a low ebb. Teen pop is having its heyday, and it's hard not to suspect that the artistic and commercial success Lollapalooza promised is as dormant as the tour itself. Hard not to think that stale crap always wins out. On the other hand, the optimist would note that giving up on alt-rock lets new bands experiment in semi-obscurity. When people aren't expecting majesty (and platinum sales) from every band that draws its influences from the Velvet Underground or Sonic Youth, that's when they get hit with something new, weird and wonderful. It's like trying to parallel park — easier when nobody is watching.

That said, Juno is a band worth keeping in your peripheral vision. A five-piece outfit from Seattle, a city that has produced more great bands than the average European country, Juno has just as much in common with the Midwest's slow rock and the post-new-wave England's art rock as it does the pummeling grind of Seattle's musical legacy. Electric guitars are the foundation of the majority of alternative rock, but using them wisely and innovatively is what separates My Bloody Valentine from the Offspring, and Juno from both. That Juno has three guitarists doesn't go overlooked, but Juno is not about vertical integration of the six-string. It's about staking out as much horizontal territory as possible. The band uses musical barbed wire fences, see-through but sharp enough to cut, to mark its territory rather than bulldozers, which results in open spaces and plenty of room to wander around. Because there aren't many eyes and ears on the band, Juno takes chances, and it pays off.

The band executes its approach with patience and restraint. Rather than going for the quick score, tunes build slowly and explore various directions. So instead of testosterone-fueled guitar workouts, Juno specializes in giving each instrument freedom and distance. "January Arms," constructed on bass chords, modest xylophone and simple, watery guitar lines, drifts lazily before zooming off. Floating on the sound, singer-guitarist Arlie Carstens (now almost fully recuperated from a broken neck and spine suffered in a snow-boarding accident) emotes in a barely-above-a-whisper voice about someone who has worn out her welcome. But Carstens is the first one to crack. Five minutes into the song he raises his voice, and the guitars switch gears to a choppy staccato and feedback-laden intensity, which allows the rhythm section to flex its muscles. It's a powerful moment, and Juno extends it for a full three minutes, what with arpeggioed and carefully blended noisy guitars. Instead of starting with the heaviness, the band members ease into the song, building tension and weight before releasing it with a thud.

Elsewhere Juno pays attention to the little details, curbing any tendency to let things get out of hand, such as on "All Your Friends Are Comedians," which opens with a roar but settles down soon enough. The atmospherics of "Great Salt Lake/Into the Lavender Crevices of Evening the Otters Have Been Pushed" ventures into Yo La Tengo territory, complete with obnoxious title, opening the record with a whimper and the narrator's asking if rock is dead.

"Venus on 9th Street" may have bleeping and clanging guitars, and Carstens does his best Richard Butler (of the Psychedelic Furs), but it never gets sloppy. And "Listening Ear" is slow and melancholy, thanks to the guest vocals of Jen Wood, without going over the top. This Is the Way is a strong debut, without being overly brawny.(David Simutis)

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