Handsome Boy Modeling School
Following 1999's underground favorite So How's Your Girl? -- a loose concept record rife with guest appearances by Del tha Funkee Homosapien, DJ Shadow and members of the Beastie Boys -- Handsome Boy Modeling School has returned. A perennial project featuring farcical producers Dan "The Automator" Nakamura (Kool Keith and Gorillaz) and Prince Paul (De La Soul), the School intends to school you with White People, which picks up where Girl left off and encompasses an even wider array of musical genres: hip-hop, rock, roots, jazz and even classical. The talented cast of guest stars has returned also, including RZA, John Oates, De La Soul, a couple of dudes from Linkin Park and Pharrell Williams.
White People playfully promotes the virtues of physical beauty and social grace, but don't let the album's humor fool you. Although punctuated by hilarious skits from Saturday Night Live alums Father Guido Sarducci and Tim Meadows, this record also tackles some pretty serious issues --sometimes satirically, sometimes forthrightly -- such as caste discrimination ("Class System") or crack use ("A Day in the Life"). Most effective, the single "The World's Gone Mad" preaches the importance of loving one's brother despite superficial differences, and appropriately brings together such diverse artists as Franz Ferdinand vocalist Alex Kapranos, reggae artist Barrington Levy and repeat offender Del to show us how. Handsome indeed. -- Joshua Rotter
Con Todo Respeto
Except in a couple of places, this is what a covers record should be like. Take some songs everybody is familiar with (but not too familiar with), a few that aren't so obvious, and totally remake them. Change their genres, hell, even change the language they're sung in, but leave the essence be. It should take you about 15 seconds to know that you're listening to a remake, and then you should fall right in, no matter how transformed the sound might be.
Handsome Boy Modeling School, Molotov, Rufus Wainwright
And if you were bilingual, you could do that on Molotov's Con Todo Respeto (With Due Respect). The first firebomb the madcap Mexicans toss is aimed at Falco's "Rock Me Amadeus," which is reborn here as the rap-metal "Amateur," complete with Mozart samples. The Misfits' "I Turned into a Martian" is reborn as a plinking-guitar-led cumbia-like rap called "Marciano," while the Beasties' "Girls" is reincarnated as the hand-clapping, bilingual punk garage rocenrol number "Chavas." On the mash-up-like "Agüela," currently playing on Mega 101, the Clash's "Magnificent Seven" carries the song from one "Bust a Move" chorus to another, as the words from a Mexican rock song are laid over the top. Houston connection: "Perro Negro Granjero" recycles ZZ Top's "La Grange" riff.
Two of the tunes remain more or less faithful to the originals: "La Revo" (Gil Scott-Heron's "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised") and Trio's "Da Da Da." The Scott-Heron cover works, thanks mostly to the fact that it just sounds cool in Spanish and there are amusing Nirvana and Zeppelin references in the guitars. The Trio cover is identical to the original save for the Spanish lyrics. I guess you just can't fuck with stuff that was that minimalist to begin with, 'cause otherwise Molotov would have. -- John Nova Lomax
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Initially I was immune to the baroque fabulousness of Want One, the precursor to Want Two, Wainwright's fifth album -- that is, until One's gut-ripper "Go or Go Ahead" followed me around like a larger-than-life washed-up cinema star desperate for work. I gave her a starring role on my iPod for about two months. But Want Two hasn't really provided that "I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille" moment -- so far. The old girl might have some potential yet, though. "Agnus Dei" is obscenely self-indulgent, with Wainwright stretching his vocal cords around opulent Latin melismas, while a plaintive fiddle and glistening, barely moving strings follow him from Eastern to Western tonalities. Like Debussy with a schoolgirl/boy's crush, Wainwright gives commonplace tricks of the heart his trademark slurred grandiosity on "The Art Teacher." And with its hodgepodge of old-country melodies and nightclub slink, "Old Whore's Diet" offers not only one of the best song titles ever, but also the album's best track. Well, pour me a champagne cocktail and call me Norma Desmond, I do believe I'm sold after all. -- Rachel Devitt