The Stone Roses
Second Coming

In an act of overweening arrogance, the Stone Roses meander through four and a half minutes of guitar noodling and quasi-Moroccan rhythms before kicking into "Breaking into Heaven," the first song on their long-awaited second album; at the end of the song they just fade out, as if they couldn't be bothered to write a proper ending. In 1989, the Roses' eponymous debut took the world, or at least a fairly large subset of English teenagers, by storm. Their guitar dominated dance music, with trademark wikka-wikka-wikka-rhythm punctuated leads stretched to the verge of indulgence, launched the Manchester rave scene, and for a good year the Roses were poised to be the next big thing. It took two years to resolve a dispute with their label, another year to sign with Geffen and two years to record their follow-up. Suddenly it's 1995, and Second Coming is greeted with less than messianic fervor; five years was just too long to keep the public waiting. Still, given that Second Coming is a great album, they still have a shot at the charts, as long as they keep releasing videos and can convince us they're not just a bunch of poncey Brits with guitar flash.

The British magazine Q used the words "Led" and "Zeppelin" to describe the Roses' new sound, and the group acknowledges that influence on their raucous guitars and funky undercarnage. The only Zeppelin elements missing are the ones that most imitators focus on, namely the elephantine beats, the keening vocals, the histrionics and the misogyny. The Stone Roses are wise enough to mix in other influences -- Procol Harum, Rolling Stones, Boston, even John Lee Hooker -- so they never sound like they're trying to duplicate any particular sound. They pull off that trick better than the Black Crowes.

Lyrically, the songs on Second Coming are often wanting ("Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned"), but that doesn't interfere with the enjoyment. The soaring chorus of "Breaking into Heaven," once you finally get there, carries you right along. On "Daybreak," Mani Mountfield's bass lines and John Squire's nonstop lead guitar are transcendent, especially as the tempo picks up near the end. The strummed guitar and chanting chorus of "Tightrope" could've come off G'N'R Lies or a Black Crowes album. "Begging You" features guitars sounding like they were recorded backward and a great riff buried deep in the mix, while the current single "Love Spreads" just moves, as again Squire goes through the paces over the propulsive rhythm section.

-- Peter Kelly

Cris Botti
First Wish
Verve Forecast

Oregon-born, New York-based trumpeter Chris Botti gracefully walks the difficult line between jazz and pop aesthetics. For the last five years, Botti has toured the globe with Paul Simon, but he has also made time to work with Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin and Thomas Dolby. On First Wish, his debut recording as a leader, Botti's beautiful, mellifluous tone conveys his emotional openness and his seductive musical nature. Although the album is essentially an instrumental set, Botti's focus is on melodic lines, as if he were a vocalist.

Growing up with an acquired taste for jazz greats Miles Davis and Wayne Shorter, Botti was also heavily influenced by pop singers Peter Gabriel and Annie Lennox. These varied influences give Botti the ability to chart new territories in contemporary jazz without the fear of creating New Age elevator music. Fortunately, he steers clear of the generic, same-sounding wasteland that many contemporary jazz releases fall into.

The ten cuts that make up First Wish lead the listener on an aural journey filled with pleasure and intimacy. As Botti's musical moods change, his audience becomes a willing participant. "On the Night Ride" is a sensuous track that also radiates an undeniable peacefulness. The album's lone vocal, "Like I Do Now," is stunning in its emotional simplicity. Dallas-born singer/songwriter Edie Brickell (Mrs. Paul Simon) lends the breezy innocence of her voice, which perfectly complements Botti's ethereal playing.

-- Marlynn Snyder

Half Japanese
Greatest Hits
Safe House

Of course, there were no hits. Ah, but in a world more skewed than this, the naive rock of Jad Fair and company could have been a contender. Over the loose-knit band's 20-year history, they pushed the anyone-can-do-it rock and roll aesthetic to its limits and stayed in the way-way-underground by never learning to play (or even tune) their guitars and never quite singing on key. Now, with other obscurity heroes such as Mayo Thompson (of Red Crayola) and Daniel Johnston getting their due in the post-indie explosion, it's only fair that Fair and his would-be kings get their own fantasy box set from hell. Greatest Hits collects 68 should-have-beens from 12 H.J. records and a Fair solo shot.

Without a doubt, Greatest Hits offers much more than any curiosity seeker needs to grasp both the charms and the terrors of Half Japanese's extended plod through post-Velvets garage punk. Chronological order, though, might have made listening to this grand and unruly compilation a little easier by keeping the formless yelling and screeching of 1980's triple-album debut, 1/2 Gentlemen/Not Beasts ("No More Beatlemania," "Her Parents Came Home") separated from the more melodic, Moe Tucker-like garage rock of 1988's pinnacle of accessibility, Charmed Life ("1,000,000 Kisses," "Red Dress"). Then again, Fair's childlike squeal and clangings are most affecting on a middle-period song such as "Ball and Chain," which mixes both styles and makes tuneful music out of some of the most painfully desperate whines and cries ever put to record.

-- Roni Sarig


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