Talking the Talk

It takes the cojones of a seasoned matador to emerge from near obscurity and proclaim right off that you're the man. Reputation, after all, is usually something that's earned. No matter, contends Mark Morrison. The self-described R&B rebel phenom has already established his rep as a given quantity on his chart-topping single "Return of the Mack."

The 25-year-old Morrison has made it clear to the public that he wants it all -- and he wants it now. It's that cocky, eager-beaver persistence that has the British press branding the German-born, U.K.-bred singer an arrogant street tough bubbling over with "American attitude." That last isn't all that surprising when you consider that Morrison spent eight years with his family in Florida before reclaiming his European citizenship in 1993. Aside from the musical education that American radio afforded the teenage Morrison, living stateside sparked an intense competitiveness he hadn't felt in the past. During his stay in Florida, Morrison sampled membership in various hip-hop and reggae groups, but nothing appealed to him more than going it on his own. So upon returning to Britain, he began work on a career as a solo artist, taking as his inspiration English acts such as Soul II Soul and Lisa Stansfield.

It didn't take long for success to come and go for Morrison. In 1994, he scored a minor dance-club coup with the underground hit "Crazy," only to be jailed for three months for an undisclosed incident at a London hot spot. With that hard time under his belt, Morrison must have assumed he had the life experience to back up the bravado of "Return of the Mack." Apparently, he was right. British listeners ate the single up. It went to number one (the first time a single by a black solo artist has done so this decade in England), and his debut release of the same name has since gone platinum. Meanwhile, in the States, "Return of the Mack" continues to hover in the top 20.

Polished, funky and eminently danceable, "Return of the Mack" is made up of some rather ordinary musical ingredients. But its real impact revolves around Morrison's straight-faced acknowledgment of his own fabricated legacy -- and you can't help but admire a man who's a legend in his own mind.

-- Craig D. Lindsey

Mark Morrison performs as part of the Jamizon tour, with Keith Sweat, Brownstone, Sisters with Voices and Kenny Latimore, at 7 p.m. Tuesday, August 19, at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, The Woodlands. Tickets are $15 to $30. For info, call 629-3700.

Auntie Christ -- Almost 20 years after making and forsaking the Los Angeles punk scene, Exene Cervenkova is making a comeback, so to speak. She's gambling that, somewhere, her audience is still out there. That's a safe enough bet, given that Cervenkova's broken-glass vocals steered the legendary L.A. band X through a series of savage classic releases. Vitalized, perhaps, by the echoes of X in present-day punk, the iconoclastic Cervenkova has pressed on, kicking and screaming, with her new project, Auntie Christ. Backed by the reliable thud of drummer and X alum DJ Bonebrake and Stone Fox bassist Janis Tanaka, Cervenkova rips through an urgent reinterpretation of her past. And while the music may sound somewhat familiar, Auntie Christ's rants on a range of topics -- from Prozac to fast food to strip malls -- are an enticing mix of the old and the new. Monday, August 18, at the Urban Art Bar, 112 Milam. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $6. Stone Fox opens. 225-0500. (Brendan Doherty)

Sugar Ray -- What this cartoonish Los Angeles-area rock and rap quintet may lack in street credibility, it more than makes up for in a rowdy, sometimes racy, joie de vivre. Think Red Hot Chili Peppers minus the overt funk references, random tragedies and tube-socked genitalia, and you've got a loose grip on Sugar Ray's swaggering clown-prince m.o. Musically, though, one wouldn't want to overstress that connection. The group's roots are in the sprawling suburbs of Orange County, and the band's members have soaked up a flood of influences from Black Flag and Thelonious Monster to the Beastie Boys and Telly Savalas (or so they claim). Now they're wringing out the mess they absorbed into a schizoid puddle of hard-core hyperactivity, throbbing metal guitars and bruising hip-hop commentary -- all of which makes Sugar Ray the perfect act for a youth culture stricken, it seems, with a terminal case of attention deficit disorder. And explains why the group's adorable single, "Fly," is all over modern rock radio right now. Tuesday, August 19, at the Abyss, 5913 Washington Avenue. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets are $8. Smashmouth and Plexi open. 863-7173. (Hobart Rowland)


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