Saturnz Return

Imagine you're at a rave. All the components are there: the guys wearing fluorescent colors and hopping clueless in place; the girls exposing their midriffs and holding hands, forming a daisy chain of faux lesbianism; the large, alien ice sculpture in the middle of the dance floor; the idiot dressed like a Transformer action figure.

Now, zero in on the music. Chances are, the pulsating, hypnotic grooves you're thinking of sound a lot like Goldie, who is to the rave scene what the lone, dead black guy is to a B horror movie: a requirement. The silly, throbbing sound this British oddity devises -- located somewhere along the jungle/drum-and-bass aisle of the electronica hypermarket -- has made him an underground dance prince among the rave contingent.

But Goldie is more than trend-setting royalty, he's an artist. Undoubtedly, that is what he wants us all to know with the sprawling, double-disc effort Saturnz Return. Waxing more ambitious than on his 1995 debut, Timeless, the Golden One orchestrates a techno therapy session that is one part hardened realism, another part indulgent escapism. The realism comes on Saturnz's first disc, an epic, hourlong composition called "Mother." Backed by a 34-piece orchestra and including enough ambient clutter to make Brian Eno wince, "Mother" is billed as a bitter love letter to a mother Goldie never knew. To be sure, it's a mighty effort from a bruised soul. But that doesn't mean it isn't numbingly excessive.

The second disc, however, finds Goldie more in his element. On the wild, jungle-nightmare opener, "Temper, Temper," drum and bass spar admirably with the sandblasted guitar of Oasis's Noel Gallagher. "Digital" features a cameo from KRS-One, who tries his best to rap in sync with Goldie's monumentally fierce grooves. Disc two's most unusual diversions are "Believe" and "Crystal Clear," on which Goldie collaborates with vocalist Diane Charlemagne for an acid-jazz shift so abrupt one is left blinking and stunned.

In a sense, Goldie's Saturnz Return is the Titanic of dance releases, as much an unwieldy, overinflated vanity piece as it is a raucous, guilty pleasure. Rave on, mate. (***)

-- Craig D. Lindsey

In the Gloaming

Certainly, there will be other disappointments out of the Carolinas in 1998. The year is young, after all, and we're still waiting on the new Hootie and the Blowfish release. Even so, this rambling sophomore effort from Charlotte, North Carolina's Jolene should have fans lamenting what could have been.

Specifically, In the Gloaming was supposed to signal the band's triumph over adversity and plain bad luck. Back in 1995, Jolene signed to the Ardent label, a well-meaning indie venture that almost immediately failed financially. Jolene's fine 1996 debut, Hell's Half Acre, may have been that crash's most unfortunate victim: It was a poetic, homespun effort with a whiff of bookish self-importance that recalled Reckoning-era R.E.M. in its poignant, uniquely Southern perspective and deceptive craftsmanship.

It's been two difficult years since Hell's Half Acre's release, after which Jolene abandoned the failing Ardent and, lost in label-less limbo, tried to make a living on the road. During infrequent tour breaks, the band assembled enough new songs to impress the A&R flacks at Sire Records, who signed them late last year.

So, naturally, one would assume that In the Gloaming is the gravy on that sweet deal. For some reason, though, Jolene sounds like a band uncertain of its future. Making matters worse, the Gloaming's first few songs offer a hint of what this disc could have been if Jolene hadn't blown through its best ideas in such rapid succession. The leadoff "Pensacola" is a life-on-the road saga that captures, in as few words as possible, the surreal and melancholy wonders of an existence uprooted from friends, lovers and family. And like the three tracks that follow it, the tune makes good use of the band's assets: singer/guitarist John Crooke's husky, unaffected vocals and guitarist Dave Burris's nimble fretwork, its chiming pop fluency reminiscent of his pals the Connells.

If only the same could be said for the remainder of In the Gloaming, which rambles nowhere slowly with little regard for structure or melody. Even Crooke's normally lucid lyrical imagery takes a turn toward the empty and cryptic in the drowsy Southern gothic tales "Two Sisters and the Laureate," "Pull Down the Weight, Virginia" and "20th Century Pause." Rigid, overburdened titles like those should be enough to give anyone pause.

The sad truth is, this CD would be a perfect car-stereo companion for drivers who like to sleep with their eyes open on long trips. Indeed, it was all I could do to keep from zoning through most of In the Gloaming. (**)

-- Hobart Rowland

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Seth Hurwitz
Craig D. Lindsey
Contact: Craig D. Lindsey
Paul J. MacArthur
Hobart Rowland