RICKY MARTIN
Ricky Martin
(C2/Columbia)
****

Sure, Ricky's big hit "Livin' la Vida Loca" has some of the most retarded lyrics since "Raspberry Beret"--I mean, "Her skin is the color mocha"? Please. And the bridge is straight out of 1985--in a word, cheesy. Hopefully, a lot can be explained by the fact that the ex-Menudo teen idol/ex-soap opera star is Latino. If we assume English isn't Martin's native tongue, and the song was translated from Spanish, it's almost excusable. But that damn song is stuck in my head, and--this is so embarrassing--every time I see him I break out in a giggly fit! He's so damn cute! So exciting, so hot-cha-cha, yet so harmless--like a cartoon. The presence of a certain Robi Rosa (background vocals, guitars) is ubiquitous on this CD (he co-wrote half the songs), and I'm guessing Robi's the brains of the operation--like Barry Gibb to Ricky's Andy Gibb. There are too many sappy ballads on this album, but Ricky does do "The Cup Of Life" (the 1998 World Cup Soccer anthem). Okay, and you know what else is stupid? The song "Shake Your Bon-Bon," featuring the lyric, "C'mon I wanna lay ya." (Rhymes with "Himalayas." Really.) But he's so CUTE!! Buy 10 of these. SARA DeBELL



GATO BARBIERI
Che Coraz
(Columbia)
*

Gato Barbieri's promotional biographies are always quick to point out that Gato was playing both world music and smooth jazz long before they became popular. This, however, is a dubious honor: world music, has proven to be a specious categorization that most serious players from around the world are trying to avoid, and smooth jazz, well... you know what a puke session smooth jazz is. Despite having calved some damned annoying musical trends, Gato is no longer interested in innovating, as he proves once and for all with Che Coraz, his latest release. Despite the fact that the album cover features him sitting in a big space-age donut seat, there is nothing futuristic or prescient about Barbieri's growling smooth jazz and clichéd chord progressions. Barbieri's tone is fat and pretty, but it's nothing special. You can get that kind of ear candy 24 hours a day on KWJZ 98.9 Smooth Jazz. NATHAN THORNBURGH



THE VENTURES

New Depths
(GNP Crescendo)
*
*

The Ventures were always the lesser of the surf guitar groups, lacking both the sheer power of Dick Dale and the clean precision of Duane Eddy. Essentially, the Ventures made average music sugar-coated for easy consumption by the public. Their new record continues that trend, and even long-time fans may find themselves bored silly. After three decades of plugging away, Grandpa needs to go to bed. BRADLEY STEINBACHER



VERBENA

Into the Pink
(Capitol)
*
***

For someone who never felt that Royal Trux even for a moment lived up to the mounds of unworthy praise heaped upon it, Verbena is pure vindication. Here's a band from Birmingham, Alabama, that plays it hot, lazy, and sweaty--a rock so Southern that any other slouchy-skinny outfit should feel like a bunch of posers, and you all know who you are. Verbena's sexy, growly, and appropriately broad in the beam. Grab a can of Hamm's and have a listen. KATHLEEN WILSON



CHEAP TRICK
Music For Hangovers
(Cheap Trick Unlimited)
*
**

All right, freakin' Billy Corgan writes the liner notes for this live chronicle of Cheap Trick's spate of multi-night stands performed last year at select clubs, the Crocodile being one of them. And in true form, Corgan does a creepy, self-referential job (in the style of a gushing, and--one hopes--unedited essay)--until you remember that nobody went to see those shows for any reason besides self reference--as in, "This song reminds me of when I...," and "I played that song ever day the summer I...." As far as these things go, it's good for what it is: a live document of a strictly live experience. But who'd want to hear live versions of songs off Cheap Trick, In Color, and Heaven Tonight if you weren't there to see it in person--especially "Mandocello" without all the swirlies? Then again, maybe I'm just still mad that I didn't get to go, Christine. KW



KID SILVER

Dead City Sunbeams
(Jetset)
*
***

Former Rollerskate Skinny vocalist/guitarist Ken Griffith has created one of the happiest sounding albums of the year (here it isn't even June and already there's this and the Rentals' Seven More Minutes). Poppy retro in that skippy organ, Hal-David-meets-Austin-Powers kind of way, Dead City Sunbeams is all la-la and carny camp without being too, well, too. You could throw it on at a cocktail party and not feel all Dudley Manlove Quartet-y for doing so; it's suave but not smarmy, cool but never detectably calculated. KW



SKY CRIES MARY

Until the Grinders Cease
(World Domination)
*
**

Finally, something for those of us who want to like Sky Cries Mary, but can't see past all the twirling hippies and funny headgear. This formerly very rare U.K. release, from 1989, consists of SCM's Roderick and the Posies' Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow playing some inoffensive, extremely likable trance/industrial/pre-'90s Britpop that also happens to rock like nobody's business. Go ahead, take a chance on it--at the very least, Until the Grinders Cease serves as an odd footnote to Seattle's incestuous music scene. KW



MULBERRY LANE
Run Your Own Race
(Refuge)
*

See, this is the type of girl group that gets guy reviewers like me in trouble. Mulberry Lane has so many things going against them (starting with that stoopid name!) and only one thing going for them--womyn power! Now, this may be fine and good for the Indigo Girls, but when the freshly scrubbed, bleached blondes of Mulberry Lane sing in overly produced harmony about sisters doin' it for themselves, it would make even the most understanding feminist vomit into her Birkenstocks. Think new age crossed with young country crossed with a fork being slowly drawn across a chalkboard, and you have a pretty good idea of where these thirty-something women are coming from (and just in case you don't--they're from OMAHA.) Eeesh. I rest my case.--WM. STEVEN HUMPHREY