PRETENDERS Viva El Amor! (WEA) ****

Viva El Amor!, the Pretenders' first new album in five years, is also their most heroically complete record for a decade. At the age of 50, Chrissie Hynde has achieved the nearly impossible: She has successfully resurrected herself. This LP uses many of the same tricks and techniques as earlier Pretenders albums: The way Chrissie extends and warbles her notes on the acerbic "Popstar" could be taken directly from the first album's opener, "Precious," and both "Human" and the rollicking "Legalize Me" recall the later hit single "Back on the Chain Gang." The guitars all echo and distort in time-honored Pretenders fashion, and Chrissie's voice has never sounded stronger. Indeed, on the stunning "One More Time," where she lets it rip on the chorus, she rivals the vocal pyrotechnics of Skunk Anansie's Skin. Viva la rock! EVERETT TRUE


(Digital Hardcore/Festival) ****

This album is sexy, frantic, distorted, energizing, and intense. It sounds like it was recorded, badly and fuzzily, directly from a pirate radio station. There is no let-up whatsoever. The opening track, "Revolution Action," is a five-minute, unstoppable call-to-arms, with German-Japanese noise goddess Nic Endo screaming like it's long past the end of the world. The second track, "By Any Means Necessary," keeps threatening to implode under the weight of its own disgust. Despite the comparisons made between this post-jungle Berlin trio and the Prodigy, the band they most recall are Britain's own Huggy Bear. They have the same passion, male-female dynamics, hatred for societal restraints, and determination to mess around with accepted musical recording techniques and structures. (They go loud-soft-loud-YELL-YELL-soft-loud-distort an awful lot.) They are political beasts. And they are fucking not going to let off the steam for one moment. 60 Second Wipe Out is the sound of a riot translated to vinyl. ET

GERI HALLIWELL Schizo-Phonic (EMI) *

There were many great things about the Spice Girls--the tunes, the PVC outfits, Posh's sneer, Baby's fondness for Chupa Chups, the thinly disguised veneer of transexuality--but Ginger Spice's spurious, although heartfelt, nod toward "Girl Power" wasn't one of them. What? It's liberating for females to have five women--created by men, catering almost exclusively to men--dress up like little girls let loose in their mothers' attic trunks full of discarded superheroine costumes? I think not. Much as I appreciate women whose idea of liberation is to look like drag queens and go rollerskating across stage in hotpants and high heels, I can also understand the sisters not being totally down with it. The Spice Girls made for a great cartoon--and that was it. Which brings us to poor, tormented Geri Halliwell's debut solo album. Should she be sexy? Or should she be sincere? Hence Schizo-Phonic. There are two sides to Geri--her public persona, and... (wait for it) her private persona! Sad to relate, then, that this CD is so bloody awful, especially as the first single, "Look at Me," promised so much--eclectic, loopy, great operatic laughter bit in the middle, wonderful self-immolating lyrics. Leaving aside the slinky "Goodnight Kiss" and "Sometime" (both songs which, in imitating her former band so ably, merely end up sounding like the Solitary Spice Girl), the other numbers are generic, modern-day soul-by-numbers with pretentious lyrics. And she looked a fuck of a lot better when she weighed more, too. ET

DORIS DAY Golden Girl: The Columbia Recordings, 1944-1966 (Columbia/Legacy) ***

This release offers a textbook example of why America so desperately needed rock 'n' roll. Pop music is pleasant stuff, but a steady, unrelenting diet of it will make even the most hardened popaholic start to wilt. And in those pre-rock years, Doris Day was America's premier pop stylist, with a clear, sunny voice that positively reeked of wholesomeness--which is of course why she was so successful. Who can resist the sweet sounds of such classics as "Sentimental Journey," "Secret Love," or that infuriating "Que Sera Sera" (the theme song from Hitchcock's 1956 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much)? Day eventually got to kick up her heels a bit; check out the rambunctiousness of "Let the Little Girl Limbo," from the girl-group songwriting team of Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil. Trivia note: The melody of "Ain't We Got Fun" was later used in a commercial for Friskies cat food. GILLIAN G. GAAR

THE KING Gravelands (Ark 21) **

Of course we all know that Elvis is alive and well and working at a Burger King near you. But he hasn't felt the need to lay down any tracks for quite some time, has he? Never fear. Thanks to an Irish Elvis impersonator by the name of Jim Brown, we now have Gravelands, an album of tunes that surely would've caught the King's ear if he'd sought to diversify his musical style--songs such as "Sweet Home Alabama," "I Heard It through the Grapevine," "Come As You Are," "Voodoo Child," and "No Woman, No Cry." Hey, it beats another limp-wristed impersonation of "Can't Help Falling in Love," doesn't it? Brown might be a little shaky with Nirvana, but his renditions of "Dock of the Bay" and "New York, New York" are eerie enough to almost qualify as bona fide Presley outtakes. GGG

THE CARS The Cars: Deluxe Edition (Rhino) ****

In 1978, I asked a college pal to lend me some of her punk albums. She gave me the Cars' self-titled debut. Yes, that's how strange this stuff sounded on its first release; remember, the best-selling album of '78 was the soundtrack for Saturday Night Fever. The Cars' music was unabashed power-pop, but the subject matter was steeped in irony, drawing you in with valentine sentiments like "Just What I Needed," then hitting you with the K.O. punch: "I needed someone to bleed" (the weirdness quotient heightened by Ric Ocasek's strained vocals). Now, this lovingly perverse album has been reissued, with a bonus CD containing alternate versions of every song on the original album (including the demo version of "Just What I Needed," which helped the band snag a record deal), along with a handful of previously unreleased tunes. A perfect album for summer, for cruising, or for breaking up. GGG

THE BIRTHDAY PARTY Live 1981-82 (Shock) **

Don't buy this. You'd be missing the point.

Nick Cave makes great records for people who read Gabriel Garcia Marquez and moon-struck lovers too young and self-conscious to listen to Sinatra. His previous band, the Birthday Party, made great records for the post-punk generation too young or blinkered to remember Iggy Pop. As a live band, the Birthday Party were without parallel; Rowland S. Howard and Mick Harvey's rolling, jazz-tinted structures providing the perfect backing for Cave's catatonic, cathartic, off-beat screaming and improvisational shrieks. And yet this album--complete as it is with the dark misogyny of songs like "Zoo-Music-Girl" and "6 Gold Blade," hilarious gothic images in "Release the Bats" and "Nick the Stripper," and the stop-start incendiary fervor of "(Sometimes) Pleasure Heads Must Burn"--is a disappointment, a pale reflection of past splendors. Buy this record and you'd be missing the main point of the Birthday Party--that no gig could ever be duplicated, or ever captured on vinyl. ET

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