Q-TIP

Amplified

(Arista) *

Now we know the truth: Q-tip may have been the visible star of a Tribe Called Quest, but he was certainly not the obscure creative genius behind their long and brilliant musical career. Besides good looks, what Q-Tip really excels in is making bad decisions (believe me, it hurts to say these cruel things, as I was a loyal fan of his hiphop band for many years). His first mistake: presenting himself as something of a gaudy rock star (wearing fur and gold), and a sex symbol in the Tupac vein. Q-Tip was sexy within the context of the band, where Phife Dawg -- the rude, inelegant ("I like my rhymes hard like two-day-old shit"), and short New Yorker -- worked against his star image. But alone, Q-Tip's sexiness seems almost laughable, like Vanilla Ice's recent attempt to become a hardcore rap/metal dude. Q-Tip's next mistake: his choice of producers. Instead of having the Roots, Mos Def, DJ Hi-Tek, or Shawn J. Period produce (which would have probably resulted in a brighter review on my part), he has DJ Scratch, who delivers one good track ("N.T.," which features Busta Rhymes), and one mediocre track ("Do It"); and Jay Dee, who has one great track ("Things U Do," which is the best song on the CD -- on a mixed tape I recommend placing it between the Mountain Brothers' "Galaxies" and Medina Green's "Crosstown Beef") and nine incredibly poor tracks. But the main problem with Amplified is that most of the songs are based on an idea a Tribe Called Quest toyed with on the 1992 Boomerang soundtrack: "Hot Sex." True, it was a big hit, but they treated it as a digression, rather than a new direction, and went on to make one of the greatest hiphop CDs of all time, Midnight Marauders (1993). The most we can hope from Q-Tip now is that he makes "special guest appearances" on tracks like "Body Rock," which is on the Lyricist Lounge, Vol. 1 record. Otherwise, we will have to make do with the happy memories of the days when he was just a teenager. CHARLES MUDEDE

JOHN LINELL

State Songs

(Zoe/Rounder) ****

It doesn't say much for They Might Be Giants that the best thing they've done in years was the two-line Goldfinger parody that opened up the second Austin Powers movie. Of their last four albums, two were live, and one was an MP3-only collection of B-sides and castoffs. While they never made music that was fraught with any significance, the Giants once were capable of churning out catchy, clever pop tunes at an alarming rate, but as of late seem to be stuck in the rut of rock-band middle age.

Which is why it's a refreshing surprise to hear John Linell's latest solo offering, which is as catchy and downright enjoyable as anything either of the duo have done since the days of Lincoln and Flood. The record, and a few more albums that will supposedly follow, are built around the shaky premise of writing a song about every state in the Union. While that sounds like the formula for a below-average Jad Fair album, Linell works well within the conceptual constraints by chiefly ignoring them. In general, he just writes really catchy songs and then works the name of the state in there somewhere.

Portlanders beware: The only song that discusses its state at any length is "Oregon," a dirge which opens with the line, "Oregon is bad/Stop it if you can," and goes from there. But other than that and a song that claims Iowa is a witch (it doesn't make a lot of sense, but neither does the song where he realizes Montana is a leg), he's pretty ambivalent toward the states themselves and just sings spirited tales of bicycle crashes, hospital beds, and a boat shaped like Arkansas.

All of them are enjoyable, provided you don't hate the sound of Linell's voice, which is admittedly nasal and can be somewhat whiny. But if you've ever called up the Dial-A-Song (admit it), and don't mind the occasional ditty with an accordion in it, State Songs is well worth picking up. MIKE VAGO

GUNS N' ROSES

Live Era '87-'93

(Geffen) **

If Axl Rose had been smart, he would have choked on his own vomit some time around early '93, thus solidifying Guns N' Roses as one of the greatest rock bands ever to grace the planet. As it is, the new double live album, Live Era '87-'93, is just a painful reminder of what the band used to be before all the strife and silliness forced upon all us fans by Axl's gigantic ego. Thanks, asshole. BRADLEY STEINBACHER

THE GUNGA DIN

Your Glitter Never Dulls

(Jetset) ***

The Gunga Din land somewhere between cocktail and Emperor Tomato Ketchup-era Stereolab, a tiny niche that has been surprisingly overlooked -- bland, but not silly. Your Glitter Never Dulls is by no means a great record, but at least the band is trying to be somewhat original, even if they fail -- a little. BRADLEY STEINBACHER

INTERNAL/EXTERNAL

Featuring...

(K Records) **

A rare misstep from Calvin Johnson and the gang. Part spoken word, part indie Christina Aguilera-like puff pop, Featuring... occasionally approaches greatness, but mainly just stumbles over its own lack of focus and inane spoken word self-importance. Paul E. Schuster's electronic beats are pleasant enough, though, and the record features nearly everyone in the Olympia universe, from Unwound's Justin Trosper to Bikini Kill's Kathleen Hanna (who is rapidly losing relevance as a musician). BRADLEY STEINBACHER

THE JESUS LIZARD

Bang

(Touch and Go) ****

As someone who came to be a Jesus Lizard fan rather late in the game, I feel qualified to say that the new demos, b-sides, and rarities collection, Bang, is a success. Why? Simply because it's often only a band's longtime, diehard fans who appreciate these grab baggies of old material that are almost always as indulgent as they are informative. Bang, however, manages to enthrall even the most novice fan from start to finish. It's seductive and raw, dirty and trashy, and tight as hell while remaining slightly off-kilter. Trust me: Bang is a great tribute that bids a dignified farewell to a fearless band. KATHLEEN WILSON

RAKIM

The Master

(Universal)**

Remember when Eric B would kick the bass on a rhyme that would clinch Rakim's stanza? Remember the feeling? Remember Rakim's shouts to the DJ, the reverence paid (in full) to the universally recognized "backbone" of hiphop?

I love that shit.

Rakim is the foundation of modern hiphop MCs. His steady-rockin' lines -- rhythmically textured without any trickery -- compelled protégés like Saul Williams to fawn, "Not until you've heard Rakim on a rocky mountaintop have you heard hiphop." Williams, rarely shy of quasi-spiritual overstatements, gives recourse to Rakim's cadence. The audible word developed a new agility by Rakim's invention.

But on The Master, it feels like Rakim's lyrics are superimposed onto the beat rather than integrated with it. On Eric B collaborations, the beat is the perfect punctuation to Rakim's lines; the two are in perpetual cooperation. The Master has 18 songs and 11 different producers, resulting in an album that sounds like a compilation. The songs could have been in any order; there's no cohesive plan to the project. I hope Rakim finds a producer and DJ who can collaborate on the conception of an album, not just the tracks. The Master is trying on different ensembles, but Rakim has yet to find the right fit. BRIAN GOEDDE

METALLICA

S&M

(Elektra/Asylum)

zero starsRock and symphony orchestra do not mix. Period. Never have, never will. On disc two of S&M, the formerly hirsute metallers, along with movie hack/prog facilitator Michael Kayman and the San Francisco Symphony, wimp their way through hits from "For Whom the Bell Tolls" to "Until It Sleeps." Ever since Charlie Parker did his Charlie Parker with Strings records to cross into the mainstream, most kickass players seem to feel the need to show us their sensitive side once they stop starving, and that need often involves an orchestra. I love Bach as much as the next guy, but I don't want to hear Bachman Turner Overdrive playing it. At the end of the concert, lead growler James Hetfield says he hopes to do this again next year. They must be stopped. ADAM WISNIEWSKI

SKULL KONTROL

Deviate Beyond All Means of Capture

(Touch and Go)****

1999. Everyone's wealthy from the wonders of the Internet. Everyone's settling into responsible careers after that silly post-teen angst. Everyone's headin' down to the Enormo-dome to usher in Y2K with Chris Isaak!

Shucks, the '00s appear ready to repeat the '80s, which repeated the '50s. Sure, pop culture moves in 20-year cycles, but it's hard to stomach the chirpy new-wave nostalgia infecting radio stations and house parties. It's a phenomenon worse than yuppies beach- partying with Annette Funicello. No one, it seems, recalls the aftermath of the "IBM era."

If the '00s repeat the '80s, start rooting for Skull Kontrol. Belonging neither to Sub Pop's recent, reheated-Detroit ruckus, nor to lo-cal, So-Cal punk, the Kontrol is the offspring of two Midwestern indie favorites -- the Monorchid and the Delta '72. While it's a shame the Monorchid folded, its skeleton key -- vocalist Chris Thomson -- is alive and ranting on Deviate Beyond All Means of Capture.

Deviate... opens with Thomson snarling atop a coil of constricted guitar, "What this town needs is a new rock critic/And a few more rpms." And doesn't every town? As musical options devolve into Puffy fluff, diva bloat, and electro-beats, it's nice to know one band's banging full-tilt at guitars and drums. After all, rock 'n' roll can never die. And if it ain't dead, don't fix it.

What needs fixing is our society. "Robot Man" is a spot-on call-to-arms for mutant robots everywhere: "I don't need a weatherman/To know it's time to deviate/Beyond all means of capture/Yeah slide the closing gate!/Where're all the robot men?"

And where's the harm in straight-for-oblivion lyrics like "I can't sleep/Not at night/Have you seen my Tokyo Factory Glue?" Call it a remedy for recent auto-pilot efforts by the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. And give the Kontrollers bonus points for approaching the love song from a new direction on "Witch Laughter": "Are you ever going back to the broken-heart racing track/Or have you lost the map?"

In these well-mapped times, Deviate... is the soundtrack to blow out your speakers as this century's odometer rolls over. Eight songs in just over 17 minutes, delivered with enough black-and-blue guitar to make you remember pogo-ing to punk rock. CHRISTIAN ARIAL

JOSH WHITE

Coming Undone

(Emperor Records)*

I was watching the movie Clueless on television the other night, and I had forgotten how many truly insightful music jokes the characters make in that movie. When Alicia Silverstone hears Radiohead's "Fake Plastic Trees," she says, "Yuck! The maudlin music of the university station. What is it about college and crybaby music?" Another character calls Counting Crows "complaint rock." It reminds me of the often overlooked genre of wuss music: acoustic guitars, clichéd lyrics that whine and mope instead of actually saying something heartbreaking, and an overall ethos that makes you want to slap the singer and say, "Suck it up! Act like a man!"

Wuss music has its time and place, to be sure. And with Coming Undone, we have Josh White's contribution to the Wuss Music Hall of Fame. I have a place for this record right next to The Best of Toad the Wet Sprocket. ERIN FRANZMAN

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