**** COUNT CHOCULA
*** QUISP
** SUGAR BEAR
* TOUCAN SAM


BLONDIE

No Exit

(Beyond/BMG)
*

Reviewing the comeback album of any critically acclaimed band is something that can be looked forward to with as much fear as hope. But when the band called to the carpet is one as loved and lauded as Blondie, it makes a critic want to just shove it to the bottom of the pile, pretend it never arrived, and go on about her business destroying all the other latest crap releases. But that's not what we're paid the big salaries for, is it? As it turns out, No Exit is a predictably bad album--predictable in that not much from the '80s sounds good when repackaged for the '90s, no matter how many spins or concessions you give it. After a particularly awful opening, a butt-clenching ska exercise called "Screaming Skin," there's nothing to redeem No Exit save for the marvelous single "Maria"--three songs in, if you can make it that far. KATHLEEN WILSON


BEN FOLDS

Fear of Pop Vol. 1

(550/Sony)
*
*
The Ben Folds Five ringmaster gets to ditch the discipline of composing for a touring band and head for the studio. A lot of go-nowhere, amicably noodling results, plus one twisted masterpiece: "In Love," a spoken-word essay on the topic of the Guy Who Will Not Commit, delivered by William Shatner in the manner of his old bombastic anti-classic The Transformed Man. I can't ask you to pay the full-album price for one great track, but I can ask you to check it out if you can find a used or otherwise discounted copy. CLARK HUMPHREY


THE KISS OFFS

Goodbye Private Life

(Peek-a-Boo)
*
**
Sometimes I'm just too crabby for my own good. I took one look at the cute kids on the cover, thought sarcastically "Oh, this ought to be great" and set to listening with a world-class sneer firmly in place. But damned if the Kiss Offs aren't kinda cute in that Possum Dixon, chagrined, romantic sort of way. Lots of sardonic lyrics and wily call and response verse like the Need might've done, if they weren't all lesbos, and some bouncy keyboard work à la the Rentals, but a bit lighter. Hey, when did it stop raining? KW


RC5

You're Gonna Pay

(Small Town)
*
***
RC5
In the Bottle

(My Fat Ass)
****
Finally, the AreSeeFive done got some fo-dee fibes! Wham bam, thank you ma'am, these mofos DO kick out le jams! And le "jams" they "kickin' out" IS, indeed, kinda like hows Emmceefive once did dood it... like, but AreSeeFive brought "it" up to date wif o' crunch o' Stooger, Jimmy Williamson, while huggin' Radio Birdman's, Mr. Deniz Tek, idea o' flattenin' "boo-gay woo-gay" curves Chuck dingle Beeried, and then, as it is the "'90s," produced "THAT" to sound "brightly"! Okay? However, if ROCKIN' booty ain't e'nuff, they NICE fellas wif NO eighth generation "rock" pretense!!! Uh... so when they gonna getta LP? MIKE NIPPER


JANIS IAN

The Bottom Line Encore Collection

(Bottom Line)
*
*
While living in Portland I attended a "Torch Night" where local music luminaries sang their favorite songs of heartache. Although a particularly wrenching version of Elvis Costello's "Shipbuilding," sung by Crackerbash frontman Sean Croghan, sticks in my mind, it's a prop-ridden rendition of Janis Ian's "At Seventeen" that'll stay with me till I die. A forgotten female vocalist took the stage in a Catholic schoolgirl's uniform and proceeded to slash her wrists and squirt fake blood as she sang Ian's forlorn paean to patheticness, making light of a song I found too depressing even when I was 14 years old. The fact that Ian's albums exist is enough. No one needs to hear her sing her songs live, and then tell some lame-ass interviewer that she feels validated when people call her an "anthem-writer for a generation of sensitive people." KW


SKANATRA

Skanatra

(P.O.S.)
minus ****
If it's not bad enough that most of last year's awful, deplorable new ska has become background music for every car, cell phone, and soda commercial on TV, bands are still cranking the shit out this year! And what could be worse than last year's fad skanking its stinking corpse into 1999? A ska band calling itself Skanatra doing lame-ass covers of Sinatra tunes. When will the suffering end? KW


ENGELBERT HUMPERDINCK

Songs from the Heart

(Music Club)
*
*
TOM JONES
Sings the Sixties

(Music Club)
*
**
If you've been on a low-cal diet for too long, and want to throw some cheese back on the menu, here are two thick, juicy, oozy slabs, warmed and ready for ya. Engelbert Humperdinck and Tom Jones are two British lads (Welsh, in Jones' case) who don't sound it, and who laid down the Vegas crooner template for Elvis to step into once he stopped making all those dumb movies. The Humperdinck disc focuses on '70s covers, ranging from "Put Your Hand in the Hand" to "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head" to "Something" without ever varying his emotional delivery. Jones has something the Hump clearly lacks -- soul, enough soul in his case to make even the bubblegum anthem "Sugar Sugar" sound funky--no mean feat. These are albums of covers for people who've forgotten (or don't care) who did the originals. In other words, pleasant, inoffensive listening fare. GILLIAN G. GAAR


LONE JUSTICE

This World Is Not My Home

(Geffen)
*
*
People either love Maria McKee or hate her, and there doesn't seem to be any in between. Hers is a Corin Tucker on the Grand Ol' Opry kind of voice, full of yelps and wails--soothing to some, like Edward Scissorhands working an algebra problem at the chalkboard to others. This World Is Not My Own is a Best Of collection that includes some live tracks recorded when the band was on tour with U2, but omits some of Lone Justice's more stunning songs, most notably their first single--a glaring omission by any standard. With the pop jangle and dusty vocals of "Sweet Baby Mine," this Austin quartet was one of the first bands to usher in what has now become the familiar Alternative Country sound, not to mention catching the attention of U2, who, back in 1987, was one of the largest touring acts in the world. KW


VIRGINIA DARE

Baby Got Away

(Absolutely Kosher)
*
***
I can usually tell within the first intro whether I'm going to like an album like this: strummy, distorted vocals you can't figure out whether they're emanating from a girl or a boy until you're too far in to care, and a slight country twang that stays grounded in definite indie-rock boundaries. Think Chocolate U.S.A., think Fuck, think Of Montreal, and you've got a pretty good idea what Virginia Dare is all about. I love it. KW

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