CAN'T STOP RAVING about Cornershop, an inventive multiracial combo from London who make a miscegenation of British guitar-pop drone and Indian bhangra seem like a match made in heaven. This is world music for those who remember that, back in the day, punks listened to Lee Perry and Mikey Dread; Woman's Gotta Have It is a culture clash with an insinuating rhythm and, lo and behold, a sense of humor.

Cornershop started out a couple years ago as a fairly standard indie-rock band, with a Mod sense of style and a sitar adding a bit of novelty to the mix. But Woman's Gotta Have It marks a radical reinvention, foregrounding Cornershop's embrace of a hybrid British-Indian identity. "This Western Oriental, going full circle," lead singer-songwriter Tjinder Signh repeats on the album's first single, "Wog," a number which recalls no less than the glory days of Sly and the Family Stone in its seductive lyricism, anti-racist message, and musical wit. Singh's lyrics are about a third in English, the rest in Punjabi, and most of the songs draw heavily on Indian pop and folk music traditions.

Performing live as a supporting act for Superchunk in Boston this month, Singh (the first East Indian man I've met with Elvis sideburns) played guitar and radiated charisma, surrounded by players working the groove on traditional and modern instruments. The show ended with "Jullander Shere," a chiming drone that's part Stereolab, part religious chant, and turns up twice on Woman's Gotta Have It, opening and closing the disk. Singh's singing apparently is meant to simulate the daily recitation of prayers in a Punjabi village: Live, it was mesmerizing, suggesting truly original paths for alternative rock internationalism. (Ivan Kreilkamp)

Cornershop perform Sunday at the Uptown Bar & Cafe.

Cypress Hill
III (Temples of Boom)

WHAT'S WITH THESE guys in Cypress Hill? Four years since the L.A. group's first pro-pot anthem, "Stoned Is the Way of the Walk," the boys are still telling us they love to smoke ganja. How B-Real and Sen Dog waste their days is their business, but it makes you wonder: What's wrong with their personal lives that they need to be stoned all the time? And how can they be so enthusiastic about it? Their latest release, III (Temples of Boom), exhales the same clouded sentiments of past albums, but offers no answers.

III's "Illusions" begins with an Indian sitar--presumably a reference to '60s drug culture's Eastern influence--but there's no expanded consciousness in the accompanying raps. Cypress Hill champion drug use, it seems, to bolster their outlaw image; they place pot smoke alongside beat-downs--just another illegal activity to prove they're bad dudes. Lyrics aside, III does not even offer Cypress Hill's trademark sounds--the haunting shrieks and compressed steam whistle loops--that defined their sonic insanity. There's plenty of cool vibes and organ, but nothing as spine-chilling as the tracks on '93's Black Sunday. The brutal Ice Cube dissing of "No Rest For the Wicked" and Pulp Fiction soundbites of "Make A Move" feel old and unimaginative, and even appearances from Wu-Tang's U-God and RZA can't inspire any life in these temples. Just say no to stale hip-hop. (Roni Sarig)

Smashing Pumpkins
Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness

YOU'VE GOT TO hand it to Billy Corgan for sticking to his guns. Instead of taking all the alterna-rock slagging to heart and trying to reestablish their hipster credibility, the Smashing Pumpkins have made the most thoroughly unfashionable album of the year. Unafraid to sound like Black Sabbath, Fleetwood Mac, or Queen (or Queensryche, for that matter), they boldly go where only the most self-indulgent bands dare to tread: the dreaded double album.

Mellon Collie is not a concept work, however, nor does it wallow much in progressive rock excess (despite what the thematically labeled "Dawn to Dusk" and "Twilight to Starlight" sections might imply). As double albums go, it has more in common with the pretentious yet disposable pop rock of Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road, Tusk, and even Use Your Illusion than it does with high-concept pieces like The Wall or Quadrophenia. It's a sprawling, unfocused collection of songs that finds the Pumpkins stretching their boundaries, though without testing much new artistic water. Nonetheless, Corgan's refusal to edit his peculiar patchwork vision of '90s rock serves as a two-hour-plus fuck-you to anyone who might try to draw lines between alternative, post-punk, hard rock or pop.

As usual, Corgan bares his tortured psyche for all to dissect, but he declines to sublimate his identity in a character archetype (as Waters and Townshend felt compelled to do), and thankfully avoids the kind of half-baked narrative that sinks most rock epics. While the band remains committed to fashioning elaborate arena anthems, its connection to art rock has more to do with unconventional, nonlinear song structures and a tendency toward over-production than it does with the elitist, neo-classical tendencies of the prog-rockers of yore.

Despite the bone-crunching guitar-and-drum attack of cuts like "Where Boys Fear to Tread" and "X.Y.U." the band's affinity for pop songcraft wins out in the end. "1979" and "Thirty-Three" are way hummable, "Cupid de Locke" updates Brian Wilson for the '90s, and even the headbanging "Bullet With Butterfly Wings" succeeds more on its hooks than on its sonic bombast. By the time the band gets to the end of disc two, they're playing in McCartney music-hall territory on "Lily (My One and Only)" and offering up touching ballads like "By Starlight" and "Beautiful."

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