Record Roundup

Porno for Pyros

Good God's Urge

Warner Bros.

           TWO SUMMERS AGO, while working on Good God's Urge, Perry Farrell told an interviewer, "I'm proud of [Jane's Addiction]. It's on a level that I won't be able to reach again because I'm not what I was in [that band]. The balance is that what I lose in energy, I gain in wisdom."

           Now, that could be the excuse of a lazy genius for producing lame work, or the strained rationalization of someone who has lost favor with the muse. Perhaps it's just the honesty of a man who's lived hard and, having become caregiver to a child, has decided he'd rather fade away than burn out.

           For those who have loved his work and worried for his health, the bottom line is that Perry Farrell is still alive, and still thriving on change. His frightening brilliance with Jane's Addiction may be strictly a memory, but his words above aren't entirely bullshit: Farrell is maturing, with subtler emotions, a more wide-ranging love of sound, a richer sensuality. That old feminist heart and infatuation with danger are intact, but Farrell's left Los Angeles and entered the World--or, rather, another world.

           With Good God's Urge, he watercolors a sun-drunk seascape of dolphins, islands, and tides that nearly drown him (literally: "Tahitian Moon" was written after Farrell tried to save a friend from the surf off Tahiti). Perhaps when one has glimpsed the edge of mortality, the pleasures of this life go technicolor; whatever the cause, this album is utterly pleasure-seeking. But too often the bliss seems private, something only between the musicians, and the listener feels like she's only catching echoes of some underwater party. The melodies are more drowsy than catchy, the rhythms lulling, not rousing. The violence and epic beauty of Jane's Addiction are history, but so too is the impish fractiousness of Porno for Pyros' first record.

           Guest appearances try to perk things up. Love and Rockets contribute to "Porpoise Head," the opening track; Mike Watt shows up here and there on bass; and Chili Peppers Flea and Dave Navarro (ex-Jane's Addiction) stamp their indelible prints onto "Freeway." A yearning Eastern European clarinet quivers on "Wishing Well," an apparent tribute to Farrell's dad, and a mariachi-style trumpet on "100 Ways" serves to remind us that, after all, this is still an L.A. band. (It's one of several overt love songs--and you know something's up when Farrell writes a love song without drugs, death, or threesomes.)

           For all its inventiveness, the album ends up only as very fine background music; great for an outdoor music fest, drug trips, or summer sex. Sure, one only need listen to its weakest track alongside the Chili Peppers' "Aeroplane" to remember that, when it comes to philosophizing L.A. rock survivors, Perry Farrell is as smart and talented as they come. But we all know he's better than this. (Kate Sullivan)

Nas

It Was Written

Columbia

           WITH HIS RHYME-within-a-rhyme tongue-twisting and Rakim monotone, Nasir Jones emerged from the Queensbridge housing projects in New York City to make one of the most chilling rap albums of the '90s, 1994's classic Illmatic. Taking in his surroundings with a hooded gaze, he saw nihilism merely as realism, a state of mind at the heart of his chart-topping new CD, It Was Written. Unrelentingly grim, yet rich in convincing details, this weaker follow-up about drug life is a step beyond the gangsta pulp diction that seems finally to be receding--Nas is appalled by what he sees, but he avoids "consciousness" in favor of red-eyed stream-of-consciousness. He won't let a message break his flow.

           It Was Written comes like a summer movie blockbuster, and a sequel, no less: Expectations are met with even more complex rhymes, stars are in effect (from AZ to Jojo Hailey of Jodeci), and formulas followed--from the cinematic slave-revolt intro (ever notice how rap albums are taking longer and longer to get started?) to the inevitable rhythm & blues crossover hit (the utopian "If I Ruled the World," with Fugees diva Lauryn Hill honey-dipping the chorus). Dr. Dre guest produces and makes East-West peace on "Nas Is Coming," but otherwise the album's strongest cuts come near the front and back. "Street Dreams" is a brilliant gangsta twist on the Eurythmics' tune, while "I Gave You Power" tells a spellbinding story from the point of view of a gun: "I see niggas bleedin'/runnin' from me in fear/stunningly tears fall down from the eyes of these so-called tough guys." The loops are East Coast-eery, straying from soft soul to sample orchestral easy-listening music and Chuck Mangione (?!).

           Still, It Was Written lacks the variety and leanness of Illmatic: A solid hour of "more money, more murder" may sound great in a cloud of Linx, but I found myself playing selector to skip the depressing revenge fantasies and ho-bashing. But the street buzz is justified by the solid songs contained within, and the young rapper's stupefying mic skills. You can get as lost in the rhyme gymnastics as Nas clearly is. (Peter Scholtes)

Ray Price

San Antonio Rose

Koch

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