Record Roundup

          With a facile wisdom only the best songwriters can muster, Brown smudges the lines between stress and easygoing humor, personal growth and political statement. He is imp enough to name the giddiest tune "Not High" and the most heartfelt love ballad, "Hey Baby Hey." He is perceptive enough to find new depths of saving grace in such universal song themes as the need to love your children ("If You Don't Get It At Home") and the romantic tension between two people already committed to other relationships ("Someday When We're Both Alone"). When all is sung and done, he remains the unpretentious sage of middle-aged white people, a musical Gary Snyder, representing the best and brightest instincts of a discredited boomer generation, demonstrating that not all is hypocrisy and deceit, elision and illusion. While Greg Brown has never made a bad record (the mediocre Dream Cafe came closest), this is his strongest collection since One More Goodnight Kiss in 1988, another masterpiece to guide the way as we head further in. (Britt Robson)

Saucer

Saucer

Spanish Fly

          WHEN SAUCER FIRST emerged as one of the most inventive and inspiring Minneapolis rock bands this decade, its strength was precisely that each of the four members seemed so essential in his or her own right. But times changed: Major-label talks faded, tensions heated up, and the band's first record, Emergency Exits, was never released. Singer/guitarist Pam Valfer left to form Kittycraft, and drummer Peter Anderson defected to Polara. Many found it absurd, then, that the Saucer name should carry on. But the survivors have persevered by overhauling and inverting the original Saucer formula, thus rescuing the group from a mid-life slump.

          The default core of Saucer is guitarist, ex-bassist, and mad scientist Howard W. Hamilton, III-- possessed as always with a vengeful, obsessive creativity--and first-mate guitarist Ted Kersten. With a new rhythm section, Saucer spins off with five strong studio tracks, two of them instrumentals. The best is "She Used to Be the Bomb," a glam tragedy that seems to be about the fall of a scene queen. The remaining 40 minutes of the record consist of 25 short living room recordings: song snippets and cutting-room floor scraps; spontaneous concepts and micro-epics. By the end, you've been treated to surf ("Lil' Hatchback"), junk jazz ("Nimbus"), and drum-machine pop ("The New Catatonic"), in addition to the usual space-and-fuzz guitar FX and electronic gadget tinkering,.

          The refreshing aspect here is how Saucer refuses to ride any whim to perfection. Whereas the old Saucer focused on drawn-out noise jams, the imploded band explodes their muse into innumerable fragments. We're left with 30 boundless, fleeting ideas rather than 10 or 12 fully formed ones, and it's actually a fair trade. If you don't like one idea, the next is a moment away. And while this comparison will be relentless, the effect is much like a Guided By Voices record, especially when Hamilton's and Kersten's voices unwittingly resemble Robert Pollard's.

          The only danger now is the possibility of Saucer going off the deep end and forgetting how to write real pop songs. Unless "She Used to Be the Bomb" is a fluke, there's little need to worry. At the very least, treat Saucer as a "Bomb" CD single with 29 bonus tracks. But to the more adventurous ear, it's more like a weird 30-scene film than a rock record. Upon repeated listens, the suite's logic comes clear, unreeling a unique plot in one's imagination. (Simon Peter Groebner)

          Saucer performs Monday at 7th Street Entry with New Radiant Storm King and Teen Idols (338-8388) and Friday, October 11 at Cheapo Records in Uptown (827-8956).

The Cardigans

First Band on the Moon

Mercury

Komeda

The Genius of Komeda

Minty Fresh

          FOR THOSE WHO don't know, the lightness and precision of Life by Sweden's Cardigans (released earlier this year on Chicago indie Minty Fresh) stands as a benchmark for pop musicians and marketers alike. A cover shot of dimpled and beaming Nina Persson in a powder blue, fur-cuffed skater outfit is bookended by a shot of guitar sharpshooter Peter Svensson in a mobster get-up. And song after song, the album delivers the same mystique. Tight, textured compositions cleanly executed by Svensson and the boys are topped by tinkerbell lyrics of shameless glint. Artless coquetry like "me and friends in Daddy's car/ to find out how summers are" and "we were swingin' oh so nice" earned the band an apt zine description as "the planet's most erudite lemon-lime drink."

          So where can you go after achieving such intoxicating harmony of intent and content? The moon? Maybe. Or maybe just back to bed to nurse that hangover. The Cardigans major label release, no lunar triumph, suffers from an earnest impulse to come clean--to show us that our paper doll is indeed a real live girl. Against our wishes, we now meet a different Persson, one who has loved and lost, who smirks as often as she smiles, who does things like "beg" and "pray" for a man to "come on and fool me." The music on Moon shows Svensson still weaving gold through some exquisite arrangements like "Step On Me," with its Beach Boys guitar tone on a bridge build, Zeppelin's Rain Song chords on the verse, ukelele bend transitions and theramin slides on the chorus. The disco "Lovefool" is worthy of a Xanadu production number, and "Great Divide" backs a Disney-esque melody with strictly contained bursts of psychedelia. Why these songs are trying to be "real," rather than describing counting clouds or splashing around in a Midori glass, I'll never know.

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