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July 2000

Music Reviews

Duran Duran, Billy Joel, DKAY.COM, Porcupine Tree, Sinéad O'Conner, Whitney Houston

Boys to men

However embarrassing the 1980s pop revival may be, certainly no one reckoned with the resurgence of Duran Duran. Less expected was that the three glam-boys from Birmingham, England, would turn out a quality product in 2000. After achieving cult status with hits like “Hungry Like the Wolf” and “Rio,” the band suffered the effects of more than a decade of bad press — including rumors and truths about womanizing and an insatiable recreational drug appetite. Now, however, it appears that Simon LeBon, Nick Rhodes and Warren Cuccurullo are making headway at overcoming a besmirched reputation. Pop Trash, DD’s current 12-song album, is a slick, homogeneous production, the group having dispensed with the failed electronic/techno gimmicks found in the band’s 1990s efforts. Are they consciously attempting to divorce themselves from their musical past? “No, not at all,” says LeBon. “We stand behind all that we have done over the past 20 years. If we didn’t, we would have changed our name. Of course we have changed, both musically and as individuals, and if we hadn’t, that would make us a bunch of idiots, wouldn’t it? I don’t like bands that play the same three chords year after year, mind you. I prefer those who are ever-evolving without losing a sense of self. I think Pop Trash is proof that that method can work.”

2000 Years —The Millennium Concert (Sony)

Millennium hoopla — when will it end? Of course many popsters sought to capitalize on 1999 New Year’s Eve celebrations, and Billy Joel was no exception. For $999, viewers at Madison Square Garden were treated to four hours of the crooning Long Islander’s best stuff, which was recorded for his latest CD. The result is a collection of greatest hits accompanied by pleasant onstage banter. But, somehow, there is no spark here for the listener. Perhaps you had to be there. “The piano man” is known for his great shows, but the reality is that no one really needs to own this recording.

Decaydenz (Zomba Records)

Hiding behind the pseudonym DKAY.COM is Düsseldorf’s electronic music guru and technomeister Jürgen Engler. After disbanding his hugely successful group, Die Krupps, when it was in its prime two years ago, the 30-something workaholic decided to initiate the new project. Unfortunately, the CD, Decaydenz, is a dance disaster. Weak vocal deliveries and sadomasochism-themed material have clearly dethroned Engler as Germany’s “Groove Innovator.” For Krupps fans, this is surely the disappointment of the year — the year music history’s pioneer of techno fell flat on his synthesizer.

Lightbulb Sun (SVP)

While Pink Floyd has been enjoying the renewed success of their spectacular 1970s album The Wall, recently re-recorded as an all-live version, Britain’s Porcupine Tree has been doing a good job of following in their mentor’s footsteps. In an effort to create a sound worthy of Pink Floyd masterpieces, such as Meddle and Obscured By Clouds, the quintet spent the 1990s trying to perfect their craft — and they succeeded. Lightbulb Sun is pure mood rock. Progressive, psychedelic and dreamy, the songs presented here promote the escapism of the 1960s without the need for drugs.

Faith and Courage (East/West)

What’s with that Sinéad? First she put out two fine albums, with which she invented “female punk-pop.” Then she damned herself in the public eye by tearing up a photo of the pope before a live audience. Further antics included becoming a nun, then openly chastising herself for breaking your celibacy. All of O’Connors subsequent albums were flops, and now she has released yet another, Faith and Courage, a work meant to revive the singer’s punk beginnings. But what should have been a showcase for powerful vocals merely recalls the sound of a whining dog at a siren.

Whitney Houston***
The Greatest Hits (BMG/Ariola)

In celebration of her 15-year career, pop’s crankiest, yet extraordinarily talented, superstar Whitney Houston has released a compilation of her greatest hits. Among the 35 nuggets from the singer’s gold mine are “I’m Your Baby Tonight” and “I Will Always Love You.” Though critics rightfully throw insults in Houston’s direction — she is cold and calculating and employs feigned emotion when performing — it is easy to forgive her evils, because the woman can sing! Armed with a gospel-strength voice, Houston could sing the phonebook and the hair would stand on the back of your neck.

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