Alanis Morissette Alanis Morissette 
Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie
(Maverick/Reprise)


The thing that gave Morissette a monstrous hit with Jagged Little Pills was her merging of youthful, sometimes frighteningly frank feministic angst with undeniable pop melodies and beats. The thing that shoots down Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie is its lack of attention to the latter half of that equation.

Too much of this album listens like an Alanis “reading” of personal letters over a backbed of snapping snares, pensive keyboards and sometimes grinding guitars. The vocals and the music don’t seem to have very much intimacy with each other. That may go over well at the coffeehouse, but it doesn’t do much for the radio. The lyrics to “Front Row” demonstrate the problem with ignoring standard rhyming lyric structures. It reads (and listens) like a stage monologue:

“I have this overwhelming loss of ambition
we said let’s name thirty good reasons
why we shouldn’t be together
I started saying things like 'you smoke'
'you live in New Jersey (too far)'
you started saying things like 'you belong to the world'
all of which could have been easily refuted
but the conversation was hypothetical.”

These are lyrics? They make for interesting psychology reading, but aren’t exactly singalong material. The current single, “Thank U” is one of the easiest sells on the album and a welcome, if sometimes oblique, addition to her string of hit singles that includes “You Oughta Know,” “Ironic,” “Hand In My Pocket” and “Head Over Feet.” In “Thank U” there is a strong melody, a good beat and scads of emotion. It’s hard to pick another song off of this disc that has the same hit single potential though.

“Are You Still Mad,” an egoistic lover’s taunt, has some of the symphonic drama of her hit from the City of Angels soundtrack, “Uninvited,” and consequently could be a candidate. And then there’s “That I Would Be Good,” a soft, gently strummed ballad that leads to one of the album’s most heartstring-plucking choruses. But for the most part, while there are moments that approach the perfect synergy of Jagged Little Pills, Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie relies on too much internal talking and too little on choruses the rest of us can sing along with.

 

John Mellencamp 
John Mellencamp
(Columbia)
½


Mellencamp’s approach of late has been more and more inspirational — laidback, straight-up rock ‘n’ roll with a touch of soul musing, no pretensions. His first disc for Columbia is a down home rock affair with some heartfelt sentiment about living life — and living it in the now. His hit single, the rootsy handclappin’ “Your Life Is Now” is the best call to arms in pop music since “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” for stepping back and remembering that we only are sure of having one thing — this moment. Live it well.

Likewise in “Fruit Trader” he sings of how our lives are an exercise in “yelling in the dark” and warns that we’d best “let a little of this beauty, let a little of this goodness get in.” He gets fatherly in “I’m Not Running Anymore,” a percussive fest of pure celebration, as he sings of teaching “the hoodlums of my third wife” how to live day to day.

John Mellencamp is a warm, friendly porch album that, if not always Mellencamp at his poppy best, certainly sounds like Mellencamp at his most honest. He’s long ago moved beyond needing to “prove himself” and these days strums and struts in whatever way the wind strikes him. That shoulder-shrugging, twisted-grinning attitude is what made Mellencamp the embodiment of “heartland” rock back in the ‘80s — and John Mellencamp solidifies his position there even more firmly as he gets ready to leave the ‘90s.


Fear of Pop Fear of Pop
Volume I
(550 Music)
½


It doesn’t take long to figure out that this is actually a solo album from Ben Folds Five leader Ben Folds. He wrote and produced everything and plays nearly all of the instruments. What is surprising, however, is the minimal amount of his trademark piano-playing that he uses on this album (probably one reason these tracks were not used by BFF). Instead, Folds focuses on funky bass grooves, and brings in pals Fleming and John to help out on the occasional guitar or vocal part.

This is a “screwing around in the studio” album, not an attempt to write hit singles. But that loose, “jamming” atmosphere and Folds’ natural sense of pop structure (and humor) means that these songs are catchy, even if they’re not something likely to turn up on Q101-FM anytime soon. The title track has a throbbing backbeat of kettle drums and a science fiction synth wail to back up the funky rhythm of Folds on bass. His vocals are dreamlike, echoey, until he starts wailing about his “Fear of Pop.” “Kops” returns to the funky bass department with a wah-wah vengeance and, with its inserted clips of “street talk” sounds like an episode of a 1970s TV police show. “Slow Jam ‘98” is a mainly instrumental lounge piece, featuring a quiet repetitive piano loop and synthesizer piano pads up front with a jazzy backbeat with cheezy background “ooooh-aaahhhh” vocals.

But the real fun hits halfway through the album on the “ode to the male ego” post-love ballad “In Love.” The instrumental set-up sounds like a quiet Ben Folds Five track, until William Shatner turns up at the mic to read a soliloquy about why he is breaking up with a woman. Shatner plays along beautifully, overdramatizing each line in his own trademark “Capt. Kirk” vocal manner, culminating in the pronouncement:

“I can’t tell you anything and...
...I...can’t...commit
you’re right!
I can’t commit!
...to you!”

Most of the remaining tracks are funky rhythm tracks with various sound effects and vocal bits thrown in on top. In “I Paid My Money,” Folds sings about how foolish people are who leave the theatre before a movie is over (“I paid my money/and I’m gonna see all the movie,” he proclaims.) The best groove track, though, is “Root To This,” which finds Fleming McWilliams urging on the drums and bass — “yeah, that’s it,” she drawls in her English accent. “I can root to this.” This song is a party waiting to happen.

Actually, taken with the appropriate sense of musical humor, the entire contents of Fear of Pop is a party. Crank it up.