The packages are open,
the presents are stacked,
the eggnog is sour,
the packing is packed...

Yes, once again Christmas has come and gone, and while you may have gotten all the new albums you wanted, more than likely, there are still some that youíre going to have to go buy yourself (especially if the grandparents thought the Best of Bobby Darin was a far better gift than something from a band that names itself after a violent smashing of garden gourds). This column reviews a handful of 1996 discs which have been out for a while, but which I didnít quite get the space to review earlier in the year. Several are quite worth plunking down your Christmas gift cash on. Or trading in that Bobby Darin set for.


Leah Andreone

Andreoneís disc has been out for a few months now, but has only recently garnered some radio play following her recent WXRT budget show at Schubaís (an electric performance where Andreone revealed to the audience that her Chicago appearance marked the second time in her life that sheíd ever seen snow!) With a quirky voice that sways between Tori Amos confessional and 1980ís punk vixen, Andreone is an instantly engaging presence who writes catchy songs with lyrical wit and depth. In "Happy Birthday" she sings from the persona of an unborn baby who observes during its birth:

"Youíre my first love
I know you inside out
and what you already ate, Iíll eat
naked and lonely
will somebody hold me
the deed is done, letís start day one
youíre stuck with me!

"While "Itís Alright, Itís OK" and "Come Sunday Morning" are the discís best radio tracks with their hooky guitar lines and big rock sounds, itís on tracks like "You Make Me Remember" and "Imagining You," that Andreone hits her best stride. In "You Make Me Remember (things I want to forget)," she reveals the emotional death of a relationship in taut lines like "you share your dreams...I see nothing." And in "Imagining You," with acoustic guitar backing she muses softly, as if singing to a sleeping lover: "what would morning taste like with you...did you ever think what loving me could mean/when youíre all alone do you imagine me?" Itís with quiet, emotion-ridden lines she unwraps personal moments of incredible power in both of these tracks.

This is one of the best debuts of 1996.


Danny Elfman
Music For A Darkened Theatre - Film & Television Music Volume Two

Since effectively putting Oingo Boingo away in the career drawer to concentrate on film scoring, Elfman has composed some of modern cinemaís most engaging and inventive soundtracks. Heís penned the themes to essentially all of director Tim Burtonís movies, including Batman, Batman Returns, The Nightmare Before Christmas and Beetlejuice, as well as other directorís projects like Mission Impossible, Dolores Claiborne, Dead Presidents and many more. His TV work has included the "Tales from the Crypt" theme and bits from "Amazing Stories," "The Flash," "Pee-Weeís Playhouse," and the "Beetlejuice" series. Much of the above-mentioned material is represented on this latest two-disc collection (and if itís not here, itís on the first volume, which came out in 1990.) This is instrumental film music that is **not** simply audio space filler.


Hoodoo Gurus
Blue Cave

This venerable Down Under act released one of the yearís best rock collections this year to virtually no acclaim (It probably didnít help that an injury postponed the bandís tour plans shortly after the albumís release). Blue Cave simply shimmers with wry wit, jangly power chords and a damn-the-torpedoes attitude. In "Down On Me" they copy a move from INXS by doing a "list" of things that are "Down On Me," including LSD, Mr. T and MTV. "Waking Up Tired" is an anthem for anyone who ever had a problem getting up in the morning, while "Please Yourself" is a page out of that conversation youíve had (or wanted to have but didnít quite dare) with a friend who keeps getting into destructive relationships. Thereís full-barrel rock, goofy Little Miss Muffett references ("Mind The Spider") and pure party attitude ("Get High!").

This album, quite simply, rocks.


NY Loose
Year of the Rat

Led by singer Brijitte West, NY Loose is, in many ways, a throwback to the early Ď80s NY punk scene. Copping vocal moves from early Joan Jett, Pretenders and Patti Smith and guitar acrobatics from The Ramones and Iggy Pop, West leads a raucous band through a dozen smokingly cool tracks, from the ascerbic "Pretty Suicide" (written about a Life magazine photo of a suicide who ended her life in an angelic pose atop a car) to the obsessive rock=sex grind of "Spit." Thereís even a pretty little musicbox-backed song tucked in the middle of these otherwise hard-rocking tracks: Velvet Undergroundís "Sunday Morning" could have been penned for a girl group from the Ď60s, but itís a joy — and savvy change of pace — to hear it in the midst of these punky anthems.


Trial By Fire

It might have been better for the reputation of this venerable '70s band if singer Steve Perry had stuck to putting out blase solo albums and guitarist Neil Schon to lite pop metal records. In reforming with Jonathan Cain, Ross Valory and Steve Smith theyíve managed to create an album that occasionally echoes their past glories, but never recaptures them. Tracks like "One More" and "Forever In Blue" sound like pale pieces from the bandís Frontiers era. But the first single, "When You Love A Woman" is pure keyboard-slick pop pablum, and easily the albumís most memorable track at that.

This is an album for Journey diehard fans only, who will happy to learn that the band plans to launch its first tour in 10 years in 1997.

—John Everson

Originally published in The Star Newspapers, December 26, 1996
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