Crash Test Dummies
A Wormís Life
(Arista)
½


Apparently selling five million albums has injected some musical smiles into Canadaís eclectic and often dirgelike Crash Test Dummies.

While their first couple albums took a bit of getting used to with their dark themes and often quiet instrumentation, A Wormís Life opens with an instantly engaging, guitar-heavy song about "Overachievers." While Brad Roberts' bass vocals still sound a bit odd topping a pop song, the bouncy, rock beat that underpins many of the groupís new tracks are simply too lighthearted to ignore.

Roberts' lyrics remain both literate and left field, however. In the effervescent "He Like To Feel It," he writes of the odd ways of "a boy who liked to wiggle his tooth loose so he could show it...he told us how he liked to feel it when it came out." And the smooth tones of the title track detail the life of a worm, from the wormís point of view:

"Though you think me cold and slimy
Iíve got a nice home
Iíve tasted your best guacamole
and siestaed at noon in the cool of the soil."

While "Our Driver Gestures" (about driving across countries) is weak on content, the instrumental sections are exquisite.

Robertsí sense of bizarre humor is very much in evidence on A Wormís Life. "My Enemies" is a bass-rambling rock anthem about imagining your enemies as "furry little bunnies." And in the carefully meandering "There Are Many Dangers," Roberts, in the persona of a child who is, perhaps, a bit slow, lists some of the many common sense dangers to avoid:

"When it's very, very cold out
do not put your tongue on cold metal things,
for example: stop signs!
I did and I had to pull some skin off
and then they had to fill my mouth with cotton at night."

There are also songs about being outlived by stupid things like paperweights, an oblique song about a morning erection (the reason I know this is because of the bandís press release, not the lyrics) and seeing the good in "All of This Ugly.

While there are a couple of tedious exercises included, for the most part, A Wormís Life tunnels through some amusing situations and engaging songs.

Dead Can Dance
Spiritchaser
(4AD)


"We make a road for the spirit to pass over," sings Brendan Perry in "Song of the Stars," a brooding, Indian-inspired song of drums and spirituality. The spirit road, and the anima of the earth serve as the recurring theme for the entire album. From the cool chants of "Nierika" to the marsh-bred sounds of real crickets recorded along the Nile (in "The Song of the Nile"), Spiritchaser is an album celebrating the mysteries and hidden powers of the earth. A perfect hymnbook for the dark moments of winter.

Gone are the medieval tapestries of tape loops and drone that Dead Can Dance made their mark toying with a decade ago. The latest outing of Perry and Lisa Gerrard is as beautifully dark as any of their prior work, incorporating low, sonorous strings and eerie dashes of piano in arrangements drawn-out to accentuate their moodiness. But itís the tribal percussion that sets the tone this time.

Thankfully, Perry doesnít descend to the Neil Diamond-esque vocal schmaltz he toyed with on "American Dreaming" (from 1994ís Toward The Within collection,) but it is still the melding of Gerrardís vocals with his that best encompass the breath of the fantastic and ethereal on Spiritchaser. Her angelic swoops of voice suggest the other, the after, the below. And that has always been the point of Dead Can Dance. The new album opens with "Nierika" an Inuit word meaning paths between the under-, middle- and higher-worlds that shamen travel. The album closes with "Devorzhun," a word invented by Gerrard to title "a lullaby for the sleeping spirit." This is an album for contemplation, for calling the hidden spirit, for begging beneath the cold moon for that one more chance at spring...

 

MISCELLANEOUS:


Since it looks increasingly less like Fine Young Cannibals will ever record together again, MCA has pulled together the bandís best tracks from its two studio albums on The Finest. Included are the singles "She Drives Me Crazy," "Johnny Comes Home" and "Good Thing" as well as a couple of previously unreleased tracks that were recorded for the bandís abandoned third album...MCA has released a Greatest Hits set from Patti LaBelle which includes trio LaBelleís mid-í70s hit "Lady Marmalade," plus Patti LaBelleís solo hits "If You Only Knew" and "On My Own" (sung with Michael McDonald...MCA has also released New Editionís Solo Hits, capitalizing on the recent reformation of that Ď80s R&B group. Included are Bell Biv DeVoeís "Poison," Bobby Brownís "My Prerogative" and Ralph Tresvant's "Sensitivity," among others.