Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
They sound a lot more like they're looking backward on their first reunion album in a decade, and that'll probably be just fine for their Woodstock I-era fans. But CSN&Y won't be winning many new GenX fans with this set, which sounds like a bunch of old guys who've lost their voices trying to sing along to the good old days out on the back porch.
You can still hear some of the 1969 magic lingering in the harmonies on the hippie-ready "Stand and Be Counted," "Heartland" and the "Just A Song Before I Go"-style wide chorus of "Sanibel." But Neil Young is the only one of the bunch whose voice hasn't lost a good deal of its original power and charisma (yep, he's as nasal and whiny as ever!). They sound OK when they all sing together, but let anyone but Young take the lead mike and the magic fades.
The disc opens with a Jimmy Buffett-style song from Stephen Stills, which, if sung by Buffett, would probably be a pretty sharp track. But Stills' lead vocals fail to deliver the charisma the song needs. Young provides the standout tracks in the down-home, lightly strummed "Looking Forward" and the funky percussion-big harmony "Queen of Them All." The group still strives lyrically to be socially relevant; Stills' "Seen Enough" talks of "cyberpunks/fed up killer geeks/gigabyte meth freaks/home alone/in a world of their own." But the days of CSN&Y's relevance are as faded as the voices striving to lead on this reunion disc. Buy this for nostalgia only.
Toto had one of the most expansive sounds in '80s rock. Its members were studio musicians of some renown, and their songwriting skills perfectly merged pop melodies with huge production arrangements. But the death of drummer Jeff Porcaro in 1992, following the departures of keyboardist Steve Porcaro and a string of lead singers in the mid to late '80s — from original Bobby Kimball to Fergie Fredrickson to Joe Williams (son of conductor John Williams) — seemed to finally crush the band. Toto limped on through the '90s, although with guitarist Steve Lukather handling lead vocals, the band sounded more like a blues rock bar band than the grand arena rock act of old. All that has changed with Mindfields, the first album in 15 years to feature original singer Bobby Kimball, who sang the band's biggest hits "Hold the Line, "Africa," "Rosanna" and "99." A reunion with Kimball seems the logical next step following last year's collection of previously unreleased songs from the band's past album sessions, Toto XX (1977-1997).
With Kimball back at the mike, the band sounds as if they've never had down time — "Caught in the Balance" is a classic Toto number with big harmonies, oscillating Lukather guitars and metronomic synthesizer chording from keyboardist David Paich. "After You've Gone," features Lukather at the mike but still has the classic Toto harmonies and an Eastern-influenced melodic tension. "Mysterious Ways" kicks in the horns and from-the-gut vocals of Kimball for a pounding rocker and the title track is a drawn out jam that lets the band prove they still have the same spirit as the Toto of the early '80s.
While there's not a blockbuster like "Africa" on Mindfields, it's a rock solid and welcome return from one of pop's most accomplished groups of musicians.
New on the Shelves:
Pokemon is THE product for this holiday season, and if you're going to have it in all its iterations you'd best pick up the soundtrack to Pokemon The First Movie. The CD includes music from and inspired by the movie, from just about every bubblegum teen star out there right now. The disc is filled with light, dancy pop from Britney Spears, B*Witched, Baby Spice, Vitamin C, Billie, M2M, N'Sync, 98 Degrees and more. It also includes a video that can only be accessed on your computer with an open Internet connection …
Speaking of soundtracks, the soundtrack to the new James Bond movie The World Is Not Enough includes the hit Garbage title theme song (written by orchestral soundtrack composer David Arnold). It's a classic-sounding Bond theme that reaches back to the Sean Connery era for inspiration. If you want a soundtrack that includes more pop vocal selections, look somewhere else. This soundtrack only features the Garbage track and a downbeat lounge song performed by Scott Walker. The rest is the movie's orchestral score by Arnold.
Alanis Morissette diehards can pick up a live MTV Unplugged disc from the Canadian singer on Maverick Records. The disc includes laidback versions of "You Learn," "Head Over Feet," "Ironic," "You Oughta Know" and "Uninvited," among others. There are also three previously unreleased tracks. The new stuff isn't memorable, and the old songs sounded better in their studio versions. From this critic's perspective, the two studio albums that most of these songs are taken from would be a better buy.
If you're feeling a bit nostalgic this winter for the dark sounds of '80s goth, K-Tel has the cure. Well, not The Cure but a host of other '80s gloom bands, with a scattering of '90s stalwarts. Goth Music of the Shadows Vol. 1 looks like a late '80s 4AD label release, and includes tracks from that moody label's Bauhaus and X-Mal Deutschland, as well as CleopatraRecords artists Switchblade Symphony, March Violets and Nosferatu. Other artists include Christian Death, Sisters of Mercy, Alien Sex Fiend, Black Tape for a Blue Girl, All About Eve, Fields of the Nephilim and the very danceable modern goth band Faithful Dawn. Recommended for a dark Christmas.