Sixteen years ago, when I stood five feet from the stage on the second floor of a Chinese restaurant and watched Nebraska's Flaming Lips distort their way through a set of jangly alternative rock, I would never have bet that they would one day win a Grammy.

But not only did this unlikely avant rock trio pick up a golden statue this year, they also won it for another unlikely hat trick best rock instrumental (for "Approaching Pavonis Mons by Balloon (Utopia Plantia)" from their 2002 album, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. Warner Bros. is capitalizing on the band's feat by offering a new EP, Fight Test, featuring the single and video for "Fight Test," the most commercial track from Yoshimi.

The EP also includes an oscillating remix of "Do You Realize?" from Yoshimi, the amusing new trailer trash country recording "Thank You Jack White (for the Fiber-Optic Jesus That You Gave Me)" and droned out cover versions of Kyle Minogue's hit "Can't Get You Out of My Head," Beck's "The Golden Age" and Radiohead's "Knives Out."

 

Elastica - Radio One Sessions For a brief, glorious period, Elastica was the sauciest, sexiest, punkiest force on the rock scene. The year was 1994, and after a couple of two-minute-long, angular, guitar-driven singles, their first album came out and rode to the top of the rock charts, thanks to its irresistibly crunchy single "Connection."

It was six years before the band would unleash its garage-rock follow-up, The Menace and then promptly break up.

But from 1993 to 2000, the band recorded a number of electrically charged punky performances of songs from those two albums, and a couple that appeared on compilations, for the BBC.

Now Koch Records offers Elastica: The Radio One Sessions, capturing 21 BBC-recorded performances of the band ripping through fan favorites such as "Annie," "Line Up," "Generator" and more.

Every song's a jaunty, strutting, rough diamond.

 

Madonna - American Life Madonna
American Life
(Maverick/Warner Bros.)
½


Madonna's 10th studio album is a mixed bag of studio tricks, ranging from the successful guitar-strummed, melodic personal revelations of "Intervention" and "X-Static Process" to the insipid, grade-school rappish rhymes grafted on the otherwise solid electrolash backbeats of "American Life" and "Mother and Father."

The disc also includes her recent techno-chop theme song to the James Bond film Die Another Day.

The Material Girl has fully moved away from her co-writing relationship with ambient techno soundscape artist William Orbit to a full-time collaboration with Mirwais Ahmadzai, who worked on her last album, 2000's Music.

Madonna's new songs still try to merge techno with hooky pop melodies and the occasional earthy fill of acoustic guitar, but despite that ambition, American Life too often fails to hold the ear enthralled.

The bleeping background synthesizer loops tend to wear thin quickly, offering little of interest after a couple of repetitions.

Ahmadzai seems to thrive on making his dance tracks staccato by turning the volume button on and off on his mixing board (songs seem to cut in and out by artificial, rather than intentional design) as much as by his choice in drumbeats.

He also utilizes a host of sound effects and warbling, buzzing synthesizers, but sometimes it's as if he's just twisting sound-effect knobs back and forth just for the heck of it.

Madonna steals a trick from Cher's arsenal, running her vocals through an effects box on "Nobody Knows," making it sound like Cher's "Believe."

The album's best tracks come in the quiet guitar and string ballad "Nothing Fails" ("you could take all this, take it away and I'd still have it all/cuz I've climbed the tree of life and that is why I'm no longer scared if I fall.")

She returns to the roots of "Like A Prayer" at the song's end, dragging it out a little too long with a gospel choir backing her as she sings "I'm not religious, but it makes me want to pray."

Madonna closes the album with "Easy Ride," a condemnation on the false "you can have it all for nothing" aspects of the American Dream, singing "I want the good life/but I don't want an easy ride/what I want is to work for it/feel the blood and sweat on my fingertips."

That sentiment may come off as a little condescending from the Material Girl, but it's a strong lyric nevertheless, and a good cap to an album that seeks to spotlight various aspects of the American Dream and American Life.

Madonna breaks no new ground here; in a career based on left turns and fresh looks, it may be about time for her to enter a new artistic chyrsalis.