Sarah McLachlan
Surfacing
(Arista/Nettwerk)


Surfacing, McLachlan's fourth studio album is a portrait of an artist who has truly come into her own in terms of maturity and confidence. After the smash breakthrough of 1993's Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, which yielded cross-format hits in "Possession," "Good Enough" and "Hold On," McLachlan took some time off to regroup, rethink and retool. The result is an album of stripped down beauty, and the McLachlan-led summer Lilith Fair tour (which hit Tinley Park's World Theater last weekend) celebrating the artistic expression of women.

Surfacing opens with its first single, the easy rolling gem "Building A Mystery." Nine more songs follow, each accentuating the quiet beauty of McLachlan's voice (sometimes she sings so langourously she comes across like fellow Canadian songstress k.d. lang!).

More than any of her past efforts, Surfacing relies on McLachlan's gift for siren-song melody and quiet introspection. While her past hits like "Possession" and "Drawn To The Rhythm" have relied in part on broad wall-of-sound production and throbbing basslines to sell McLachlan's delicate phrasings, Surfacing pairs her often with only a piano or very subdued keyboard and backing beat for accompaniment. The result is an album of subtle beauty and grace that plays perfectly on a romantic evening or quiet morn. This is one of the best albums of 1997.

 

The Vents
Venus Again
(MCA) 
   ½


Venus Again is filled with crunchy, punchy rock from the power pop school of Cheap Trick and Enuff Z'nuff. The Vents may be the first of a new wave of throwback six-string-slingers to breakthrough at radio; I heard the album's first track "One Way Ticket" on Q101-FM yesterday afternoon.

It's about time radio programmers sat up and noticed that groups like The Vents, Coward and last year's Fastball were making delectable guitar-based pop that aches for repeated radio play (unlike many other "alternative" rock bands which simply make one ache).

This is sharp, albeit simple stuff. Good riffs, Brit-pop nods in the somewhat nasal, sometimes Lennon-esque vocals, and a sense of power chord construction that reminds one of the best pitches of the late '70s from the likes of Cheap Trick and The Cars (no keyboards here though). It's not all backwards looking; "Form In The Line" sounds a lot like Buffalo Tom in a particularly jaunty mood. But when the band hits its stride on Venus Again, rather than concentrate on the album's pedigree however, I prefer simply to "crank it up."

 

The Alan Parsons Project
The Definitive Collection
(Arista)
   


Alan Parsons put out some of the most inventive synthesizer-based pop music of the '70s and '80s before drifting into obscurity; this two-CD collection offers some of his best work, from "I Robot," and "Eye in the Sky" to "Time," and "Games People Play." A must for Parsons fans who haven't converted their collection of APP albums to CD.

 

The Manhattan Transfer
Swing
(Atlantic)
  


This homage to the days of The Andrews Sisters and scatting swing jazz is, quite simply, a lot of fun. Some of the song list predates the birthdates of the members of the Transfer — The album opens with Jelly Roll Morton's 1924 "Stomp of King Porter" moves to Count Basie's challenging multi-part 1937 "Sing A Study In Brown" and then, with the help of Asleep At The Wheel, glides through an adaptation of a 1932 recording by the Kansas City Orchestra of "Sing Moten's Swing." There are some less-than-inspired attempts: the "wa-wa-wa"s in "A Tisket, A Tasket" — a questionable song choice in itself — don't sound very genuine and the lyrics of "Java Jive" make Hanson seem like literary masters. Mostly, it's a musical carnival ride to the past — sort of like listening to your grandparents or parents record collection in stereo without all the hisses and skips. It closes with a live recording of the downhome country swing standard "Choo Choo Ch'Boogie," which wraps things up like the bow on a ribbon.

 

Motley Crue
Generation Swine
(Elektra)
   


When Motley Crue split with singer Vince Neil in 1992, it was one of the last nails in the coffin of metal's successful radio reign of the late '80s, early '90s. Five years later and the musical landscape is littered with the carcasses of the Crue's peers (anyone heard from Poison lately?), but now Neil is back with the Crue, and surprisingly, the band still packs a wallop of a metallic right hook. They've modernized a little (David Ogilvie, one of the big names in the industrial scene, produces a couple of tracks) but mostly, this is the same old hard rockin' Crue.

An anachronism in the midst of Pearl Jams, Filters and Smashing Pumpkins?

Maybe.

But an enjoyable departure from the samey sounds of alternative rock. "Find Myself" is a foul-mouthed, musically adventurous rant that serves as the Crue's middle finger to the "alternative" bands that have taken its place in the "noise" slots on radio. "Afraid" comes off like a Pyromania-era Def Leppard song and the title track "Generation Swine" serves up a pure-Crue guitar slalom of riff, attitude and catchy melody that is an instant reminder of why this loud obnoxious band managed to elbow aside the easier-to-swallow likes of Mariah Carey and Michael Bolton on the Top 40 charts in the '80s with the likes of "Dr. Feelgood" and "Girls, Girls, Girls." Heck, they Nikki Sixx even offers a closing ballad accompanied by strings and piano to son "Brandon" (take that, Bob "Butterfly Wings" Carlisle). This stuff is refreshingly, unpretentiously heavy and, well, fun.

Pump up the volume.