Wild Orchid 
Oxygen
(RCA)
  ½


If the Spice Girls are falling apart, the three femmes of Wild Orchid are more than ready to take their place — on the adult contemporary charts, anyway. Wild Orchid broke through with their easy listening blend of harmony pop a year or two ago, and their new album offers a dozen new songs that have a touch more soul and funk than their blandly pleasant debut. Sometimes veering into Mariah Carey territory (the funky pop of “Be Mine”), Janet Jackson quietness (“You and Me”) and harboring a Go-Go’s wish (they sigh and bounce through a cover of “Our Lips Are Sealed”), Oxygen doesn’t exactly offer a breath of fresh air, but it does leave behind an attractively understated scent.

 

Elvis Costello with Burt Bacharach 
Painted From Memory
(Mercury)
½


After the haunting tease of “God Give Me Strength” by Costello and Bacharach released last year on the Grace of My Heart soundtrack, I had high hopes for this bizarre cross-generational collaboration. Unfortunately, an entire album of Elvis Costello singing lounge songs that seem lifted from a 1972 pop time capsule gets old before track three. The first two songs (and several others, actually) would have been absolutely chilling if Karen Carpenter were still around to sing them. But she’s not, and Costello’s tenuous, strained falsettos and nasal mid-range just aren’t up to the task. His phrasing comes across as painfully shrill rather than emotional in too many places, though, to his credit, he does manage to imbue some vibrato depth to his lower range.

While Costello may be trying to show his love of early ‘70s pop conventions with muted trumpets, lightly sticked backbeats and big production backgrounds, his voice simply isn’t up to the task. “Toledo” is a beautiful song that deserves an impressive vocalist. “God Give Me Strength” (which is included at the end of this album) worked because it actually capitalized on the weakness of Costello’s voice in its expression of despair. But what works once doesn’t work again here. And if Costello can’t sell some of these numbers like they deserve, some of them don’t deserve to be sold. Bacharach’s melodies and orchestrations could certainly benefit from some updating (those trumpets and xylophone lines are just cheesy as heck today) and several tracks lack any spark whatsoever.

Stick to the Bacharach box set reviewed here last week.

 

Motley Crue, Men At Work & Hendrix


Motley Crue’s career seems to have entered a dead end after the public turned a blind eye to the release of its reunion album last year. So naturally, the band is now trying to remind fans that it is more than just the money making machine of the man who married Pamela Anderson. The Crue sold more than 35 million copies of its four essential albums in the ‘80s, and the reasons are collected now on Greatest Hits, a refresher course on Crue metal energy released on the band’s own label. The disc includes the black leather jacket anthems “Girls, Girls, Girls,” “Dr. Feelgood,” “Smokin’ In The Boys Room,” “Looks That Kill,” and 13 others. The band is touring in support of the disc and will play Chicago’s Aragon Ballroom on November 14.

A few weeks ago, Columbia/Legacy unveiled a Men At Work live album called Brazil that covered many of the band’s ‘80s hits. Now the label releases Contraband: The Best of Men At Work which collects the studio versions of the band’s hits. The two discs are out in support of the band’s current tour of America, its first visit to these shores in years (the band played Chicago’s House of Blues last night). Included on Contraband are “Who Can it Be Now?” “Down Under,” “It’s A Mistake,” “Underground, “ “Be Good Johnny” “Dr. Heckyll & Mr. Jive” and “Overkill.”

MCA has been re-releasing a variety of original albums and collections of Jimi Hendrix’s material over the past couple years, but casual fans will probably only want to own the label’s latest offering: Experience Hendrix, The Best of Jimi Hendrix includes 20 tracks of the seminal guitarists most popular songs. Included are “Purple Haze,” “Fire,” “The Wind Cries Mary,” “Hey Joe,” “All Along The Watchtower,” “Stone Free,” “Crosstown Traffic,” ‘ Manic Depression,” “Foxy Lady” and more.

Speaking of Hendrix collections, the Hammer & Lace label, a Polygram arm specializing in benefit albums (their last two releases benefitted breast cancer organizations) has released a compilations of other artists covering the music of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison. These three seminal rock legends all died within the same year, and their legacy still inspires artists three decades later. The proceeds of the disc, called Lost Voices, will go to Phoenix House, the nation’s largest non-profit drug abuse service agency. Nearly all of these songs were released previously and the artists work in a variety of styles, so its listenability from start to finish is fairly erratic. Echo & The Bunnymen lead it off with a dead-on impersonation of the Doors’ “People Are Strange” and Concrete Blonde’s bluesy recording of Hendrix’s “Little Wing” follows. Both of these songs were tracked a decade ago. Billy Idol’s take on The Doors “L.A. Woman” from 1990 and The Pretenders’ Hendrix cover of “Room Full of Mirrors” are included, as is Faith Hill’s countrified Joplin cover of “Piece of My Heart” from 1994. Taj Mahal handles Joplin’s “Mercedes Benz” and Etta James does “Ball and Chain,” both recorded last year. The oldest covers are X’s version of The Doors’ “Soul Kitchen” (1980) and Devo’s 1984 take on Hendrix’s “Are You Experienced?” The album ends with a new adult contemporary ballad mourning “Voices Lost” by Spencer Nilsen, recorded “in memory of Jimi, Janis & Jim.”

Oldies by the original artists (mostly) take up the bulk of the soundtrack to the new movie Pleasantville, on Work Records. Fiona Apple provides a tepid recording of The Beatles' “Across The Universe” (she sounds terminally bored here) as well as of The Moonglows “Please Send Me Someone To Love.” But the rest of the disc features classic sock hoppers like Gene Vincent’s “Be-Bop-A-Lula,” Larry Williams’ “ Lawdy Miss Clawdy,” The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s “Take Five,” Etta James’ “At Last,” Elvis Presley’s “(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear,” and Buddy Holly’s “Rave On.” There’s also Randy Newman’s instrumental “Suite from Pleasantville.”

The TV show Sabrina The Teenage Witch has landed its own soundtrack on Geffen, which has some fun modern pop and rock songs on it.” Series star Melissa Joan Hart checks in with an engaging girl-pop run-through of Blondie’s “One Way Or Another,” Matthew Sweet covers the Fleetwood Mac-ish 1978 hit of Walter Egan in “Magnet & Steel and Ben Folds Five offer their excellent piano pounder “Kate” (though they’ve remixed it with some strings and other sound effects that don’t quite ever meld with the rest of the original track). Spice Girls lead it off with a weak reggae number in “Walk of Life” and Sugar Ray do a Memorex cover of Steve Miller’s “Abracadabra” (is it live [Steve Miller] or is it Memorex [Sugar Ray]...?) Pure Sugar handles a disco 1998 version of The Waitresses’ “I Know What Boys Like” and The Murmurs contribute their bouncy “Smash” cowritten with members of The Go-Go’s. There are also songs from Aqua, Robyn, Backstreet Boys, The Cardigans and Chumbawamba.