- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 7, 2002


A Rush of Blood to the Head


Winning a Grammy Award for a debut album can't be easy, as it puts even more pressure on a band to beat the dreaded “sophomore slump.” Coldplay managed to push past this familiar jinx, however, and has delivered one of the year's best albums, a work that stands apart from its breakthrough debut “Parachutes” as it pushes the band in new directions.

People often refer to Coldplay as a guitar band, but lead singer/songwriter Chris Martin's piano is really the dominant sound here. The chorus to the opening track “Politik” really says it all: “Open up your eyes.”

Mr. Martin's voice is more upfront and dominant, as opposed to the airy vocals that were littered throughout the band's debut. The tempos have also been kicked up a notch, keeping many of the songs from fluttering away into morose ballads.

Don't look for guitar acrobatics here most of the licks come out of the Pink Floyd psychedelic playbook and, while atmospheric, don't really break any new ground. Likewise, Mr. Martin is known more for his haunting voice than his deep lyrics, but then again, this is the man who made the words “Look at the stars/look how they shine for you” in “Yellow” into a major hit.

Despite these shortcomings, the band maintains a haunted mood throughout. “God Put a Smile on My Face” uses one picked acoustic note to add a sinister underpinning to the song, that is later reflected in a distorted, echoing guitar melody.

With its simple piano backing, “The Scientist” could have been on the band's last album, but Mr. Martin sounds more confident and assured than he has before.

One of the highlights is “The Clocks,” which uses a haunting synthesizer background matched to an elegant piano line that could have come from Morrissey. The initial chorus is simply “You are,” with Mr. Martin stretching the two words out as long as he can.

A strummed acoustic guitar opens up “A Rush of Blood to the Head,” which seems to have more words in the verses than the rest of the songs put together. The song retains the classic Coldplay elements swirling guitars, disembodied vocals and a chorus that builds and builds yet takes it to the next level.

“A Rush of Blood to the Head” has fewer hooks than its predecessor, but it's a deeper listen, an album that should silence the “one hit wonder” critics and point to a band that hopefully has many more albums left to do.

Derek Simmonsen


Lost in Space

(Superego Records)

Aimee Mann has never been one to sing about sunshine and puppy dogs, but her latest, “Lost in Space,” is one of her darkest efforts yet. Her fourth release plumbs the depths of addiction, regret, obsession and heartache, without the anthemic verses that gave an optimistic sheen to her last album “Bachelor No. 2” or to her soundtrack for the film “Magnolia.”

“All the perfect drugs and superheroes/Wouldn't be enough to bring me up to zero,” she sings on the opening track “Humpty Dumpty,” which happens to be one of the catchiest songs on the album.

The one constant is Miss Mann's unique, somewhat husky voice that often sounds adrift in space. The backdrops are richer and more complex than on her previous albums, adding strings, electronic textures and more electric guitars to flesh out her moody tunes.

Unlike much of her older material, there are few songs that elicit immediate singalongs. The high points include “Pavlov's Bell,” which kicks into hard rock mode for the chorus, and “Lost in Space,” with Miss Mann wearily singing “And I'm pretending to care/when I'm not even there.”

Her voice remains beautiful throughout, even if the material doesn't always do justice to her vocal talents. Musically, “Lost in Space” is a daring step forward, but it is not nearly as catchy or endearing as Miss Mann's previous works.

Derek Simmonsen


Woven in Time

(Sparrow Records)

Steve Green is one of those classic contemporary Christian vocalists from America's heartland who puts out one popular CD after another. His latest album is not an instant classic like his previous “The Faithful,” but what sells his pieces are cuts such as “I Will Go.”

This well-orchestrated song tells of his doubts before going to an obscure place where fame and fortune may not follow. However, he tells God he will plunge ahead nevertheless.

Mr. Green does not plunge into deep waters on this album, unlike in other venues where he has sung about abortion and suffering and death. This is too bad, as this CD seems to come from a universe where God always comes through and where doubts are few.

Some songs are a bit maudlin; other are homey, such as “Holding Hands,” sung to his wife, Marrijean, which is Muzak pleasant.

Although Mr. Green aptly represents the kinds of folks who live in “red America,” he's capable of deeper thoughts than this album conveys.

Julia Duin


Tell Your Friends

(Palace Coup Records)

The Baltimore rock trio Mary Prankster (led by the singer/guitarist of the same name) has made a reputation out of its unique brand of rowdy “cowpunk,” belting out tunes that would never make it into a family newspaper. Underneath the joke-punk songs, though, was often a tender heart, the promise that perhaps there was a serious side to the woman who sang “All I want's a boy that'll make me some mac and cheese.”

On the band's third album, “Tell Your Friends,” that promise of lyrical and musical maturity is finally delivered. Miss Prankster's playful spirit is still evident, and the band (made up of Phil Tang on drums and Jon E. Cakes on bass) continues to rock as hard as ever, even as the songs explore the depths of anger, bitterness and heartbreak more deeply.

There are several surprises here, including a tender piano ballad (“Arm's Length”), a tear-drenched Patsy Cline-style country closer “Darlin'” and even a Latin-flavored tune “Spill.” The band has played around with styles before, but never as effectively or with as much gusto.

Miss Prankster's literary influences are especially prevalent on “Brave New Baby,” a hard-charging rock number with some great lines (“When the flame retardant books came out, they had to burn the readers”).

The highlight is a two-part song, “Tell Your Friends,” that is broken up into two separate and distinct halves.

Part one comes early in the record, an upbeat kiss-off song with the kicker “You can tell your friends that I changed.” The line takes on new meaning in the second part (dubbed “part deux”), that takes place toward the end of the album, and opens with the simple, yet poignant rhyme “You're wrong/And I'm right/And that won't change/Not even if we fight.”

Few bands can manage to balance out confessional songwriting with hook-heavy rock, but Mary Prankster makes it look easy. Available at shows and through the band's Web site (www.maryprankster.com), “Tell Your Friends” is a true high point for a strangely unique band.




(J Records)

Fifteen-year-old Mario sings what almost every adolescent girl wants to hear out of earshot of mom and dad. With the production assistance of such consistent hitmakers as Warryn Campbell (who produced Brandy), Gerald Isaac (one of the men behind Mary J. Blige) and label mate Alicia Keys, he also has the persistent hook and often complementary track thing down pat.

The problem is that so much of “Mario” is pat, redundant and (understandably) juvenile. But what's most surprising for an album targeted to our vibrant youth is that it's mostly slow. And, considering that Mario has one of the more accomplished adolescent voices since Brandy and Monica, that's kind of a waste.

“Girl, stop playing games with me and let's get it on tonight,” he begs at the bridge of “Just a Friend 2002,” a percussive, inescapable (it's among the five most-played singles on pop radio) reworking of the Biz Markie rap single.

“Don't play hard to get; you ain't got a thing to lose,” he insists on “C'mon,” which makes buoyant use of Lyn Collins' classic R&B rouser “Think.” Then, on one of the better showcases of his Stevie Wonder-like flourishes, the blues-lite “Never,” Mario promises his intended that he won't lie or treat her poorly.

So, parents of teenage girls, if you haven't gotten the picture that Mario's debut is just one long request for a date, those pinups taped all over her bedroom walls should tell you all you need to know.

Cox News Service

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