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By Times Staff
Published June 13, 2004

AVRIL LAVIGNE, UNDER MY SKIN (ARISTA) Every time I hear Avril Lavigne, I think of something said by Verbal Kint, the villain in The Usual Suspects: "The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist.'

Avril Lavigne is no Keyser Soze, but the greatest trick she ever pulled was convincing the world she did exist.

A couple of years ago, you couldn't open a newspaper without reading about how real Lavigne was, how she rocked on her terms and wasn't just a teen pop star. But none of those writers seemed to have heard her debut CD, Let Go, which was full of the same wimpy crush songs and Disney Channel rock that would soon make Hilary Duff a star.

Now Lavigne is back with the predictably titled Under My Skin. And while the profiles are rehashing the anti-Britney story and highlighting Lavigne's ostensible growth, they're once again ignoring the actual music.

A couple of the songs take a darker turn - that is, if you count songs that are essentially Evanescence and Linkin Park covers and that use the words "pain" and "confusion" as dark. But those attempts at a harder sound are just as manufactured and feature the same 15-year-old diary sentiments as the rest of the CD.

My Happy Ending's peppy chorus could have fit on a Tiffany album: "You were everything, everything, that I wanted. We were meant to be, supposed to be, but we lost it." Who Knows' bleacher-stomping hook is destined for a teen movie's pep-rally climax: "Who knows what could happen, do what you do just keep on laughing. One thing's true, there's always a brand new day."

And I wonder whether Lavigne or co-writer Chantal Kreviazuk contributed these lines in Slipped Away: "Na na, na na na, na na. I miss you, I miss you so bad. I don't forget you, oh it's so sad." (A scrawled note next to the lyrics is the only indication that the song is about her late grandfather.)

I don't mean to sound snide; all of this is more a comment on publicist-duped journalists than on Avril Lavigne.

Sure, Under My Skin is derivative and calculated, but it's also fun and catchy. Linkin Park's faux-angst is unbearable; Lavigne's Take Me Away (the "pain" song) is amusing. It's impossible not to crank up the volume and sing along to the unintentionally hilarious chastity anthem Don't Tell Me ("Did I not tell you that I'm not like that girl, the one who gives it all away - yeah"). And Freak Out is like a greatest hits CD of '90s power-pop-punk (Green Day, Blink-182, Teenage Dirtbag, My Own Worst Enemy) rolled into one song.

In other words, this is a slick, solid pop album. That's nothing to be ashamed of, but no one should pretend that Lavigne is much more than rock's Fantasia Barrino.

Grade: B-

- JOSH KORR, Times staff writer

D12, D12 WORLD (SHADY) Props to Eminem for sublimating his ego on D12 World, the second release from his Detroit posse, D12. Even though the first single, My Band, casts Eminem as a laughingstock of a lead singer who gets all the babes and media attention, the Grammy- and Oscar-winning performer provides lead vocals on fewer than one-third of the tracks. Here, he's just another band member.

The variety of infectious beats and muscular raps save the disc from the repetitiveness that so often plagues hip-hop recordings. The funky I'll Be Damned, Dr. Dre-produced American Psycho, and Git Up, backed by creepy Gothic strings, emerge as standouts. D12 World puts the raps over an Eastern European-sounding melody line.

D12 isn't charting new territory lyrically. There's plenty of profanity, crude sexuality, braggadocio and gunshots throughout. But humor pops up on My Band and a smarmy snippet of the folk classic Kumbaya on a skit titled Steve's Coffee House.

D12 World is a good listen that should tide over Eminem fans waiting for his next release and please those just looking for hip-hop that won't bore. Grade: B

- JANET ZINK, Times staff writer

MAGNETIC FIELDS, i (NONESUCH) Stephin Merritt has been called his generation's Cole Porter for his witty, literate, cabaret-style pop tunes. Critics rave about Merritt and his sundry side projects, and for good reason: Merritt is simply an unparalleled lyricist, matching clever rhyme schemes and quirky bons mots with intelligence and depth of feeling.

And quirkiness abounds on the followup to the Magnetic Fields' three-disc epic 69 Love Songs, an album universally heralded for its brilliance. I is so-named because, well, every tune begins with the letter I.

Apart from his lyrical prowess, Merritt and his collaborators bring a rich sense of melody and orchestration. I Die features a chamberesque violin refrain that opens the tune with a baroque quality. But the album's sound is eclectic. I Thought You Were My Boyfriend sounds like something out of the 1980s with its electronic pop leanings.

On the lyrics front, Merritt delivers some zingers. I Don't Believe You features one of the best in his career. The song's opening line is, "So you quote love unquote me/ well, stranger things have come to be."

The song also boasts a perfect pop melody to match. Grade: A

- BRIAN ORLOFF, Times correspondent

DJ LE SPAM AND THE SPAM ALLSTARS, CONTRA LOS ROBOTICOS MUTANTES (SPAMUSICA RECORDS) Contra Los Roboticos Mutantes, the first studio album from Miami outfit DJ Le Spam and the Spam Allstars, is groovy in every sense of the word.

First, if the beats don't make you move some part of your body, you probably don't sing in your car. And second, the disc breaks ground by helping the LP make the final leap from music listening device to musical instrument.

DJ Le Spam, a.k.a. Andrew Yeomanson, blends the turntables with noodlings from the Spam Allstars, a band of musicians on saxophone, trombone, flute, guitar and timbales. Guest musicians contribute drums, keyboards, congas and violins.

The result is a collection of jazzy Afro-Cuban jams with a hip-hop flavor. Truly groovy. The songs are long, ranging from just over six minutes to nearly nine. That gives plenty of time to be hypnotized by the steady rhythms and charmed by scratch breaks and samples on tracks such as Campanario 64, El Aguafiesta and The Robots' Attack.

DJ Le Spam's last disc, Fuacata Live, was recorded live at a club in Miami's Little Havana and nominated in 2003 for a Latin Grammy in the pop instrumental category.

Tampa is lucky enough to be hosting the band monthly at the Masquerade in Ybor City; the next show is scheduled for Friday. Between appearances, this disc offers a serving of spam that would liven up any inbox. Grade: A

- J.Z.

[Last modified June 10, 2004, 13:29:16]

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