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By GINA VIVINETTO, GERRY DOYLE, SAMANTHA PUCKETT, ROBERT FRIEDMAN and HELEN A.S. POPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 26, 2000


LOU REED, METAL MACHINE MUSIC (BUDDHA) Famed pop music critic Lester Bangs called it "the greatest record ever made." Well, you can judge for yourself now that Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music has finally been reissued on compact disc. Yep, for the first time since it was released 25 years ago, Reed's "landmark" album is on CD.

But, before you rush out to buy it, know this: Metal Machine Music is 64 minutes of squealing, squalling guitar feedback. An experiment in drone.

Are you a fan of Sister Ray, the 17-minute chaotic guitar and viola exorcism by Reed's former band the Velvet Underground? This album, recorded in Reed's Manhattan loft, makes Sister Ray sound bouncy and full of melody. I'm not kidding.

"Most of you won't like this, and I don't blame you at all," Reed wrote in the album's original liner notes, included here with a new essay by David Fricke of Rolling Stone. It's fun to watch critics scramble to put MMM in "context" to contemporary art rock. Reed still insists MMM is art; he even tried to get it released on RCA's classical label, back in the day.)

So how does MMM fit in? Did Reed influence modern electronica? Industrial music? That grating drill in the dentist office? Curiously, Reed was hitting his commercial stride when he released MMM, which many interpreted as a flip-of-the-bird to RCA, which, demanding more "product," wanted to cash in on Reed's sudden success.

Then MMM divided camps: Many thought Reed was being arrogant and lazy. Others, like Bangs, who wrote obsessively about Reed in Creem, viewed the record as a sign of Reed's integrity, "a sick, twisted, dunced-out, malevolent, perverted, psychopathic integrity."

Who knows what Reed was trying to prove? But now a new generation of music lovers can, uh, savor MMM. But remember: If you're yearning for melody, structure, rhythm -- heck, even a simple guitar riff -- look elsewhere. Want the sounds of a cat with its tail slammed in the door, or perhaps fingernails traveling down a chalkboard? You've got your record right here, pal.

Grade: A. Or, um, F. Sheesh, who knows?

-- GINA VIVINETTO, Times pop music critic

* * *

U2, ALL THAT YOU CAN'T LEAVE BEHIND (UNI/INTERSCOPE) U2 is traveling farther and farther from home.

Since 1987's The Joshua Tree, U2 hasn't stayed put on the music landscape. Riding Bono's lilting lyrics and propelled by the unhurried power of the Edge's guitar riffs, the Irish group has moved from straight-ahead protest rock to polished, electronica-tinged social commentary. And with its new album, All That You Can't Leave Behind, U2 has wound up on yet another musical continent.

Call it the Land of the Barca-Loungers. The band still is singing about what's important to it, but this album is far more laid-back than anything else in its catalog. At first blush, it sounds like U2 has lost its edge. But with each replay, it becomes apparent that the energy and earnestness still are there. They've just taken their shoes off and are watching CNN sprawled on the couch. There's no mediocrity here. The songs are just so understated that it takes a while to focus on them.

U2's musicianship hasn't faltered at all, either. The album relies far less on synthetic sounds than the heavily layered Pop, and the naturalness is refreshing. Even within the confines of the album, each song has a different flavor without marring the disc's continuity. It leads off with the driving Beautiful Day and peaks with Wild Honey, a delicious track with haunting harmonies and a folksy sound that has its arms around the shoulders of CCR and the Grateful Dead.

So the music's great. The weird thing is, U2's greatest strength always has been its lyrics. And at times, the lyrics on the new album get kind of, well, drippy. For example, the words of the first single, Peace on Earth, are about as subtle as a thermonuclear explosion in a rain forest. Where I grew up/There weren't many trees/Where there was we'd tear them down/And use them on our enemies, Bono croons. If, say, Third Eye Blind wrote those lyrics, it would be a gargantuan improvement. But U2 really is beyond telling listeners the obvious.

However, the lyrics are only a little bit of turbulence on a pleasant musical journey. U2 has again gone someplace new, and it hasn't forgotten anything important.

Grade: A

-- GERRY DOYLE, Times staff writer

* * *

KATHIE LEE GIFFORD, HEART OF A WOMAN (UNIVERSAL) -- With 12 copies sold nationwide, Kathie Lee Gifford's new "pop" album gracelessly clogs music store shelves like lint in a sweatshop air duct.

The music? It's bad. All synthesizers and drum machines, Heart of a Woman is a real blandfest. And Gifford? She has a decent voice. We know that from the Carnival Cruise Line commercials. Her whispery vocals on Reason Enough are creepy, yes, but who are we to judge? If the lady wants to make a pop record, let 'er rip.

Heart of a Woman is a meaningless collection of slow jams without the jam, and with an occasional veer into the inappropriate. It's Always Been You would be better suited for a Britney Spears or 'N Sync album, and Make My Day -- well, it's just weird. Its NC-17 theme doesn't quite mesh with its music, which I think is what they use for Busch Gardens commercials.

Oh! And let's not forget about that remix at the end of the album. Wow, it really makes you want to get up and dance. No, no, it doesn't.

The remix of the already edgy The Hardest Part offers the Talented Mrs. Gifford singing, "He don't look like you -- he don't remind me of you at all." Something about improper English and Kathie Lee don't mix.

Something about pop music and Kathie Lee don't mix.

Grade -- D.

-- SAMANTHA PUCKETT, Times staff writer

* * *

RYAN ADAMS, HEARTBREAKER (BLOODSHOT RECORDS) Few records ever got off to a better start than this one: A few seconds of disarming studio patter segue into the chiming guitars of To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High), which sounds like some lost Eddie Cochran masterpiece.

Nothing else on this CD matches the energy and spirit of that opening number, but that's intentional on Adams' part. This is a record for the brokenhearted who aren't quite ready to show their faces in public again. Still, even the most lovelorn wouldn't have objected if Adams and his mates had rocked out just a couple more times.

Adams is a major talent, but Heartbreaker only teases at what he's capable of. He borrows from all the right people: AMY evokes Yoko-smitten Lennon, Damn, Sam (I Love a Woman That Rains) sounds like freewheelin' Dylan. The bone-chilling Oh My Sweet Carolina could be Gram Parsons reincarnate, right down to the harrowing Emmylou Harris harmony. And Adams often does a dead-on Steve Earle imitation.

But Adams, late of Whiskeytown, is still honing his own voice. Aside from the opening number and the hilariously heartbreaking Come Pick Me Up, he's still a work in progress. And I'm expecting that the unremitting lugubriousness of this CD will discourage repeated listening for all but the most wretched fans.

The next Ryan Adams is liable to be his very own masterpiece, though.

Grade: B

-- ROBERT FRIEDMAN, Times staff writer

* * *

GREEN DAY, WARNING (REPRISE) When Kurt Cobain got wind of the frat boy set diggin' his music, he retaliated by writing even better music in an effort to alienate them. When it didn't work, he killed himself. Or something like that.

When Green Day caught that same whiff of success, it retaliated by having Queer-core band Pansy Division open for its big arena tour. Ha! Ha! Score one against the homophobic alterna-rock jocks!

Unfortunately, the good-humored Berkley punks followed that joke by making a bunch of mediocre records using pretty much the same three chords, with some acoustic guitar thrown in to break up the monotony.

I really wish I loved Warning. Or even liked it half as much as the band's first LP, 39/Smooth (now reissued with bonus tracks 39/Smoothed Out Slappy Hours), when I heard it at my friend Paul's house way back in the '90s. Yes, I was creeped out to hear a Green Day song played on Seinfeld -- the same Green Day that I once saw at Tampa's premier dive bar, the Brass Mug. But no, I'm not saying Warning is boring because I think Green Day "sold out!" (I'd sell out if somebody would just ask.)

Warning is boring because it's more of the same anthemic Green Day power punk and a couple of polkalike drinking songs sans the fire and the fun. (You may have noticed I'm not even bothering to discuss any songs in particular.) What makes it worse is that now there are all those bands with the numbers in their names that sound just like it. Almost makes me miss the days when everybody sounded like Nirvana.

Grade: C.

-- HELEN A.S. POPKIN, Times correspondent

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