No Limit Top Dogg
On his fourth album, No Limit Top Dogg, Snoop Dogg finally gets back (at least temporarily) to the g-funk that shaped his career at the top of the decade. Now that he's one of Master P's soldiers, though, Snoop must play in P's army, which means an arsenal of No Limit rappers--C-Murder, Silkk the Shocker, Mia X, Fiend, and Mystikal, among them--make cameos here. No matter; No Limit Top Dogg is both the label's and the artist's most consistent long-player.
Snoop rolls along with able beats produced by onetime mentor Dr. Dre (his old-school R&B jam "B Please," which features Xzibit, is one of the album's tightest tracks), who breaks up the P-style monotony that adorns much of the rest of No Limit Top Dogg. The No Limit factory, now infamous for its assembly-line belching of a new, seemingly interchangeable CD every week, works overtime for Snoop, its greatest acquisition. At least half of it is as cold and robotic as anything beneath those high-gloss covers, but there are moments of warmth that crack through.
Still, Snoop's interests are, irony of ironies, very limited. Women and weed are tops. The gangsta life is downplayed, but tales of guns to heads and finger-on-the-trigger bravado remain. No Limit Top Dogg is also Snoop's, and No Limit's, most soulful album, an open box of surprising texture and depth ("Somethin Bout Yo Bidness," produced and featuring Tony Toni Tone's Raphael Saadiq, has genuine heart). Or maybe it's just reaching in these days of dull rappers and lifeless hip-hop: Nothing here packs the wallop of Snoop's "Gin and Juice," and certainly nothing even comes close to the importance of his and Dre's initial set of songs on The Chronic. He may not yet be ready to lead Master P's infantry, but he unmistakably isn't one of his faceless grunts.
'78 'til '79: The Lost Album
Australia's Go-Betweens were always on the verge of something approaching big in the '80s. Championed by the hip music press, treasured by the underground, and ignored by virtually everyone else, the group made a succession of albums throughout the decade that never quite cashed in on the promises and hype. There were some fine records--constructed by the songwriting team of Robert Forster and Grant McLennan--but nothing ever stretched out of their dank corner in the jangly pop basement.
'78 'til '79: The Lost Album, a thirteen-track compilation of a couple early singles and an abandoned debut album, propels the myth and plugs the band's formula--minimalist folk pop with a slight punk edge--into a lo-fi machine of initial hope. From off-key guitar solos to the often-lousy (as in nonexistent) production, The Lost Album is a vintage fragment of the Go-Betweens' history for those who care about such things. No new fans will be won here (although Forster and McLennan will be making an acoustic trek across the States, including a June 10 stop at the Grog Shop, in support of it); it's not that kind of project.
Which leaves the core cuts on this album hanging between previously released indie singles--like 1978's "Lee Remick" and the following year's B-side "Don't Let Him Come Back"--and a few demos recorded for the proposed debut (their official bow, Send Me a Lullaby, wasn't released until 1982). The Go-Betweens, chugging along on both sloppy amateurism and youthful ambition, virtually walk through their contemporary live set on The Lost Album. The songs, a mix of the two leaders' often-contrasting styles, are sketches of where the next decade would take the band.
Forster and McLennan are in the developing stage here. They toss off some good lines--of actress Lee Remick: "She was in The Omen with Gregory Peck/She got killed; what the heck"--and some songs that stretch their pop versatility ("Love Wasn't Made for You and Me"). But there's a tentative vibe to much of The Lost Album that would become more assured with age, even if they never did achieve the golden gloss for which they strived.
Bitter to Sweet
Children of showbiz stars who decide to hang out their own shingle have always faced a double-edged sword: Mommy or Daddy's name brings them notice as well as a ton of baggage.
Take singer/songwriter/guitarist Taj Bachman, who has to face comparisons with pop Randy of Bachman Turner Overdrive, who was never known as the poet laureate of rock or as one of its subtlest practitioners. It wouldn't be a stretch to say that all father and son share is a good knack for a pop hook, as Bachman comes off as a cross between Lindsey Buckingham and Bryan Adams. Not exactly cutting edge, perhaps, but still nothing to sneeze at.
Songs like "Darker Side of Blue" and the Bo Diddleyish "You Don't Know What It's Like" are made for airplay, and their arrangements show a mature restraint. Bachman doesn't bark his vocals like his old man, and he doesn't feel the need to play guitar hero, choosing to take the George Harrison style of melody-focused lead player. He falls on his face a few times lyrically ("This is the last time you'll do me wrong/So listen when I speak/I can't go on forever turning my cheek/Your whipping boy's about to speak"), but fans of guitar-based pop needn't always listen to classic rock--in this case, the son also rises.
Jazz fusion pioneer and legendary guitarist Larry Coryell was always a self-absorbed, immature mess of a person. Judging from the sound of son Julian's newest, Bitter to Sweet, he might just have been a man a generation ahead of his time, as those traits that have historically made for domestic troubles and barroom fights are now the spun gold of alternative rock. Here, malice and narcissism make beautiful music together.
Coryell shares Dad's love of exotic chords and a similar if not stronger voice, but the younger must have dedicated as much time to creating sonic paintings with his guitar as his dad did practicing scales. Songs like the excellent "Lying" and "Nothing Left to Use" benefit as much from his otherworldly guitar textures and unusual structures as they do his Sting-like vocals, and he tellingly is at his best at his most quiet and reflective ("Looking for Confessions").