Chocolate and cheese

1994 wasn't The Year of Anything--except great music

Chocolate and Cheese, Ween (Elektra Records) and Made in USA, Pizzicato Five (Matador Records): Somewhere in between smug post-modern appropriation and sincerity lie these two bands--one of which consists of two wise-ass Yankees, the other of which is a Japanese export that succeeds where Deee-Lite failed miserably. Aside from The Black Album, Ween's fourth is the best Prince record of the year--a melange of Philly soul and P-Funk and Middle Eastern rhythms and lounge-rock and lo-fi Latin revenge songs, a creation born of studio craftsmanship and a childhood spent in the suburbs during the '70s. The P5 go more for '60s pop-culture points of reference--John Barry's James Bond theme, Twiggy, Lalo Schiffrin, Sly Stone--but, like Ween, never reduce the sum of the parts to a joke. In fact, it's all done with a rather straight face, which is what finally makes it so much fun.

The Decline and Fall of Heavenly, Heavenly (K Records): Amelia Fletcher's a little tougher than Claire Grogan, but only a little; otherwise, Heavenly is the '90s reincarnation of Altered Images--the frothy, perky, endearing band of a decade ago that recast the classic pop sound of the '60s for a thoroughly modern new-wave age. From the opening "Me and My Madness" (on which Fletcher sings, "I hear strings in songs when they're not there," and is then accompanied by a brief swell of violins) to the closers "Sperm Meets Egg, So What?" and "She and Me," Heavenly is just that--bubblegum-pop born again, sweet songs created by people unashamed to be so wonderfully white.

Pirate Prude, Helium (Matador Records): The middle two songs on this six-song EP (perhaps the longest EP in history) are the Whore Songs: on "XXX," Mary Timony sings that she's not for free, but "I'll take your love if your love will pay me"; on "OOO," she offers herself as candy, droning in a flat and pretty voice that "you can suck me or leave me in the wrapper sticky." The rest of the songs equate love with death, Timony's creepy come-ons doubling as violent threats ("You got a skull, baby, you got a spine, after I'm done with you I'll spit them out like rinds"), and all six songs are set to the most dissonant, harrowing pop songs of the year--like, if Bedhead was fronted by Thalia Zedek and Polly Jean Harvey.

Superunknown, Soundgarden (A&M Records): Twenty years from now, for better or worse, kids will call their classic-rock station and request "Black Hole Sun" the way they tie up phone lines begging to hear "Stairway to Heaven" just one more time; it's as beautiful as it is brutal, as soft as it is loud, classic-(arena-)rock redone brand-new--not the best song on Superunknown ("Let Me Drown" or "Kickstand" possess better riffs, "Like Suicide" is creepier), but a great Rock Single. After regurgitating Blue Cheer-Zep-Sabbath rip-riffs for a handful of records, Soundgarden finally struck upon the right mixture of hard-rock and punk, standing tall upon the same middle ground into which Pearl Jam quickly sinks.

Martinis and Bikinis, Sam Phillips (Virgin Records): As Leslie Phillips, she sang disco for Jesus, extolling His praises over a cheesy technobeat that garnered her a rep as the Madonna of the born-again crowd. As Sam Phillips, she speaks ill of the church, referring to herself and husband-producer T Bone Burnett as "Christian atheists," meaning they believe in not believing. And so here's a record filled with faintly veiled anti-church songs ("Baby I Can't Please You," "Circle of Fire" with its references to "magic ladders in the sky") layered underneath lush, Beatley production--so Beatley, in fact, the record closes with a fiery, threatening version of Lennon's "Gimme Some Truth.

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