Out There

Lots of cash and free time
Capitol Records

Johnny Depp needs Gibby Haynes for the credibility, the kind every actor-turned-rocker needs to be taken seriously; and Gibby Haynes needs Johnny Depp for the high-profile visibility, the kind every art-punk needs to be taken profitably. And so P, the album and the low high-concept side project, is neither as embarrassingly bad as it should have been nor as fiendishly great as it should have been. Rather, it's good for what it is--only, what it is, they probably have no freaking idea.

It kicks off with a folk-punk Daniel Johnston song about a guy who saves cigarette butts for a poor girl, slips into a nonsense noise-rocker, then lands on its feet with an deceptively simple and sweet ode about Michael Stipe that's either a cynical in-joke or a sneering jab at a Hollywood culture only the truly famous can understand. Either way, the references to River Phoenix (who OD'd outside Depp's Viper Room, where P was onstage) and Kurt Cobain ("I'll shoot myself with a gun in my head/That's what this town would have me to do") give away the punch line: It's great to be famous, whether you're dead or alive.

From then on, it's a Butthole Surfers record with the blues (courtesy Austin's Bill Carter), done in by a dumb-ass cover of Abba's "Dancing Queen" and redeemed by the fact it's actually the worst thing on the record. And the distorted, dirty, dumb "White Boy Sings the Blues" is the parody only a purist could appreciate.

Dinosaur rap
Mr. Smith
LL Cool J
Def Jam Records

A decade after the fact, LL Cool J is the forgotten man, rendered obsolete in a modern hip-hop culture whose history goes back to yesterday's Dr. Dre discovery. And it shows: "Hip Hop," an homage to the pioneers and early superstars (Kurtis Blow, Public Enemy) and a name-drop of the chart-toppers (Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg) who wouldn't know LL from Kal-El, the cut plays out like a thank-you...no, a farewell, as he sidesteps into his weak TV series and laughingstock obscurity.

LL's always been a sucker for ballads ever since Radio, but now he sounds too tired to knock you out. So he'll bore you to death, building an entire track on film titles ("She let me dive deep like her panties was Waterworld...When I do my thing, my balls is hairy like The Lion King") and meaning it with a straight face. Maybe this just compensates for the fact he was always a bit overrated to begin with.

--Robert Wilonsky