Dazed and unamused
Spirit of '73
Various artists
550 Music/Epic Records

The wonderful thing about post-modernism is the ability to recycle the kitschy and forgotten without irony. In the mid-'90s, all things cliched and ridiculous have become the things of homage and honor, the jokes are now told with straight faces, and the dead are resurrected with deadpan earnestness. So this tribute to the female rock of the '70s as reproduced by the female rockers of the '90s is less a product of that decade and more a result of this one--an Olivia Newton-John song next to one by Patti Smith, the forgotten Ferron and Yvonne Elliman remembered alongside Joni Mitchell and the Runaways. Finally, the distinctions of quality and worth blurred by the happy tears of nostalgia.

That this disc, a Rock for Choice fund-raiser, holds up at all is testament to the performances: Rosanne Cash imbues Joni Mitchell's "River" with a louder-and-prouder defiance and beauty; that dog. transforms Maria Muldaur's "Midnight at the Oasis" into a frantic lark; and Cassandra Wilson breathes desperate life into Roberta Flack's "Killing Me Softly with His Song." The rest evokes the unintentional chuckle (Babes in Toyland's take on "More, More, More" by the Andrea True Connection), and the uninspired yawn (the Indigo Girls...damn, that name sounds familiar).

Screwing around
We Care
Virgin Records

Songs about screwing sung by a woman who looks and sounds like she's 13 is no new high-concept: Lolita-as-lead-singer worked for Malcolm McLaren and Bow Wow Wow, and it elicits the same result here--breathy girly-girl voice whispering comes-ons and fuck-fantasies over seductive tribal rhythms. It's juvenile and probably disposable when the sun comes up; but for every dance-floor rave-up there's an equally compelling come-down, Mazzy Star as rendered by three Swedish noise fetishists and Massive Attack's Tricky. It's the album to play during the party, and the one to stick in the stereo once everyone's gone home.

Whale is more than its one insistent hit single (last year's "Hobo Humpin' Slobo Babe," about a rich girl who sleeps with poor boys for a laugh) and its accompanying video (which featured singer Cia Berg done up in pigtails and braces, licking her lollipop). Rather, Whale is a handful of insistent singles about lovers who are "Young, Dumb & Full of Cum" sung by a woman who promises over and over that "I'll Do Ya."

--Robert Wilonsky

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky