NEW ORDER, GET READY (Reprise) For children of the '80s like me who locked themselves in their rooms, dressed all in black, listening to Joy Division's Love Will Tear Us Apart over and over, New Order is the musical equivalent of comfort food. Now that we're getting older and acquiring all those nasty responsibilities, we should be thankful New Order is still making music.
I've been jumping out of my skin waiting for Get Ready to hit the shelves since seeing the video for Crystal (which is the best single of the year, by the way), and it was well worth the wait. The songs aren't all tidy electronica a la Blue Monday _ most of it is guitar-driven pop, with lots of fun electronic bits that perfect the New Order sound.
The band's one mistake _ and it's a big one _ was giving egomaniac and former Smashing Pumpkin Billy Corgan (who can't even sing) guest vocals on Turn My Way, an otherwise lovely song. But it's forgivable, seeing as how the rest of the album is so darn good, and I'm so darn grateful for its release. B+
SAMANTHA PUCKETT, Times staff writer
THE CRANBERRIES, WAKE UP AND SMELL THE COFFEE (MCA RECORDS) The Cranberries have a penchant for cliche album titles, evident on 1999's sorry Bury the Hatchet. Although the title isn't much better this time around, the Cranberries' new album marks a full return to form for the Irish rock group whose last few releases have failed to capture the strength of older material.
Wake Up and Smell the Coffee is evenly divided between faster-paced pop and reflective ditties that place great emphasis on lead singer Dolores O'Riordan's striking vocals. A testament to her power, O'Riordan's sinewy voice buoyantly carries the album _ even in places with glaring lyrical weaknesses.
O'Riordan can make anything sound good. On the album's opening track, the fey Never Grow Old, she sings, "Birds in the sky/they look so high." For most singers a lyric this bad would be the ultimate pitfall, but O'Riordan's delivery compensates.
The title track explodes with assaulting guitar riffs. It's reminiscent of the group's older material such as the radio hit Zombie. Just as you think O'Riordan begins to drown in song, her voice pierces the surface, more brazen than ever.
The ebullient This Is the Day simply rocks. The Cranberries close the album with the intimate Chocolate Brown, recorded live. Its ruminative pace leaves the listener with a sure sense of satisfaction. B
_ BRIAN ORLOFF, Times correspondent
LIVE, V (MCA RECORDS) Live used to make kinetic rock music with a message _ emphasis on used to. Lead singer Ed Kowalczyk had the vocal pipes and writing talents to lead his group to the top of modern rock radio charts. (Sigh. Those were the good old days).
Now that Kowalczyk has found spiritual nirvana, his songs are about nothing. His writing is pseudo-spiritual drivel, cliched at best. That's unfortunate. But, alas, now enlightened Shaman Ed and pals have allowed their standards to drop significantly, and with them drops the caliber of V, Live's _ you guessed it _ fifth album.
The band relies on uninspired musical arrangements. Each song sounds like a generic piece of nu-metal garbage that modern radio serves up for the angst-ridden teenage audience. Guitar chords thrash. Drums wail. It's a sonic nightmare.
Lyrically, Kowalczyk has the gall to name-drop his band in not just one but two songs. Other pop culture references abound. In the trite People Like You Kowalczyk sings, "In a dream I had I was on a stage with Queen." Some lyrics read as if they're straight from Kowalczyk's self-righteous diary: "Take away my TV/It's all decay."
Not even radio single Simple Creed, which features guest work by Tricky, too talented for Kowalczyk and cohorts, is engaging. Only Call Me a Fool, with its harmonic string arrangement, captures the beauty Kowalczyk sings about. D-
OZOMATLI, EMBRACE THE CHAOS (INTERSCOPE RECORDS) This might be one of the best bands you've never heard of.
Ozomatli lives up to its name, the Aztec god of dance, with 11 tunes that beg to have the volume cranked up. It's at once hip-hop, mariachi, salsa and ska. Comparisons are hard to come by, but think Los Lobos with horns and a rapper, and you'll be getting there.
The music offers more than just a good time, too.
Ozomatli has its roots in social activism, and its lyrics _ half in English, half in Spanish _ reflect the freedoms of speech and protest. To drive home the point, the group includes sound bites in the title song from when the police killed their concert at the 2000 Democratic national convention: "Please allow us to disperse peacefully. We are attempting to comply with your order. .
. Please don't shoot."
Who could ask for more than dance music with a message? A-
_ JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK, Times staff writer
JOHN MELLENCAMP, CUTTIN' HEADS (COLUMBIA RECORDS) If anything, John Mellencamp is consistent.
He has been telling stories of the heartland through introspective roots rock ever since he dumped the fake last name "Cougar" in the mid-1980s, instilling his political commentary on America through songs that have become classics, such as Pink Houses and Rain on the Scarecrow.
Mellencamp does it again on Cuttin' Heads.
On the first single, Peaceful World, a highlight at the recent VH1 Concert for New York City, Mellencamp warns against complacency over racism, political correctness and "the devil" in America's pursuit of peace. It has become an anthem of sorts since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.
He takes a critical look at the America of salesmanship and salaries, strip malls, handguns and heresies in Crazy Island. And he attacks the use of racial slurs in the title track, which features an unusual (for Mellencamp) rap by Public Enemy's Chuck D.
Then there are the songs about women, love and self that Mellencamp likes to sing.
This CD might not be his best, but it's pretty darn good for a guy who has been bringing us music for 22 years. B+