For the Record

Princely pop songs

A deity and some lesser mortals rock with a passion

NICHOLAS JENNINGS December 23 1996
For the Record

Princely pop songs

A deity and some lesser mortals rock with a passion

NICHOLAS JENNINGS December 23 1996

Princely pop songs

For the Record

A deity and some lesser mortals rock with a passion

EMANCIPATION

The Artist (formerly known as Prince) (NPG/EMI)

He infuriates with his preening image, his propensity for excess and, not least, his everchanging monikers. But The Artist, as Prince is now calling himself, deserves this much credit: no one in pop music can match his audacious talent, or his prolific output.

Emancipation, his first release since he broke free from his longstanding contract with Warner Bros., is—at its threedisc, 36-song, three-hour length—a stunning tour

de force. With four cover tunes, including Joan Osborne’s One of Us, and with original songs ranging in style from rap and funk to gospel and big-band swing, it is also a sprawling collection. There is barely a weak track in the bunch. Obviously, his less restrictive new record deal with EMI, as well as marriage and fatherhood—subjects covered in The Holy River and Let’s Have a Baby—have brought out the best in the former Prince. Now, if he could only settle on a name.

THE BLUE HYSTERIA

Rheostatics

(Cargo)

Toronto’s Rheostatics have a knack for writing pop songs about unlikely, usually Canadian, subjects. In the past, the quartet has penned tunes about sport heroes Wendel Clark and Roberto Alomar. Recently, the National Gallery of Canada commissioned the group to write a score to celebrate the Group of Seven. There is less flag-waving on the Rheostatics’ latest album, The Blue Hysteria. But Canrock icon Neil

Young does pop up in a dream sequence on Four Little Songs. And his influence can be heard in Bad Time to Be Poor, an understated lament about neo-conservative times. The Blue Hysteria does have a stronger melodic quality than most of the band’s earlier material: the Rheostatics seem to have opted for hooks over Canadian heroes.

TIDY

Kinnie Starr (Violet Inch/Outside)

She calls her musical style—a mix of poetry, heavy-metal, hip-hop and folk— “chunkhop.” And there’s no question: her wild blend of spoken verse, crunching guitars and slamming beats puts Vancouver’s

Kinnie Starr out on the edge of pop’s mainstream. But not too far out. This is, after all, the age of pop hybrids. And Starr’s second album, Tidy, shows easily as much innovation as albums by Beck and Alanis Morissette. Maybe more. Who else uses a spare punk delivery to celebrate The Great Outdoors, as Starr does on Loons? Or heavy-metal thunder to convey both passion and political rage, as on Rime Gone Rong? The album’s masterpiece is the joyful Praise! with

its eastern chants and percussion. When she raps exuberantly that “there will be frisbee and nakedness in lakes,” Starr sounds every bit like pop’s Next Quirky But Big Thing.

NEST

The Odds (Warner)

TXTry humor and self-deprecating wit have V V made the Odds and the Kids in the Hall not-so-strange bedfellows. The Vancouver quartet has collaborated with the comedy troupe on both videos and movie soundtracks. But on the Odds’ fourth album, Nest, the band shows more of its serious side, concentrating on clever songs about winners and losers in the game of love. Say You Mean It Wondergirl is all raging hormones, while the country-tinged Heard You Wrong wallows in self-doubt. The best song is the Elvis Costello-influenced Suppertime, about the temptations of success. Best known for a certain wackiness, the Odds can now add passion and poignancy to their attributes.

NICHOLAS JENNINGS