Champagne Kiss
Dancing in the Pockets of Thieves
Troubleman Unlimited

Language is a protean beast. Words change meaning from year to year, place to place, group to group. "Terrific" was born sister to "horrific"; once a badge of honor, "liberal" became a label to be shunned; then, describing music, there's "industrial."

For several years, "industrial" has meant "disco in black leather," just one of many subsets of electronica. But originally it meant something much darker. Coinciding with the rise of the punk movement, bands such as Cabaret Voltaire and Factrix created a form of music that soon became known as "industrial" - indeed, that was the name of the pioneering Throbbing Gristle's self-owned-and-operated record label. It was music so anti-commercial it made Rotten and pals sound like bubblegum. "Industrial" was the buzzing, grinding, clanging death rattle of the new old order.

Despite the deceptively nelly moniker, Champagne Kiss is one of the best examples of true industrial I've heard in ages, from the robotic march "Cement is Blue" to the hell-bent "80s Centair" to the sex-sick seduction of "Deconstructing Genius." "This telephone is screaming lust!" wail the boys in the pulsing "Stereo Relapse," against an accordion fingered by damned Communards. Slinking synths and clinking metal supply the hook for the hypnotic "Monarch Syndicate," while a relentless clatter is the bed on which the lovely melody of "Black Violin" writhes like the Marquis' favorite date. And don't miss the short but sweet hidden track. This power trio of whisper-thin lads recently threw down a fine mess of metal machine musik at Mecca. With its combination of futurist aggro and hopeless romanticism, Dancing lives up to that performance. -Bill Widener

k.d. lang
Live by Request
Warner Bros.

k.d. lang has a black belt in belting. Please do note the many distinctions that set this woman aside from, say, Michael Bolton - but in a live setting, the two are definitely one step closer. Whether it's in the microphone or the mixing, the singer's big notes here are met as equals only by the entire band pitching in all at once. It's a bit of a distraction - but then, isn't the tuneful soaring just what someone would want to hear from the live lang?

Nonsense. This singer's completely unique: an idiosyncratic country-to-ingenue eternal outsider, she pushes her voice to go the extra distance so that she might reach in and claim some of the audience's heart. She wants in on the parcel that so easily goes to other singers who just whisper, but who fall in line with expectations, embodying an ideal that eases the audience's own sense of falter in the quivering dances of romance, acceptance, and identity. Volume is only part of what lang can offer.

This is the first time that a cross-section of her work has appeared in one place, so the sympathetic near-novelty country song "Big Boned Gal" gets a heightened counterpoint when programmed beside "Summerfling." And the triptych of "Barefoot," "Constant Craving," and "Wash Me Clean" give off the spark that the entire set should have, given the talents involved. But it seems as if there was an agenda where it had to be proved that indeed lang can overwhelm a hall with her voice. A few surprises among the selections would've offered more than that simple requirement, which is met by Track 6, her inevitable take on Roy Orbison's "Crying." A little fun like "Miss Chatelaine" helps out, and it's always good to see mature sophisticated songs get some spotlight, but this album disappoints slightly when it aims low. -T.E. Lyons

Better Than Ezra
Beyond Records

With their fourth studio album, New Orleans trio Better Than Ezra has completed their transformation from angst-filled, brooding post-grunge rockers to peppy, catchy pop confectioners.

As alternative rock gasped for its last breath, Better Than Ezra began to branch out an embrace more styles with 1998's eclectic How Does Your Garden Grow?, in which the band abandoned their edgier sound for more electronic beats, uptempo pop and beautiful ballads that complimented singer/songwriter Kevin Griffin's lyrical and vocal skill.

On Closer's first cut, "Misunderstood," it is clear that the band is jumping headfirst into bubbly pop. The song is almost insistently catchy and full of hooks, a style that permeates much of the album.

The first single, "Extra Ordinary," is a Barenaked Ladies rip-off with "Sincerely, Me," watered down punk a la Blink 182, and "Recognize," a Limp Bizkit-like tune, also extremely derivative. These tracks are blatant attempts to duplicate the sounds Better Than Ezra thinks people want to hear.

But, as with all their albums, it's the tracks that fill in the gaps between the "singles" that set this band apart.

It's in the acoustic guitar driven "A Lifetime," a wonderfully written song about the power of music to capture moments and memories, the strings of "Closer" and the shuffling old-school blues beat of "Get You In," the albums best song, that the band really finds their groove.

With Closer, Better Than Ezra tries to force their way back into the mainstream by trying to emulate the style of today's pop music.

But they fail. And that is a compliment. Griffin is too good a songwriter and the album is too diverse to make it fit in with the pre-fabricated pop or angry white-boy rock that saturates radio. -Matt Mulcahey