God Bless the Go-Go's

"'Pretty good'?!" she said, a wolfish snarl twisting her kittenish features. "Dude, the new Go-Go's album sucks!"

Miss Kitty Twister, girlcore goddess, princess of pop, was tearing into me. It was an 80s Teen Movie Prom Night Party, and I'd just given kudos to the new Go-Go's album. Crowned with her trademark cat-ears, poured into the same sexy black taffeta dress she'd worn to prom, tipsily swaying on her dominatrix boots, Kitty wasn't having it. "It's awful" As she gestured, the drink in her hand sloshed onto the flailing cat-o-nine-tails wrapped around her wrist. "Just a buncha fifty year old hags tryin' to make a comeback, like all the other washed-up old farts who won't give it up and go away!"

Okay, that one hurt, since the Go-Go's ain't that much older than me, and here I was hangin' with dames who still fit into their prom dresses. But I wasn't gonna argue with a semi-sloshed Kitty Twister, hell no. But, from a safe distance, let me say in rebuttal

It ain't that bad. God Bless the Go-Go's isn't a great album, but we're talking about bubblegum here. And, as before, the girls deliver catchy melodies and lovely vocals with a punky punch, exemplified by the opener "La La Land," the zippy pro-zaftig anthem "Throw Me A Curve" and the driving "Unforgiven." But songs like the latter and the sorrowful but swinging "Apology" show some of the Behind the Music wear'n'tear, a strain of rueful bitterness that climaxes in "Daisy Chain," a history of the band's rise and fall. These gals have done some hard living, but still make some sweet rockin', and if you liked 'em before, you'll like this. -Bill Widener

Ben Folds
Rockin' the Suburbs

After finishing the tour for The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner the disappointing third effort from pop trio Ben Folds Five, singer/songwriter/piano player extradonnaire Ben Folds left bassist Robert Sledge and drummer Darren Jesse to strike out on his own.

But instead of sailing into new, uncharted artistic territory, Folds merely rediscovers the best elements of the groups first two albums, the uptempo, piano-hook laden Ben Folds Five and the somber, melancholy Whatever and Ever Amen.

Present is the smart-ass, smug sense of humor as Folds picks up an electric guitar in the title track and skewers the angry white boy rap-rock of Limp Biskit and their clones.

Present are the insistent melodies, with the 80s-esque "Annie Waits," complete with drum machine and hand claps, and "Gone," another of Fold's ex-songs (though "Song For the Dumped" is still the ultimate musical middle finger to ex-girlfriends).

Present are the detailed character sketches, as Folds spins tales of both the high-spirited (the hippie-turned-yuppie in "The Ascent of Stan" and the drugged up goofball of "Not the Same") and the heartbroken (a downsized newspaper man in the tragically sad "Fred Jones Part 2" and a suicide victim in "Carrying Cathy").

But what does set Rockin' the Suburbs apart from Folds' previous work is the deeply personal nature of "Still Fighting It," an elegant musing on fatherhood, and "The Luckiest," a loving valentine to his wife.

Two perfect examples of what makes Folds unique: His ability to create deft character studies, telling stories emotionally and succinctly within the confines of expertly crafted pop tunes. -Matt Mulcahey

Various Artists
Darker than Blue: Soul from Jamdown 1973-1980
Blood and Fire Ltd

Get up, stand up. Put on those rallying shoes, roll up your spliffs, you're going to a reggae festival. Or at least you'll feel like you're there. A compilation of some of the most influential music of the 70s will get people movin' and standing up for their rights. Country and reggae music doesn't have much in common, but when it comes to redoing a great song, you can always count on their genius to make it their own and sometimes even better.

That is exactly what this CD is all about. Delroy Wilson, for example, took "Get Ready" by Smokey Robinson and created a completely different experience. Still the same famed lyrics, just a new intensity. On the same note, Jimmy London performs "I'm Your Puppet," originally by James and Bobby Purify, making it more than just a pop hit.

The 70s were a time of standing up for many people in Cuba and Jamaica and this was the music that energized and motivated the era. Many of the musicians featured in the compilation were inspired by 1960s R & B, jazz, pop and soul which are covered.

This CD is an excellent way to wrap up a Jamaican-style summer. Especially for those who love to hear music that somehow provokes their limbs to get up and move to the rhythm. So now that you have a reason for an escapist style party, throw some Christmas lights up in the tree in the backyard, extend those arms, raise those knees high and enjoy the evening. -Valerie Massie