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Reviews of recent pop and rock recordings by Deseret News staff writers:

THE REMBRANDTS; "LP" (EastWest Records America). * * *

The Rembrandts - Phil Solem and Danny Wilde - have re-emerged with a vengeance thanks in part to their extremely catchy song "I'll Be There for You," the theme for the hit TV show "Friends." But that Beatlesque tune (you'd swear George Harrison was in there singing lead) is just the airwave-familiar tip of the retro iceberg that is the duo's third album.

These singer-songwriters are so steeped in the music of the past they've titled the album "LP" - the designation way-back-when for a "long player" (and a not inaccurate description for a collection that clocks in at 62 minutes). Further nostalgia is provided by grooves painted on the CD, and the set kicks off with the pop of a phonograph needle hitting vinyl! The songs themselves run a gamut of styles befitting a hit radio station circa 1969 or '70, if you discount a few anachronistic hints of the new-wave '80s.

Besides "I'll Be There for You" (an unlisted 15th cut belatedly expanded and tacked onto the end of the album), the Rembrandts try a bit of psychedelia ("End of the Beginning"); manipulate the Byrds' jangly sound (or is it Tom Petty's these days?) on "Don't Hide Your Love" and the even better "This House Is Not a Home"; and get Marc Bolan/T. Rex frantic on the edgy "Lovin' Me Insane." Other memorable cuts include the melancholy "Drowning in Your Tears" (reminiscent of a more recent hitmaker, Richard Marx . . .); the anticipatory "April 29" (is it about a lovers' reunion or the relief of Tax Freedom Day?); and the emotional power ballad "Call Me."

If there is a downside to this throwback style, it's that Wilde and Solem keep those listeners with long memories trying to figure out who each succeeding track most sounds like. . . .

Fortunately, this audio detective work fades after repeated lis-ten-ings, for the Rembrandts are nothing if not accomplished guitar-driven pop-rock songsters. This is more than musical copycatting, more than dead-on homage - these guys are appealing musicians who would just happen to have fit snugly in the pop scene most any time in the past quarter-century. Even so, their infectious songs - with often-clever lyrics and ringing riffs - prove fresh and inviting in the '90s.

- Ray Boren

STEVE TAYLOR; "Liver" (Warner Alliance). * * *

The thing that drew me to this little live album is the opening cut, "Jim Morrison's Grave."

Though the title and topic of the song are intriguing, the music proves not too bad as well. In fact, the overall impact is very pleasing to the ears. And to realize each note, drum beat or vocal track (including the audience's cheers) was not tampered with or overdubbed made this performance more credible and enjoyable.

Taylor's live-at-last energy is contagious and encourages, if not propels, movement. That's why the album is called "Liver." It simply sounds that way.

The clean, punk-distorted hyperactivity shines through loud and clear in cuts such as "I Want to Be a Clone" and his trademark "Bannerman." A couple of classic-rock influences peer through, including "Escher's World," the bluesy "The Finish Line" and the Mellencampy "Violent Blue" - which incidentally ends with a casual fire drill.

However short this album is, it keeps bouncing from open to close and gives the listener a little dose of Taylor's live shows.

- Scott Iwasaki

ORB; "Orbus Terrarum" (Island). * * * 1/2

Music of the uniquely techno-tuneful Orb is the kind of thing that sends my wife running from our office at home. "It's just the same thing over and over," she complains. And she's right, of course. But then, sometimes so is Rachmaninoff. He just didn't have a synthesizer.

Well, OK, that's a stretch. And redundancy is certainly one of the hallmarks of Orb. (So maybe Ravel is a better comparison.) The beat drives the music and the melody only gradually changes, and only in subtle ways - but in its industrial, mechanized way this is mesmerizing stuff. Especially this new "grounded" album, "Orbus Terrarum," which attempts to take the sound into earthbound terrain and allows it to be, if anything, even more experimental than past efforts. No "Little Fluffy Clouds" to be found here.

But the Orb guys (Dr. Alex Paterson and Jimmy Cauty) haven't sacrificed their sense of humor. "Speak directly to me. We are in complete harmony. We are inseparable, within time. But we have learned patience in 200 million years." Patience is what the uninitiated might need, of course, but this kind of brief dialogue riff (taken from the first cut, "Valley") is amusing. Spoken in a robotic monotone and sometimes taking on the persona of an electronic, space-age lounge singer, such snippets of verbiage only occasionally introduce or intrude on the music.

Most of the time, however, Orb's driving rhythms just pound, pound, pound, until the listener begins to feel as if the music is being heard during a jaunt through a weightless mall in the nearest space station.

Paterson and Cauty might cringe to hear this, but despite the earthbound titles ("Oxbow Lakes," "White River Junction") and the Roman-style lettering and ancient-map album cover, each selection here is about as far out in the universe as it gets.

Still, "Orbus Terrarum" is the group's most thematically cohesive and consistent album yet. Fans will not be disappointed.

And yes, Dear, it is redundant. But it's also quite exhilarating.

- Chris Hicks

RATINGS: four stars (* * * * ), excellent; three stars (* * * ), good; two stars (* * ), fair; one star (* ), poor, with 1/2 representing a higher, intermediate grade.