Following are reviews of new pop, rock and R&B releases:
SUPERGRASS; "I Should Coco" (Capitol). * * 1/2
The English three-man band Supergrass is spunky, hyper-threaded, '60s-throwback punk. That pretty much wraps it up.
In-your-face arrangements specked with tinny keyboards, machine-gun drums and angry, nasal voices fill most of the songs. The opening assault of "I'd Like to Know," "Cut By the Fuzz" and the dynamic, surf-flavored "Mansize Rooster" bring Supergrass' irreverent personality to life.
The pop-music refrain of "Alright" mixes well with the classic psychedelia of "Lose It" and the bumping ska of "Lenny."
While such influences as the Beatles hover over each tune, early Pink Floyd, with its space and glory, can also be heard during "Strange Ones" and "Sitting Up Straight."
The Dylanesque intro to "Sofa (Off My Lethargy)" is deceiving. Once the song actually takes off, the galaxian feedback of the London Suede can be heard through the reverb.
While "I Should Coco" is a worthy debut for the rowdy English trio, the album's originality is nil.
CATHERINE WHEEL; "Happy Days" (Fontana/Mercury). * * 1/2
The third album from this, yet another British import, is OK, though after a while the over-distorted guitars do sometimes get in the way and make the tracks sound alike. Some may call this "style," but the effect is a bit redundant.
But give the band credit. The crunchy sounds and solid songwriting could easily put this band on many a modern- and album-rock station playlist. "Waydown," "Empty Head" and the punky "My Exhibition" display the band's musical inclinations, which include melodic and almost-metal leads throughout.
A surprise can be found in the appealing, spacey background vocals in "Judy Staring at the Sun," where Belly's Tanya Donelly makes herself heard. This is one of the album's best songs and escapes that aforementioned redundant routine.
A progressive tune called "Little Muscle" is similar to the music of Oasis, while "Eat My Dust" blends the sentimental and psychedelic.
Overall, on "Happy Days" Catherine Wheel comes across as a down-to-earth London Suede, and while the songs aren't as orbital, they do have a cosmic feel.
JASON WEAVER; "Love Ambition" (Motown). * * *
The rich sound of Motown soul rings through Jason Weaver's debut, "Love Ambition."
While the name might not ring a bell, his credits will.
This young crooner's pipes have been heard by millions and millions of people all over the world - Weaver was the singing voice of the young Simba in Walt Disney's "The Lion King" motion picture and soundtrack recordings. He was also heard as young Michael Jackson on the ABC miniseries "The Jacksons: An American Dream."
But the powerful voice that propelled "Can't Wait to Be King" is now a little more refined - more mature. The lamenting "I Can't Stand the Pain" and the soulful "Love Ambition" bring to mind mid-puberty Jackson with his enunciated control.
The hip-hop bump of "On Top of the Hill" and the "new school" slink of "For the Love of You" mix well with jazzy ballad "So In Love" and the croonfest of "My Love."
Tight production, sweet harmonies and full vocal control are the strong points of this album. It does have one small problem though - it's just too short.
JOHN WAITE; "Temple Bar" (Imago). * * 1/2
John Waite, a vocalist who has fronted the Babys and the Journey-offshoot Bad English, is off for another solo outing with "Temple Bar."
This time around Waite offers refrains of country, cynical humor, folk and, of course, pop. Also included are a couple of crafty remakes that attempt to expand Waite's form of mellow, adult-oriented rock.
The first single, "How Did I Get By Without You," is staple Waite, in his "Missing You" intimate confession mode. The pop-rock "Price of My Tears" moves with pleasant beats and catchy harmonies.
A smooth, dark and lonely remake of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine" is one of the album's strongest tracks. Other remakes include a slightly altered version of Van Morrison's "Someone Like You" and an acoustic back-porch approach on Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," in which Waite's rich tenor is juxtaposed with guest guitarist Jeff Golub's dobro - an interesting mix.
The folksy "More" reaches for the nostalgic sentiment of long, ramblin' road trips in a convertible, while the malevolent humor of "Downtown" is reflected in the combined back-alley style of Waite and Styx member/co-writer Glen Burtnick.
Those who like Waite's uniquely toned voice and mellower works should enjoy this album. Those who want to hear a little edge reminiscent of the Babys and Bad English will have to look back to those releases for the time being.
SUGAR RAY; "Lemonade and Brownies" (Atlantic). * * 1/2
Don't let the name fool you. This is not a middle-weight fighter but a hard-core hip-metal act resembling Beastie Boys and Red Hot Chili Peppers - just not as catchy.
That in itself doesn't make the album "Lemonade and Brownies" bad. The disc is quite good, actually. Just a bit monotonous at times - though that monotony makes way for a couple of innovative surprises.
Roaring vocal tracks are highlighted by heavy bass, friction-laden guitars and tight snare snaps. While the opening cut, "Snug Harbor," reflects a little acid jazz, the second selection, "Rhyme Stealer," cranks out blinding guitar leads and extended rage.
"Hold Your Eyes" sounds so urban you'd think Dr. Dre played a hand in the mix. Still, the album isn't all style mixing nor all serious.
Take the single "Danzig Needs a Hug."
Those familiar with the song's muse, Glenn Danzig, knows the man is as angry as the devil and a hug is the last thing he'd want to be bothered with. Still, Sugar Ray may be right. A little love and understanding might be the key to tame rock 'n' roll's demon child.
The album is definitely not for everyone. It sports explicit lyrics and suggestive, yet censored, cover photos. All the better to enhance its mosh-pit humor.
RATINGS: four stars (* * * * ), excellent; three stars (* * * ), good; two stars (* * ), fair; one star (* ), poor, with 1/2 representing a higher, intermediate grade.