Pet Shop Boys - Bilingual
(Atlantic): The Pet Shop Boys' mix of techno, rock, and disco rhythms have always been a hit with the club scene, creating such an exhilarating atmosphere that it's almost impossible to sit still. "Bilingual," their eighth studio album, continues in that same direction, only this time there's more of a latino flavor to their songs: Drum cadences, percussion, and horn arrangements dominate the album, and some Spanish lyrics are sprinkled throughout. Their dance-groove songs celebrate the joys of clubland (in "Discotecca") and love (in "Red Letter Day"). The Pet Shop Boys prove that techno is still alive in the '90s.
-- Lisa Leigh Parney
R.E.M. - New Adventures in Hi-Fi (Warner Bros.): R.E.M.'s latest effort cops the same brooding attitude as "Automatic for the People" and "Out of Time," but lead singer Michael Stipe is still moaning about life's rich pageant, though his voice is a bit rougher. There are a few welcome differences: Stipe's lyrics are a little less obscure, a tad more emotional; he pillories talk shows in "New Test Leper;" and offers fresh political irony in "How the West was Won and Where It Got Us." The high point of the album is "E-Bow the Letter," a haunting duet with punk diva Patti Smith.
-- Emily Donahue
Greg Brown - Further In (Red House Records): Simplicity is the essence of Greg Brown's songs. They include common-sense observations, unique expressions of well-known feelings, and images that are palpable in their familiarity. In "Where Is Maria," Brown touches on the nub of mid-life realization in one line, "Let's face it friends, these are station wagons and we're our folks." The playful "China" perfectly captures mental absence despite physical proximity. Polish these gems with the exquisite acoustic accompaniment present here, and you've got one of the best contemporary folk albums of 1996.
--- Jef Scoville