Noteworthy reviews of recent CDs
Massive Attack - 100th Window (Virgin): A new Massive Attack album comes along about as frequently as a Quentin Tarantino movie. Sad to report then, that the first album in five years by the British pioneers of ambient music is a misstep. True, it does start off impeccably on "Futureproof." The track's brooding keyboard figure and shimmers of electric guitar are underpinned by layers of percussion and bass lines that hum like a power grid. The ethereal "What Your Soul Sings," too, is as good as anything the band has done, thanks to an intimate but impassioned vocal by Sinead O'Connor. Elsewhere, lethargy and a lack of ideas are evident. - Stephen Humphries
Zwan - Mary Star of the Sea (Reprise): The band's name seems inspired by a villain out of a Flash Gordon serial. There are no less than three guitarists in the group. And it sounds as if there's an octopus manning the drum kit. But the most remarkable aspect of Zwan is the creative rebirth of Billy Corgan, the driving force behind the now-defunct Smashing Pumpkins. In his former outfit, Corgan often sounded about as cheerful as a Dostoevsky audiobook read by Johnny Cash. Here, he's positively exuberant. From the joyful acoustic stomp of "Come With Me" to the fusion of grunge, glam, and garage rock on tracks like "El Sol" and "Endless Summer," Zwan's debut is a summer record par excellence. - S.H.
Chicago (Epic/Sony): "Give 'em a show that's so splendiforous. Razzle Dazzle 'em and they'll beg you for more!" sings Richard Gere. This musical journey pops with drama, humor, and energy. Gere sounds as if he's having fun when he whistles and sings about diamonds and cashmere coats in "All I Care About." Renée Zellweger (who comes from a nonmusical background), pulls off a sultry sound in "Roxie." And Catherine Zeta-Jones belts out "All That Jazz" in a full, robust voice. A few tunes drag a little, but "Cell Block Tango," and "Roxie," make up for the lulls. - Lisa Connors
Ry Cooder with Manuel Galban - Mambo Sinuendo (Nonesuch/Perro Verde): "Give the guy what he wants," said President Clinton on his last day in office. The guy? World-renowned musicologist/guitar player/producer Ryland Cooder. What he wanted was permission to return to Cuba to follow up his 1997 Grammy-winning "Buena Vista Social Club" with some additional recording while the iron was still hot. Among the results of his second visit is this rollicking collaboration with '60s Cuban guitar-hero Manuel Galban. Simpatico would best describe their intertwining guitar lines and a shared enthusiasm for old-school mambo, reverb-drenched '60s surf guitar, and horn parts purloined from "The Dating Game." The music's not the least bit slick, and the rhythm section cooks with gas. - John Kehe
Kathleen Edwards - Failer (Zoe/Rounder Records): Chiming, country-tinged guitars and world-weary vocals spinning honest tales of broken love and loss make Edwards the most talked-about Canadian import since Joni Mitchell and Neil Young. No shrinking violet, the self-proclaimed "loud-mouthed girl" holds nothing back lyrically - if this were a movie it would definitely be R-rated. But the disc's jubilant choruses, infectious hooks, and keening harmonies belie Edwards' downbeat themes in a way that makes feeling bad sound pretty darn good. - J.K.
Steve Wariner - Steal Another Day (Selectone Records): Good country songs need several elements: Lyrics that tell life stories, memorable melodies, and flashy instrumental work. Wariner has been doing this for nearly three decades, and the songs on "Steal Another Day" are no exception. Grab the tissues before listening to "Snowfall On The Sand," in which an unexpected turn in the weather helps a boy connect with his estranged father. Then start toe-tapping to "Ride This Rocket," filled with fiddle, dobro, and guitar work that would make Chet Atkins proud. All in all, this breezy collection is very easy on the ears. - Vic Roberts
50 Cent - Get Rich or Die Tryin' (Shady/ Interscope): Rapper 50 Cent wants you to believe he is a man of steel. Badly. In his debut album, which sold more copies in its first week than any other album in history, he puts his battle wounds on full display. But while the scars are more than talk - murder, crack, and poverty forced their way into his life before he hit junior high - 50 Cent's insecurities obscure any attempt at a message. He trumpets his anger, then claims apathy. He doesn't care about women, then challenges them to really love him. The contradictions overpower some stellar beats, and he embraces the problems that much of hip hop struggles to resolve. He may top some music charts, but it will take more than violent boasts for 50 Cent to prove his abilities as a true mover and shaker in hip hop. - Elizabeth Armstrong