Suzanne Thorp's flutes still flit through the compositions, and guitarist Grasshopper still creates jagged patterns he calls "shapes." But without the balance of Baker's baritone warble, Jonathan Donahue's weightless singing gets lost amid the aural cosmos. Though the Rev's music continues to hint at Pink Floyd circa Ummagumma and Meddle, its own originality has faded. Some of the odds and ends are well-placed: "A Kiss From an Old Flame (A Trip to the Moon)," for example, is carved up by a musical saw. Other ornamentation includes French horn ("Racing the Tide"), muted trumpet ("Everlasting Arm"), and a few absurdly infectious "soul" segues. But by the time "Peaceful Night" lollygags its way through, it's apparent Mercury Rev isn't feeling frisky enough to challenge the stale slacker mantle.

-- James Sullivan

Beenie Man
(Island Jamaica)

Blessed may be his first American album, but Beenie Man is a veteran of the Jamaican dancehall scene, having been recording since the age of 9. A household name in Jamdown, he represents that upper echelon of DJs recognizable on a first-name basis -- Shabba, Cutty, Buju, Ninja, et al. What sets him above the legions of dancehall artists is his talent for seamless patois verses and memorable lyrical hooks. Crazy cadences, wicked inflections, and social commentary pepper Beenie Man's songs, while producers Dave Kelly and Patrick Roberts provide plenty of bumping riddims for Beenie to ride.

Blessed is the reggae equivalent of a hardcore rap album. Although Beenie is certainly a lyrical O.G., he differs significantly from his gangsta rap counterparts: He eschews the shock value of gun talk and slackness, but his consciousness flows are no less potent. Beenie plays the role of a ghetto reporter with an eye on uplifting the masses. In "Stop Live Down Ina de Past" (released in Jamaica as "Memories"), he cautions that "Memories don't live like people do/ They always remember you/ Whether things are good or bad/ It's just memories that you had." The song is really a plea for cultural pride: "I can't believe or understand/ Why some approach white man tradition/ Talk about dem a cowboy and indian/ Me an African and me a black man/A who pon de mic de fabulous Beenie Man." Similar themes are found on songs like "Freedom," "Heaven vs. Hell," "Man Moving," and the title track, which spotlights Beenie Man's Rastafarian beliefs.

Until very recently, there was a distinct cultural gap between the old school of reggae and the trendy new wave of dancehall. Now, young artists like Buju Banton, Capleton, and Beenie Man are bridging the divide: They examine societal problems, violence, and economic disparity just like old-time reggae artists, but relay the messages over state-of-the-art beats. On Blessed, Beenie Man puts forth the idea of a "World Dance," one which brings people together as surely as it foments social change.

-- Eric K. Arnold

Love 1966-1972

"Falling in love with love/ Is falling for make-believe," the old song goes, but the musical genius of Love, the seminal '60s psychedelic-pop band led by the enigmatic Arthur Lee, is proving too real to dismiss. With the two-CD Love Story anthology, Rhino Records has extravagantly expanded on the label's first-ever rock compilation, Best of Love, from 15 years back.

This release comes nary a year after Alias Records released a Love tribute album featuring the likes of Urge Overkill and Teenage Fanclub, and Mazzy Star covered Lee's "Five String Serenade" from his 1992 import (a song not included here). At the heart of the Love revival is a growing acknowledgement that the group was, if not "the breakthrough band of the '60s" (as Rhino's Phil Gallo states in bold type), then at least purveyors of a unique pop vision that powerfully channeled the energy of the early West Coast counterculture. Arthur Lee was an innovator in every sense of the word; in an early production job, he became the first person to hire Jimi Hendrix as a sideman.

Emerging in early 1965, Love was the first multiracial rock group of the psychedelic era, and soon became the darlings of the L.A. underground, influencing both the touring Rolling Stones and local hipster Jim Morrison with inventive sonic arrangements and original modes of dress. Love became the first rock outfit signed to Elektra, for which it recorded four albums in three years, including Forever Changes, ranked high in a mid-'80s critics' poll as one of the best rock records of all time. By 1968, though, fast living had taken a toll on his bandmates (and his audience), so Lee fired them and started anew. However, his creativity continued to shine despite an increasingly harder sound. Love Story compiles nearly all of the Elektra tracks (including Forever Changes in its entirety), highlights from some of Lee's later incarnations of Love, and comprehensive liner notes and photos (a Rhino specialty). A classy testament to a classic band.

-- C. Kenyon Silvey

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