Various Artists
(Go!/War Child/London)

Those of us who stayed awake during fifth-grade English class no doubt remember the grammatical axiom that double negatives cancel each other out, a significant rule to bear in mind when considering Help, a new compilation featuring the cream of the current pop Brit Pack. How else do you explain the fact that, by combining the single most reviled format in modern music history (the concept album) with what is surely its closest runner-up (the benefit album), the caring folks at War Child have assembled a release that is not only tolerable but also quite often enjoyable? Grandma was right: The wonders never cease.

The beneficiaries in this case are the young victims of the Bosnian war (which was Krist Novoselic's cause celebre last year; he wrote the liner notes), and the concept was to record Help in a day and release it within a week. No small feat, considering that the album is comprised of 20 tracks by at least as many artists; indeed, the clock-racing goal was only met with the aid of planes, helicopters, couriers, and ferryboats. Putting aside the fact that with those resources, the organizers could've airlifted half of the kids in question and dropped them off in Beverly Hills, the results are surprisingly worthwhile -- even without the "it was done in one day" and "it's for a good cause" qualifiers.

Oasis' album-opening "Fade Away" (apparently featuring Johnny Depp on a rather inconspicuous lead guitar) offers a refreshingly stripped-down look at the neopsych Wunderkinder; Suede's take on Robert Wyatt's "Shipbuilding," while characteristically histrionic, is also uncharacteristically sincere; Radiohead's Kinks-on-Quaaludes "Lucky" isn't without a certain sleepy-eyed charm; and priestess of piety Sinead O'Connor's bare-bones reworking of Bobbie Gentry's "Ode to Billy Joe" has a chilling resonance.

Which is not to say that Help isn't without its misfires; certain tracks may benefit the children of Bosnia, but they won't do much to help the careers of the artists. Stone Roses, prolific lot that they are, weigh in with a perfunctory live performance of "Love Spreads" that only underscores the wonders of studio wizardry; Blur's instrumental "Eine Kleine Lift Musik" is more an afterthought than a composition (as is Terrorvision's loungy, improbably titled "Tom Petty Loves Veruca Salt"); and if Manic Street Preachers had any friends, they surely would've told the band that the world doesn't need another version of "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head." Still, at a 60 percent success rate over 20 tracks, Help fares better than many full-blown studio productions cluttering the racks lately.

Besides, it's all for a good cause. Which isn't saying nothing, you know.
-- Tim Kenneally

Various Artists
Return of the DJ
(The Bomb Entertainment)

Back in the day, when hip hop was but an itty-bitty sperm in the nuts of street culture, the DJ reigned supreme. Hip hop's forefathers, like DJs Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash, and Afrika Bambaataa, waged sonic wars in the Bronx for musical and auditory supremacy, melting instrumentals ranging from P-Funk to the I Dream of Jeannie theme together and thereby creating the breakbeats that pulled b-boys (then called break dancers) off the walls. Today, as many artists choose DATs over the traditional iron horse 1200 Technics turntables for their live shows, DJ tricks and scratching (stroking a record back and forth against the needle on a particular word or beat) have lost their mass appeal.

Bay Area mad scientist and The Bomb hip-hop magazine Editor David Paul could spark a technic(al) renaissance with Return of the DJ, an international 12-track polemic on why the wax will never relax. DJs of all ilks -- battlers, tricksters, and those who produce beats for the Jeeps -- speak with their hands here. Illadelphia native DJ Ghetto and NYC's Rob Swift mercilessly slash and burn rhythms, Swift's wizardry shining when he strips apart then puts back together a Biz Markie intro. Then there's the buttery-smooth "The Chronicles" by the Bay Area's own Peanut Butter Wolf. Of course, S.F. kings of the cross-faders leave melted turntables in their wake. Former world DJ champ Mixmaster Mike's "Terrorwrist" masterfully combines his sense of humor (count how many times you hear "mike") with his incredible battle skills as he reduces beats into liquidlike sounds. Not to be outdone, Invisible Scratch Pickles members Disk, Shortkut, and Q-Bert, another world champion, make it clear that no beats are safe as they push the envelope with their blisteringly fast scratching; they even somehow transform a scream into a fly guitar riff.

Although some excellent DJs are absent here (who may possibly appear on an upcoming second volume), this compilation's solid production highlights amazing tricks that will leave listeners muttering, "Damn, how'd they do that?"

The double vinyl Return of the DJ is available at local stores or by calling 821-7965.

-- Philippe Shepnick

Barry Black
Barry Black

5ive Style
5ive Style
(Sub Pop)

Barry Black is not an Irish folkie but the rather outrŽ, mostly nonverbal solo project of Archers of Loaf frontman Eric Bachmann. 5ive Style is not a bad pseudofunk band performing in suburban meat markets but a rather good pseudofunk band with champion Guyville pedigree. As the surf/exotica revival finds cushy work providing between-song filler for modern rock stations, these two discs suggest the innovative directions in which instrumental rock is headed.

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