Recordings

Stinky Puffs
Songs and Advice for Kids Who Have Been Left Behind
(Elemental)

Making fun of a preteen's artistic efforts (or even his grief) certainly isn't going to win a music critic a humanitarian award -- or even a statuette for Most Draconian, since picking on a kid ain't all that tough. Fortunately, I don't find myself in such a position regarding Stinky Puffs. For even though this band consists of the spawn of various underground rock figures, including leader Simon Fair Timony (begat of half of Half Japanese) and Cody Linn Ranaldo (of Sonic Youth's Lee), and, oddly enough, Simon's mom, Sheenah Fair, on drums, it isn't so second-generation boozh-wah and incompetent as you'd expect. Yes, it's incompetent; yes, it's boozhy. But it's also pretty good, no matter how semi-famous the parents are. Even better, the spasms here remind us just how easy it is to play art noise. Cody's almost as good as his pop. Simon even sports a better sense of humor than his. On "The Vitamin Song," he reads off various vitamins A through E, playing those selfsame chords, until he hits the "multivitamin": a mucky, atonal barrage of strums, drum blows, and vocal yipes. That's Swans' career in 15 seconds flat.

If anything on Songs and Advice is going to pucker sphincters, it's picture-apparent: Simon Fair Timony standing next to a wreathed picture of his dead friend Kurt Cobain. An elaborate grade-school liner-note essay says that Songs and Advice is a concept album (about 18 minutes long), relating to Cobain's death and Simon's stepdad walking out on him and the drummer. You know, there's absolutely nothing wrong with using your public persona (in this case, your band) to be overly personal; that's your choice. But imagine the uproar that would have ensued if Courtney Love -- who was married to Cobain, and didn't just swap doodles with him -- put that picture on her album, standing in Timony's place. Not that the sentiments are less than genuine; lyrics on "I'll Love You Anyway" express grief in the clumsy and immediate way of a child. And even a kid who grew up next to the stage shouldn't have to worry about public appearances and authenticity politics. But when Mom is playing drums, you'd think she could exert a little creative control.

-- Michael Batty

Snoop Doggy Dogg
Tha Doggfather
(Death Row/Interscope)

Five or six years ago, before pop culture adopted Long Beach, Calif., Snoop Doggy Dogg was chasing a hip-hop hustler's dream. Today, officially four years into his career, he embodies that dream -- but it's not a hustler's dream anymore. On Tha Doggfather, the follow-up to his platinum disk Doggystyle, Snoop falls just short of renaming the dream "American" outright. And in the middle of an already nightmarish year for Death Row Records, who can blame him? There was the tragic death of Tupac Shakur, the pending imprisonment of Death Row CEO Suge Knight, and the label's split with Dr. Dre. For the first time ever, it's Snoop against the world, just what we and he have all been waiting for. The problem is, while Snoop tries to use the situation to his advantage, Tha Doggfather just isn't sexy enough to turn all eyes on him.

Not that he doesn't give it the ol' gangsta try. He's put a tremendous amount of pressure on himself to do right by everyone and everything. And what he's produced is a longer, more refined member of the Doggystyle species. Of course the most memorable cuts ("You Thought," for instance) pile insidious beats and melodies on top of carefully constructed tales of violent posturing, sexual misconduct, and misogyny. Still, the language and the ideas don't feel as dangerous anymore.

Complicating matters, Snoop makes a valiant attempt to get in touch with his human side. Right after he kills his would-be assassin on one track, he's telling us, "One out of every five black males by the year 2000 will be detained and deceased. No justice, no peace." And in another example, Snoop plays a guilt-ridden pusher/pimp a la the blaxploitation classic The Mack. Before sending a little homey off to school with a pocket full of cash, he warns, "Don't ever let me hear you say you want to be like me." Far be it from me to criticize paradox in hip hop (it's been present longer than I've been listening), but when Snoop Doggy Dogg not only decides to "give a fuck," but hops a slow boat to "Positivity," the contradiction has to be noted. It particularly explains why he can't embody the hip-hop hustler's dream anymore. He's trying hard to be a hip-hop entertainer, and entertainers dream American dreams.

-- Victor Haseman

 
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