Reviews

Won't You Dance With This Man?, the debut CD from 30-year-old Montana mountain boy Slim Moon (who now lives in Olympia, Wash.), clearly articulates the worries, wonders, and preoccupations of his generation, from alienation to "The Hip Thing," obsessive drinking to compulsive concertgoing. But he doesn't pretend to be anyone's spokesman: He says the disc merely represents "some of my little po-ems that I wrote, and uh, you know ... um, I hope you like it, or whatever."

Moon lays out verses with a natural poet's sense of rhyme, rhythm, and nuance. He speaks with the unpretentious candor of a convincing storyteller. He can be quick-witted and silly, kind of sweet and kind of sad at the same time, surprisingly sly with a jaunty turn of phrase, and very funny. Like many of today's best speaker/writers, much of Moon's material stems from often vivid observations of his everyday experiences at the coffee shop, on the bus, in the bar. These portraits of mundanity range in value. "Counting Up" is an inventive and Sesame Street-like enumeration (1-2-3) of events when an innocent-looking girl on a bus weirds out a group of loud rockers by sweetly confessing "I'm really into Satan." "The Sign, the Symbol and the Signifier" is a pointless and parodic list of dookie euphemisms that leads into a catalog of chain-smoking and household chores.

Moon's best ideas come in the form of absurd or metaphorical quasi-fairy tales, often delivered with a restless bop phrasing like Jack Kerouac. "The Black" tells a bleak story, presumably set in a post-adolescent wasteland, where "We drown our sorrow in lust and drugs," and "We lie a lot/ We learn to live with our lies/ We tend to repeat ourselves/ We tend to repeat ourselves/ We tend ...." And like that of many of his peers, Moon's shtick flirts with common stand-up: "Wages of Sin" skews the old Christian paradigm by daring to ask, "Do they withhold part of the wages of sin for tax purposes?"

Slim Moon's a talker, but he actually manages to say something most of the time. And in this age of meaningless info glut, that's a poetic art as valid as any of T.S. Eliot's footnotes.

-- Sam Prestianni

Bobby Brown
Forever
(MCA)

Nine years ago, Bobby Brown, until then known only as a singer with the teeny-bopper vocal quintet New Edition, transformed his career with "Don't Be Cruel" and "My Prerogative," two songs that combined the rambunctious rhythms of hip hop with the debonair style of R&B. It was a powerful merger and spoke loudly to -- and for -- a generation who saw no need to split their cultural allegiances between the poles of straightforward black middle-class upward-mobility rules and I'ma-do-zactly-what-I-fuckin'-wanna b-boy rebellion.

Brown was not alone in creating this appealing union of musical styles and social sensibilities. Singers like Johnny Kemp and Keith Sweat as well as producers Teddy Riley (who worked with Brown) and the team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis also mined what music critic (and now screenwriter) Barry Michael Cooper called new jack swing. Together, they created an early blueprint for Puff Daddy, Dr. Dre, and many of today's top producers.

But in the ensuing years, Brown has struggled to find anything remotely like that powerful groove. His follow-up recordings have offered only a standard rehash of his solo debut. To the surprise of almost everyone in the R&B/hip-hop community, he married Whitney Houston. (Or rather, we were all surprised that Houston married him.) However, tabloid newspapers and gossip columns have printed rumors of domestic abuse; and, he has had frequent run-ins with the police for various instances of disorderly conduct. His recording career all but ground to a halt with the 1996 New Edition reunion. The album, Home Again, was a dreadful exercise in artistic exhaustion and one of the worst recordings of '96, but it sold well in response to their tour and nostalgia from those who danced to "Candy Girl" at their high school proms.

Houston's intro to Forever vaguely implies that her husband is overcoming certain troubles by recasting "Nobody Does It Better" into a tribute to her husband. Brown's recent past is swept under the rug: Forever is a 48-minute exercise in denial. Although there is likely a market for rebellious young adults who suddenly grow up as they near da big three-oh, Brown is intent on justifying his arrogance and making hollow claims to pre-eminence. He doesn't seem to understand that the attitude of a 21-year-old is real cool in a 21-year-old, but real pathetic in a 30-year-old. Musically, he tries to revive the sound that propelled his late-'80s hits, but it sounds dated, rather than retro. Despite the overwrought passion that his grainy tenor brings to the material, Brown's unwillingness to at least address his public image makes this comeback sound vacuous where it should be gallant, and deceitful where it should be candid.

-- Martin Johnson

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