By Jamie Pietras, Assistant Editor

 

3.5

Various Artists
Burning London: The Clash Tribute
Epic

The Clash were the seminal punk band of the late '70s/early '80s, so the number of high-profile rockers that turn up on this tribute album should come as no surprise. The Urge and Rancid churn out a pair of straight-up punk covers of "This is Radio Clash" and "Cheat," respectively, while the Indigo Girls chip in a folky, acoustic rendition of "Clampdown" that works a lot better than you'd imagine. But the high point on the album has to be the Mighty, Mighty Bosstones frenetic take on "Rudy Can't Fail," though the Afghan Whigs mellow remake of "Lost In the Supermarket" and Moby and Heather Nova's ethereal collaboration on "Straight to Hell" aren't too far behind. Unfortunately, like all other tribute albums, this one has its duds. Third Eye Blind's as annoying as ever on "Train in Vain," and "London's Burning" just doesn't sound quite the same coming from Silverchair. But, if you can program your CD player to skip a few choice tracks, then you've got a worthy tribute to the founding fathers of politically charged punk rock.

4

Tom Waits
Mule Variations
Epitaph

Tom Waits can do no wrong. It's been six years since the heralded songwriter last put his gravelly voice on record, and he hasn't missed a beat. He's back with Mule Variations a dark, bizarre but poignant collection of blues-inflected folk tales. Over low, acoustic strums, Waits conjures vivid imagery of America off the beaten path. "I run my race with burnt face Jake, gave him a Manzanita cross. I lived on nothing but dreams and train smoke," he growls on "Pony." On the album's opener, "Big In Japan," he gets a little help from Primus' Les Claypool, one of several musicians and a turntablist who all chime in at times to create Waits' eerie, experimental musical backdrops.

3.5

Ben Folds Five
The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner
Sony 550/Epic

Sure, liking Ben Folds Five might not be the most macho thing in the world, but give these guys credit for wailing out some gutsy little numbers. From the meticulously orchestrated opener "Narcolepsy," to the "Lullaby" that gives the album closure, singer, songwriter and pianist Ben Folds strikes a chord with clever tunes about everything from sitting in a hospital bed to joining a rock band. And ywho can deny the guy's sense of humor? "Choose from any number of magazines, who do you want to be, Billie Idol or Kool Moe Dee? ... there are 100 ways to cover your redneck past," he sings. We dig the new Piano Man.

3

Cranberries
Bury The Hatchet
Island

Don't expect any surprises here, just another solid record from America's favorite Irish import. Sticking with tried and true Cranberries formula, frontwoman Dolores O'Riordan revs it up for some hard-edged rockers like "Promises" and tones it down again on ballads like "You and Me." and "Dying in the Sun." We've got to say though, O'Riordan isn't the most intimidating lassie when she tries to lash out against poseurs on "Copycat." She's just too darn cute to get mad.

1.5

Insane Clown Posse
The Jekyll Brothers
Island

If you're not familiar with the Insane Clown Posse, here's a brief introduction. They're two white guys from Detroit who dress up like clowns and rap about torturing and killing people. They were kicked off their former record label, Disney-owned Hollywood Records, when the higher-ups actually listened to their lyrics, and for fun they spray Faygo on their adoring fans. With that in mind, all you need to know about the new record is that it sucks. Not even guest rappers Ol' Dirty Bastard and Snoop Doggy Dogg can save this collection of weak beats and useless attempts at shock value ("I'm pimpin' like David Koresh.") Apparently their rants about murder and dismemberment aren't all talk – as evidenced by their mutilation of the Geto Boys song "Assassins." They get an extra half-star for being the first emcees to dis Lyle Lovett, but otherwise their gimmick is really tired.

Our Picks

Various Artists
Best Of Planet Groove
Virgin

Get groovin' with the smooth and silky sounds of all the hottest R&B acts, like Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey, Erykah Badu and Montell Jordan. Pop this compilation in the CD player on those date nights when you want to guarantee a little bump and grind with your honey. We say it'll take three songs max to get you in the mood.

Various Artists
Music from the Motion Picture Clubland
Java

Listening to the Clubland soundtrack is kinda like clubhopping in the coolest Los Angeles venues to check out new talent. You get a taste of 15 emerging acts like Jimmy Tuckett who stars in the movie and John Oszajca – a sort of alterna-Bob Dylan – whose track "Bi-Sexual Chick" is the soundtrack's first single. Take it from us – picking up the CD for about $15 is a heckuva lot cheaper than going to 15 clubs.

Sponge
New Pop Sunday
Beyond Music

From those post-grunge rockers who plowed us over with their STP sound on Rotting Pinata comes a new collection of hard-rockin' tunes that'll make you wanna mosh. Don't be fooled by the word "pop" in the CD's title, Vinnie and the rest of the Sponge gang go loud in a big way with an all-out assault of guitar licks on tracks like "Live Here Without You."

Various Artists
Papa Vegas
Hello Vertigo

BMG

Pocket Band

Stunt Monkey
Who needs guitar lessons to make it in the music biz? When Aram Sarkissian, guitarist/vocalist for Stunt Monkey, told his guitar teacher he wanted to play punk, he got the boot. And Michael Rossi, the bassist for the San Jose, Calif., trio suffered a similar fate. His guitar teacher "strongly recommended" that he stop taking lessons.

But this story has a happy ending -- kind of like a Stunt Monkey song. After jamming with different bands in high school and taking a short break to attend college, the two started playing together. They picked up drummer John Velcamp, recorded their debut album For the Ear (Tastes Like Chicken Records) and grew up to be shiny, happy rock stars. Or at least they're well on their way.

"Right now, we're on fire," Sarkissian says. "We're totally into it. It totally makes us happy."

Three months after sending out a lo-fi demo CD, the band is already playing San Francisco and LA area clubs, and have had two singles on Live 105, the Bay Area's alternative rock station.

Stunt Monkey combines clever, catchy and happy lyrics with a unique pop sound -- and a little but of old-school punk thrown in. There's no tormented or mean punk attitude here. Even "Suicide" sounds happy when Stunt Monkey sings it. – Jessica Lyons

To buy For the Ear, check out http://surf.to/stuntmonkey.

On Campus

What better way to start out the summer than sun, sand and ska? And with their upbeat, fun lyrics, blaring horns and high energy tunes, Buck-O-Nine is just the band to do it. San Diego's ska/punk favorites are hitting the road this summer to tour the U.S. and promote their new album, Libido. Guitarist Jonas Kleiner says he can hardly wait. "I'm really looking forward to getting back on the road. It's a part of who I am and I really enjoy it." So grab the sunscreen and a beer (or two) and put on your dancing shoes. Look for these boys of summer heading to a campus near you.

Sugar Ray – those fly guys who are really stretching out their 15 minutes of fame with their latest CD 14:59 – are playing on campuses now through May 7 as part of the MTV Campus Invasion tour. Hottie Mark McGrath and company are teaming up with Orgy for the tour which is currently hitting schools in the Northeast. To find out if your school is one of the lucky ones, go to www.campusinvasion.mtv.com.

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