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When songs attack!

Ever had a good song go bad on you? Say you're trying to get to sleep after a stressful day, you're trying to clear your head and drift off, but that song you thought was so great in the afternoon simply will not evacuate your conscious mind?

They Might Be Giants were torturing me like that this week, with their goofy ditty "Prevenge" from The Spine (Zoë Records). From what I can tell, the lyrics have nothing to do with pre-emptive war, but my own Dubya associations might have done something to keep this tune recirculating in my head. Fortunately, the disc has plenty of other catchy tunes to compete with "Prevenge," like the old-TMBG-sounding "Experimental Film" and the old-guy lament "Thunderbird." With every new album I fear that the Giants will lose their touch; almost without fail, my fears prove baseless.

There may be no politics on The Spine, but there certainly are on Saul Williams (Fader), a furious disc of a hip-hop stripe that calls to mind Tricky's solo debut. Williams is a poet/actor/et cetera with a surfeit of ambition and a cinematic imagination; you're never sure just how autobiographical his songs are, or where what sounds like a protests song ("List of Demands," for instance, the one that took my head hostage for a week) is actually about a bitter breakup. I don't know if what sounds thrilling to me will connect with teenagers and club-hopping twentysomethings, but I'm hoping his messages reach his target, like the facetious message in "Telegram" that reads in part: "Dear hip-hop ... we are discontinuing our current line of braggadocio in light of the current trend in realness ... "

For those freaked out by the itchy aggression of Williams' record, Shout Factory would love to guide you back to a time when the catchiest things on the radio were sprinkled with stardust and scented with roses. Their 3-CD Straight From the Heart is sappier than a maple in mating season, and isn't afraid to admit it. I'm guessing I'm not the only one with mixed feelings: Anybody who lived through the '70s should rightly be terrified at the prospect of hearing Morris Albert sing "Feelings" or Debby Boone croon "You Light Up My Life." On the other hand, is there not some kind of sick pleasure to be had in hearing an insipidly catchy song - "Baby Come Back," perhaps, or Robert John's "Sad Eyes" - that you thought you had escaped forever? I don't know. I'm not endorsing the thing, but I also refuse to promise not to break this out sometime and listen to a man named Englebert sing "After the Lovin.'" Ironically, of course.

There will be absolutely no irony, though, in my appreciation of a cute little box from EMI that repackages all the singles released by Blondie. From "Rip Her to Shreds" through "Call Me" and "Rapture," the original 7-inch picture sleeves are paired up with the hits and b-sides. Yes, you have to switch CDs out every two or three songs. But how big a price is that to pay for being able to return to MTV's infant era, when The Real World and its satanic spawn weren't even a gleam in a producer's eye?

What's that? I'm living in the past, am I? Well, I'm not the only one; even the new stuff wants to sound old. Take the most instantly groovalicious disc to cross my desk this month, Chris Joss' You've Been Spiked (ESL Music): Thick Hammond organs and Ipanema-ish female singers greet you on track one, and Joss guides you from there. The French DJ plays everything himself here, but it sounds like neither a one-man band nor a sampleriffic hoedown. It just sounds like the coolest mostly instrumental soundtrack this Fall's parties could ask for. Now, this I wouldn't mind having embedded in my memory.

By John DeFore


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