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Metallica's label Elektra was taking no chances. One of the most anticipated rock releases of the year, ``Load,'' the band's first studio album in five years, was going to land in rabid fans' hands before critics had their way with it.

Now that it's here, Elektra's reluctance to supply advance copies is understandable. ``Load'' takes the band further into conventional rock. Early fans are almost guaranteed to cry foul. Pounders like ``Ain't My Bitch'' and ``King Nothing'' punch but omit the complicated double kick-drum fills and blistering guitar solos of old. James Hetfield actually sings here, holding notes with poise without descending into gruff posturing. ``Mama Said'' treads familiar lyrical territory (depicting Hetfield's emergence from his parent's flaws), yet it's set to a breezy country melody, complete with steel guitar.

The problem is, ``Load'' sounds tame. ``Load'' lacks Metallica's trademark urgency and feels like the work of complacent rockers. Despite the flirtations with country, boogie and psychedelia, ``Load'' just doesn't move the band forward. Two Stars.

SOURCE: - Howard Cohen

Def Leppard/``Slang''

Alternative may be omnipresent, but there's still room in the marketplace for crowd-pleasing '80s arena rock - especially when it's made by unprincipled types such as British football-cheer metallists Def Leppard, who will happily dirty or soften or even funk up their formula if it will sell more records.

Singer Joe Elliot would do better to lay off the Iggy Pop imitations and excruciatingly dumb mega-ballads such as ``All I Want Is Everything'' and ``Blood Runs Cold.'' On the daffily Zen ``Turn to Dust'' and the slinky rocker ``Work It Out,'' however, the Leps revamp without losing their zest for lowest-common-denominator pop-metal crunch (Mercury). Two Stars.

SOURCE: - Dan DeLuca

POP George Clinton/``T.A.P.O.A.F.O.M. (The Awesome Power of a Fully Operational Mothership)''

No matter how long he's been away, George Clinton is incapable of a rigid groove. After years dabbling in solo ventures that feature old and new funkateers - remember the space-age vision of 1982's ``Computer Games,'' and 1993's erratic but rocking ``Hey Man ... Smell My Finger?'' - the grand master has assembled some of the old guard for one more ride on the mothership.

Said ship is a little creaky, a lot freaky, and guaranteed to wreak havoc on your in-need-of-funk nervous system. ``The Awesome Power of a Fully Operational Mothership'' (550 Music/Epic) represents the first time in years that Parliament-Funkadelic bassist Bootsy Collins and keyboardists Bernie Worrell and Junie Morrison have been on board, and they help Clinton conjure tasty, remarkably subtle stuff.

If there's less drop-dead, body-slamming music here than back in the day, chalk it up to age. But be prepared to marvel at the band's smooth and solid execution, particularly on Morrison's ``Summer Swim''; ``If Anybody Gets Funked Up (It's Gonna Be You),'' a hip-hop throw-down with Erick Sermon and MC Breed; and the agitated ``Funky Kind,'' which Clinton describes perfectly in the couplet ``Funkin' with rock chops/Rockin' with funk chops.'' Three Stars

SOURCE: - Tom Moon

Everything but the Girl/``Walking Wounded''

After a decade making sophisticated, underappreciated pop for a cult audience, Everything But the Girl - songwriter/producer Ben Watt and singer Tracey Thorn - scored an international hit this year with Todd Terry's house remix of ``Missing,'' from the British duo's 1994 album ``Amplified Heart.''

``Walking Wounded'' (Atlantic) builds on the innovations of ``Missing.'' It's a deliciously laid-back dance record filled with Thorn's worthy-of-Peggy Lee vocals, which float atop ambient and trip-hop arrangements. The bittersweet melodic pleasures of EBTG are still present, but this time Thorn's musings on romantic despair and the changeable self are in near-perfect union with shifting, surprising textures that bring out her emotional uncertainty in thrilling, accessible relief. Four Stars

SOURCE: - Dan DeLuca

JAZZ Charlie Haden Quartet West/``Now Is the Hour''

All of bassist Charlie Haden's four previous Quartet West CDs have been good, but this one is especially beautiful. Recorded with an orchestra, ``Now Is the Hour'' (Verve) conveys so much mood and has so many handsome moments that it begs to be a film score.

Once again, Haden conjures up a film-noir world of broken-hearted characters in beautiful gowns and double-breasted suits. The strings - so often poorly used in other recordings - are lush without being sugary, thanks to pianist Alan Broadbent's arrangements. One highlight is Victor Young's ``The Left Hand of God'' from a forgettable Bogie movie of 1955. The tune is given a reverent rendering from Haden and strings, which build to a slow, sweet epiphany. Great nuzzling music! Four Stars

SOURCE: - Karl Stark

COUNTRY Willie Nelson/``Spirit''

Willie Nelson's first album for Island Records - a label known for rock heavyweights such as Melissa Etheridge and U2 - is quieter than anything he's done in the last decade.

``Spirit,'' a stark, acoustic collection of reflective, sometimes spiritual songs, serves as the flipside of 1995's ``Just One Love,'' a rollicking return to Texas-style country. With the help of stellar players such as Texas legend Johnny Gimble on fiddle, sister Bobbie Nelson on piano and veteran band member Jody Payne on rhythm guitar, ``Spirit'' conjures images of desolate border towns and soul-searching drifters.

``Spirit'' will be followed by a reggae record (can you picture Willie in dreadlocks?), then a blues album. While musical diversity is nothing new for Nelson, he's sure getting plenty of leeway as Island's first country artist. Too bad nobody intervened to help give ``Spirit'' more ... well, spirit. Two Stars

SOURCE: - Mario Tarradell


2 Photos

Photo: (1) Heavy metal pioneers Metallica descend furthe r into conventional rock on ``Load.''

(2) Island's first country artist, Willie Nelson, turns in an acoustic set on ``Spirit.''
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:L.A. LIFE
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Sound Recording Review
Date:Jun 14, 1996

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