Short Cuts

Smash mouth isn't about to break any IQ barrier -- "Heave-Ho" sees them relating a tale of eviction while swilling Meisterbrau -- nor is the band's record on gender relations especially encouraging. Indeed, they exude the kind of good-natured misogyny familiar to denizens of frat row. I know I should be offended when Harwell yelps, "I want someone, anyone/Tall one, short one, skinny one," but I find myself singing along. And so do my women friends -- even the uptight ones.

In the end, Smash mouth argues, life's a party, and we'd all do best to get along with our neighbors and not vomit on the furniture. This lighthearted approach makes it hard to begrudge the band its excesses. So what if its hyperactive cover of WAR's "Why Can't We Be Friends" doesn't add much to the song? They're having fun. So will you.

-- Steven Almond

Smash mouth opens for U2 at 8 p.m. on Friday, November 14, at Pro Player Stadium in Miami.

When I Was Born for the 7th Time
(Luaka Bop/Warner Bros.)

Critics have been saying it for some time now: Rock music is on life support. Heavy hitters such as U2, R.E.M., and Pearl Jam just aren't showing a strong pulse. Meanwhile ska is just a 24-hour flu, and no one's quite ready to diagnose electronica. Moan all you want, but consider the upside -- with such ill health comes experimental medicine, which means cool, disparate artists like Ben Harper, the Dandy Warhols, and the Geraldine Fibbers actually get a chance to snag a teensy bit of the spotlight for a second. And if the musical gods are feeling kind and virtuous, they might shine a bright light on Cornershop, the most happening Anglo-Asian-Indian altrock/folk-hop/Punjabi-singing groove outfit to emerge since, well, since the beginning of time, really.

With sitars, dholkis, turntable scratching, and loose backbeats cohabiting with drone-y guitars, cheesy keyboards, sci-fi synth noises, and an all-around folksy coziness, Cornershop's When I Was Born for the 7th Time traverses such fresh territory that it's almost pointless to play the comparison game. It may be best to consider When I Was Born as one might Beck's Odelay: a discombobulated collage of sounds and hooks that are as pop as they are a part of the underground. Also, like Beck -- who, for the record, just might be the greatest benefactor of these rudderless, post-Nirvana times -- lead Cornershopper Tjinder Singh champions a slacker-ish vibe, singing as if only halfinterested, but all the while conveying genuine vitality. Not that he and Beck really sound alike. Singh has a mousy, thickly accented voice that lends an even greater Third World quality to the Cornershop experience.

The London band's third album tops 1995's Woman's Gotta Have It -- itself a plenty fab experience -- by limiting the sloppy guitar rock and upping the groove quotient. As a result, the treats are endless -- including the lazy funk of "Good Shit"; the squirrelly scratching of "Butter That Soul"; a reading of the Beatles' "Norwegian Wood" sung in Punjabi; an otherworldy, countryish duet with Tarnation's Paula Frazer ("Good to Be on the Road Back Home"); and a buoyant, Velvet-y pop homage to Indian movie songstress Asha Bhosle ("Brimful of Asha"). Bet you didn't know she even existed, did you? The things you learn when rock music is in the infirmary.

-- Neal Weiss

Bob Dylan
Time Out of Mind

Coming on the heels of Bob Dylan's bout with a potentially fatal heart ailment, Time Out of Mind has been hailed as the legendary songwriter's best offering in twenty years. Recorded (prior to the illness) at Criteria Studios in Miami, the disc has received so many four-star reviews that it's already being mentioned in the same breath as classics such as Blood on the Tracks and John Wesley Harding. In extensive profiles The New York Times raved and USA Today gushed. Even Newsweek weighed in with a "Dylan Lives" cover story. And the hype is well deserved. In what qualifies as some sort of premillennium miracle, Time Out of Mind is indeed brilliant.

Thirty-five years after the release of his debut record, Dylan has embraced the folk and blues styles of his early career. This time, however, he bends the genres to resonate at strange frequencies and tunes in to his midlife crises. Humbly he confronts his own mortality, acknowledges the ravages of time, and battles an almost overwhelming sense of apathy. It's a surprisingly candid self-portrait for a rock icon of Dylan's stature.

In the past Dylan came across as the cocksure bard, the grand juggler of the English language. He seemed to live neck-deep in oceans of oblique phrasing that rolled in from the horizon, passed through him, and broke majestically on the shore. These days he sounds as if he's casting a line into still waters, hoping to hook a single truth. But he doesn't even get a nibble, and the silence can be devastating. On "Not Dark Yet" he sings: "I was born here and I'll die here against my will/I know it looks like I'm movin', but I'm standin' still/Every nerve in my body is so vacant and numb/I can't even remember what it was I came here to get away from/Don't even hear the murmur of a prayer/It's not dark yet, but it's gettin' there."

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