Short Cuts

Peter Himmelman
Love Thinketh No Evil
(Six Degrees/Koch)

In the five years since Peter Himmelman's last studio effort, he's obviously had a chance to carefully study his Elvis Costello collection. Not that he's copping EC's wave by any stretch of the imagination -- Himmelman has always had a well-defined sense of drama and wordplay as well as a penchant for minor-key melodiousness. In that regard he's usually lumped in with other Costello peripherals like John Wesley Harding or Michael Penn, who have suffered from similar bouts of damning with faint praise by comparison.

Himmelman's songs on Love Thinketh No Evil, though, display a depth of lyricism and a riskiness of arrangement that smack of Costello's best and most satisfying work. The album's opener, "Eyeball," produced by former Nine Inch Nails member Chris Vrenna, was actually a late addition after the album's original release date was delayed. Under Vrenna's industrial-strength direction, Himmelman rocks hard and makes it work, and yet he still offers songs as gentle and melancholy as "Time Just Flew" and "7 Circles," making them every bit as believable. A swirling sonic quality drifts in and out of Himmelman's songs here, whether they lean toward the rock or the folk end of the spectrum.

Musically Himmelman combines his Beatles/Byrds pop ethic with his Minneapolis roots, concocting a jangly folk-rock that suggests latter-day disciples Peter (Case) and Paul (Westerberg). He's not afraid to throw a string quartet into "Coming Apart at the Dreams" or to reference late-period Beatles in "Forgiveness Shining," ultimately offering both McCartney's lightness and Lennon's darkness in the single track. Himmelman even offers up a nodding gospel effect on "Made For Me" and the six-minute finale, "Gravity Can't Keep My Spirit Down."

The sad fact is that Love Thinketh No Evil, his first studio album since 1994's Skin and his eighth overall since his solo debut in 1986, will likely be as critically regarded and as commercially ignored as its predecessors. Thankfully, Himmelman has enough irons in the fire to keep him relatively unconcerned by such matters. He's at work on his second album of children's songs and is also busy compiling an album's worth of alternate takes and unreleased demos. His intensely loyal cult fan-base has a visible presence in cyberspace, and he has made himself a rock footnote by marrying Bob Dylan's daughter. (There's one tiny dancer who should have known better than to marry a music man.) Perhaps it is enough for Himmelman to know that he has created a career benchmark with Love Thinketh No Evil.

-- Brian Baker

Peter Himmelman will perform Saturday, February 6, at 8:30 p.m. at the Kaplan Jewish Community Center, 3151 N. Military Trl., West Palm Beach. Tickets cost $18. See "Night & Day."

Various Artists
Sci-Fi's Greatest Hits, Volumes 1-4
(TVT Records)

Science fiction has long served as a metaphoric vehicle for exploring themes and ideas. By projecting issues and stories into the future or featuring creatures from outer space, sci-fi uses the distance between fantasy and reality to comment on the present. On this collection of original theme songs from film and TV, the definition of the genre is expanded to include scary movies, The Twilight Zone, and superhero music, but it all fits the mold; mutants on X-Men serve as an allegory for people with AIDS, just as Invasion of the Body Snatchers was a commentary on Communist infiltration.

The most traditional disc of the four is Volume 1, Final Frontiers. Opening with the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey and the three Star Wars movie motifs, the tone is established: This is serious soundtrack music. And, except for the Space: 1999 theme song (which sounds like a porn soundtrack counterpointed by strings) and the campy Fireball XL5 track, it is serious. After 1977 most of the themes seemed to emulate John Williams' Star Wars bombast, opting out of the spooky-sounds milieu. This is a safe collection, with most of the recent classics represented.

Volume 2, The Dark Side, is the fun listen. The themes from Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Tales From the Darkside, Tales From the Crypt, and The Outer Limits are adventurous and kitschy. Take, for instance, Ripley's Believe It or Not; it starts with wobbly keyboards and electronic percussion, sounding like something Beck would sample, then takes off in an exotica direction (think Fantasy Island) before the two are united. My only complaint with this disc is that the Leonard Nimoy-hosted show In Search Of isn't represented.

The Uninvited, Volume 3, comprises music from films and TV programs that tackled the ideas of invaders from space and monsters on Earth, using the anxiety of the Cold War as sci-fi's best source material. Beginning with Orson Welles' The War of the Worlds radio broadcast, it contains The Day the Earth Stood Still, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Mars Attacks!, all of which expand on the fear-inducing theme with minor-key, dramatic flair. With additional excerpts from The War of the Worlds interspersed, Volume 3 is the most cohesive of the set.

Besides being the collection that sticks out because of the music's sources, Volume 4, Defenders of Justice, is also the one that offers great songs rather than just soundtrack music. Batman's original TV soundtrack was campy and groovy, especially when contrasted with Danny Elfman's dark, gothic update on the animated series or the traditional soundtrack feel of the new films. The Amazing Spider-Man song is so cool that hip-hop impresario Timbaland samples it on his new single "Here I Come." The Knight Rider theme has been co-opted as well (for Pras & Mya's smash "Ghetto Superstar"), and smart bets will have the X-Men music winding up in a Wu-Tang song because of its urgent simplicity.

-- David Simutis

 
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