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Short Cuts

Pearl Jam

Eddie Vedder has always been a better star than an artist, and don't let any critic who slept through Ten (1991) and raved about No Code (1996) tell you otherwise. He's best at grand gestures, such as belting out "Alive" or vowing to bring Ticketmaster to its knees. But these days Ed (as he now calls himself) seems desperate to prove he's just a guy. One of us. A regular. In public it never quite works, because he's only seen in the company of other stars -- Pete Townshend, Michael Stipe, Mick Jagger. On Yield, however, the most audacious gesture doesn't belong to Vedder at all but to guitarist Mike McCready, who swipes the melody of Led Zeppelin's "Going to California" for the album's first single, "Given to Fly."

But anyone looking for a return to rock-god form won't find much to cheer on Yield. The ballads are fine -- some of Pearl Jam's best -- but the rockers are deliberately modest. They're either sloppy, as on the album opener "Brain of J" (as in JFK), or leaden, as on "No Way," a midtempo stomp that sounds like the band's former peers in the now-defunct Soundgarden. "Stop trying to make a difference, not trying to make a difference... no way," Vedder sings on the latter track, and it's hard to say whether he's genuinely defiant or simply bitter about being roasted for his messianic zeal.

Ed and the boys sound like they're having fun on "Do the Evolution," a thrashy raveup that could pass for early Pere Ubu, but it's a goof, almost as much a throwaway as the 67 seconds of "*" or "Push Me Pull Me," a noisy sound-collage distinctive only for its Who-like harmonies. When reaching for sweeping rock-anthem choruses, Yield offers bland reassurance ("Faithfull") or confusing mush ("Pilate").

Perhaps the wider world has grown so confusing to Pearl Jam that the group no longer knows what to make of it. This is a band that's sacrificed about $20 million in tour receipts, yet its members still get criticized for acting too much like rock stars. How many abortive tours will it take to prove otherwise? Maybe this will be the year Pearl Jam finally surrenders to Ticketmaster and other rock-royalty temptations.

In the meantime Yield's most satisfying moments are its most personal: the lovely lilt of "Low Light," the near-regret of "All Those Yesterdays," and especially "Wishlist," in which Vedder yearns for all things he can never be, including a neutron bomb and the key chain of a loved one. Ain't that just like Eddie/Ed: He can't decide whether he wants to blow up the outside world or simply disappear from plain view.

-- Keith Moerer

Herbie Hancock
(Sony Music/Japan)

Herbie Hancock was fiddling with electric keyboards and sound gadgetry long before the Chemical Brothers and Aphex Twin. A child prodigy on the piano (he played Mozart with the Chicago Symphony at age eleven), Hancock studied electrical engineering at Grinnell College but changed his major to music during his sophomore year. By 1970 the 30-year-old Hancock had played with the likes of Donald Byrd and Miles Davis and had a contract with Blue Note Records.

When jazz collided with rock in the '70s, producing the overwrought mix known as fusion, the defining moments were hard to discern amid all the experimentation. But many of them plainly came from Hancock. One example is his 1974 recording Dedication, which may be the germ for the pulsating electronic music that has coursed through dance clubs and bedroom studios ever since. The album is now available for the first time on CD, freshly remastered and imported from Japan.

Recorded at Koseinenkin Hall in Tokyo, Dedication was originally released only in Japan, with each side of the LP containing vastly different solo performances. On the first side, Hancock plays acoustic piano renditions of his standards "Maiden Voyage" and "Dolphin Dance." On the flip side, he launches into synthesized adaptations of "Nobu" and "Cantaloupe Island," complete with funky beats, spacy theremin howls, and sweeping orchestral effects.

"Maiden Voyage" and "Dolphin Dance" differ drastically here from their original, more traditional forms. Hancock blows them open, slowing the tempos and making room for delicate flourishes. The songs are textured environments, with dissonant notes ringing out arbitrarily and sudden crescendos halted by silence.

Dedication shifts into warp speed after the first two songs. "Nobu" begins with computerized gyrations and a high-pitched, rapid-fire beat over which Hancock improvises. On "Cantaloupe Island" fat, globular bass notes ooze from Hancock's Arp Odyssey synthesizer (foreshadowing his 1983 MTV hit "Rockit").

Few electronica artists cite Hancock as an influence, but he looms large over their proceedings as one of the first serious musicians to venture on-stage with a collection of circuit-filled boxes and banks of keyboards. Dedication represents Hancock between two worlds, taking a crucial step out of traditional music and into the electronic frontier.

-- Daniel Lovering

The Brian Jonestown Massacre
Give It Back!

Fans of the Dandy Warhols may already know the connection between that band and Anton Newcombe of the Brian Jonestown Massacre. For those who don't, the story begins a few years ago, when the Dandys were an unknown bunch of British Invasion fetishists grooving up in Portland, Oregon. In San Francisco the mod-hippie-beatniks of the Massacre were gaining a reputation as a dangerously unstable (but very entertaining) live act. According to the Dandys' guitarist, Peter Holmstrom, the two groups met at a San Francisco party one evening. "These three guys walked into the room," he recalled, "and we instantly knew they were the Brian Jonestown Massacre. There was no way they could be anybody else."

The core members of the Massacre -- Newcombe on guitar and vocals, Matt Hollywood on bass, and Joel Gion on maracas -- do give off a certain vibe: part charisma, part personality disorder. On stage, they're a combination of the Yardbirds (circa the movie Blow-Up) and Syd Barrett (circa his mental collapse). Off stage, they're pretty much the same. So when Newcombe sent threatening letters to the Dandys and distributed copies of a satiric single, "Not If You Were the Last Dandy on Earth," nobody was surprised -- except for the Dandys. "Anton went insane," Holmstrom once said. "Well, more insane."

It turns out Newcombe merely wanted to generate some publicity along the lines of Oasis vs. Blur (but forgot to tell the Dandys). The misunderstanding has since been patched up and the two bands remain friends. The Massacre's fifth and latest CD, "Give It Back!" features the "Last Dandy" track, which is a (mostly) good-natured parody of the Dandys' up-tempo pop songs. The rest of the CD, however, finds Newcombe and company delving into shaggy psychedelia and sitar-and-tabla freak-outs a la George Harrison and John Lennon.

"Super-Sonic" opens the album in grand fashion with orchestral guitars and Newcombe's insinuating, mantra-like vocals: "If you do it, well you better do it right/If you're screwed up, well you better screw it tight." Newcombe does Dylan on the galloping folk song "Malela," then sits back for the instrumental raga of "Salaam." One thing this band does exceedingly well is droning drug-rock, and a handful of such cuts appear here, most notably the hypnotic "Whoever You Are" and the over-the-top "The Devil May Care (Mom & Dad Don't)."

This will likely be the Massacre's last release on the Bomp! label; the band signed with TVT last year, and Newcombe reportedly celebrated by using a TVT credit card to purchase several hundred dollars' worth of champagne at a bar. As Newcombe himself has written, "I'm not in the music business, I'm in the Brian Jonestown Massacre business!" Whatever that means.

-- Rafer Guzman