Spin Control


September 24, 2006



Yo La Tengo, "I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass" (Matador) ***

Two decades and 13 albums into a career as beloved underground heroes, Hoboken, N.J.-based trio Yo La Tengo isn't about to reinvent the wheel, or abandon its penchant for in-joke song and album titles. Former rock critic turned guitarist and vocalist Ira Kaplan remains one of the most skillful recyclers of cool sounds, riffs and moods in rock history, and his talent for mining forgotten obscurities in his extensive record collection and synthesizing or rewriting them as memorable Yo La songs is once again in full evidence.

But "I Am Not Afraid of You..." also breaks from the pattern set on "And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out" (2000) and "Summer Sun" (2003), which both rode similar low-key grooves through an entire disc, returning to the eclectic, genre-hopping approach that characterized earlier albums such as "Fakebook" and "Painful."

Sandwiched between "Pass the Hatchet, I Think I'm Goodkind" and "The Story of Yo La Tengo," two memorable, 10-minute, "Sister Ray"-inspired noise drones that open and close the album, are 13 winning tunes that gleefully jump from rollicking garage rock ("I Should Have Known Better") to Byrds-y jangle ("The Race Is on Again"), from horns- and falsetto-driven soul ("Mr. Tough") to '60s AM radio pop ("Beanbag Chair"), and from mannered chamber pop ("The Weakest Part") to the touching ballad "I Feel Like Going Home," spotlighting drummer Georgia Hubley's plaintive vocals.

Again, none of this is new. But it makes for a winning mix.



Fergie, "The Dutchess" (A&M/Universal) **

As thoroughly meaningless, absolutely mindless guilty pop pleasures go, "London Bridge," the first single from the first solo album by the former Stacy Ferguson, is nearly as infectious as the hated-by-many, irresistible-to-even-more Black Eyed Peas hit "My Humps." It's hard not to be appalled by a million-dollar hook that asks, "How come every time you come around / My London, London Bridge wanna go down?" But it's just as difficult to keep yourself from gleefully singing along.

Largely produced by Peas leader and underrated pop craftsman will.i.am, the rest of "The Dutchess" tries to make the case for Fergie as a bona fide pop diva, something she's been trying to do -- along with kicking a crystal meth addiction -- since starting her career as a child star, moving on to become a member of Wild Orchid and finally becoming the sex-toy focal point for the Black Eyed Peas' mainstream breakthrough. We can admire her ambition but, really, don't we all just want her to keep giving us "My Humps" and "London Bridge"?

The forays into other areas are a mixed bag. "Clumsy" is a neat update of girl-group pop built on a Little Richard sample; set to Bob Marley's "No Woman, No Cry" and featuring harmonies from his wife Rita, "Mary Jane Shoes" pays homage to both the footwear and ganja, and "Glamorous" with guest rapper Ludacris is such a silly take on resisting the lure of bling ("I still go to Taco Bell / I'm still real") that it has to be a parody. I think.

On the other hand, the sappy ballad "Big Girls Don't Cry," the jazzy lounge tune "Velvet" and the overblown R&B of "All That I Got" are a major drag. But in the end, Fergie gives us at least one other hip-pop anthem with "Fergalicious" -- her ultimate theme song and statement of purpose, don'tcha know -- and as many keepers along with the failed experiments and the sheer bliss of "London Bridge" to make "The Dutchess" well worth owning, even if you're reluctant to admit it to anyone who isn't a tween girl.