Spin Control  

February 26, 2006


Dilated Peoples, "20/20" (Capitol) ***1/2

"Back again for the very fourth time / Don't worry if I write checks / I write rhymes," the Los Angeles trio Dilated Peoples rap on "Back Again," the triumphant opening track on their fourth major-label album. Indeed, since their Capitol debut with "The Platform" (2001), Rakaa, Evidence and DJ Babu have fallen short of lucrative mainstream stardom, and never so much as on the pop-conscious "Neighborhood Watch" (2004), a commercial disappointment, despite the Kanye West-produced single "This Way."

Thankfully, the group brings things back into focus on "20/20," returning to their old-school commitment to socially conscious raps, slashing battle rhymes,

stripped-down but hard-hitting beats and Babu's always impressive turntable manipulations.

Like so many otherwise potent hip-hop acts, Dilated Peoples remain unduly fond of pointless between-song skits and shout-outs to the joys of smoking weed. But they deliver the goods with memorable tracks such as the politically inspired "Alarm Clock Music" (which evokes Public Enemy jamming with the Roots); the smoldering soul groove "You Can't Hide, You Can't Run"; "Olde English," which courageously knocks empty-headed mainstream gangsta rap, and "Kindness for Weakness" (featuring a guest turn by Talib Kweli), which evokes Chicago rapper Common in asserting that there are other ways to prove your manhood than by wielding a gun.

As the group raps in the latter, "Some say we're too serious and conscious / Some say we're all battle raps and ganja / I say in your bad dreams we're monsters / Rat-packing stages like Frank Sinatra." And that's no idle boast.

Note: Dilated Peoples perform at 7:30 p.m. March 7 at the Park West, 322 W. Armitage, with Little Brother and Defari.


Steve Wynn & the Miracle 3, "... tick ... tick ... tick" (RedEye) ***1/2

On his 12th official solo album, the extremely prolific but always rewarding singer and songwriter Steve Wynn announces his intentions to rock out with both the title, which conveys the ticking of a bomb moments before it explodes, and the cover art, which portrays a chili pepper that you just know would be hot enough to sear your tongue off. The 11 tunes contained within live up to these promises.

Wynn has been riding a real high during what he jokingly calls his "fifth or sixth comeback and resuscitation from the dead since I made 'The Days of Wine and Roses' with my old band the Dream Syndicate back in 1982." This disc is the third installment of what he calls a "desert trilogy" recorded in Tucson, Ariz. But where "Here Come the Miracles" (2001) was an ambitious sprawl, and "Static Transmission" (2003) was a dark and moody effort, "... tick ... tick ... tick" is straightforward and absolutely unrelenting garage rock, with Wynn meeting his self-professed goal of being "louder, harder, sicker, freakier [and] more hopped up on goofballs than what we had done before."

Songs such as "Wired," "Cindy, It Was Always You" and "Wild Mercury" reintroduce the frantic Wynn of Dream Syndicate classics such as "Then She Remembers," simultaneously prompting pity and fear via the cathartic emotional overload of his lyrics, and delivering wave after wave of barely controlled crescendos and epic guitar duels through the fiery and inspired interplay with guitarist Jason Victor, bassist Dave DeCastro and drummer Linda Pitmon, who, if they don't quite work miracles, certainly create a heavenly noise.


Various Artists, "Different Strokes by Different Folks" (Epic) *1/2

As with the ill-conceived, poorly executed and extremely sad homage during the Grammys, the genius of groundbreaking '60s pop, rock and soul heroes Sly and the Family Stone really deserves much, much better than this exploitative and hollow tribute disc, which finds a genre-blind though commercially glitzy collection of unrelated artists reimagining classic Sylvester Stewart tracks by remixing the vintage recordings or building new songs from key elements of the originals.

While some fans might have preferred a straight covers album, the big problem here isn't with the concept, but the execution. The Black Eyed Peas' will.i.am and lite-popsters Maroon 5 detract from rather than add to the original classics "Dance to the Music" and "Everyday People"; some pairings that seem inspired on paper -- John Legend, Joss Stone and Van Hunt on "Family Affair" -- fall flat in the studio, and others such as Steven Tyler and Robert Randolph ("I Want to Take You Higher") were doomed from the get-go.

In the end, less than a third of these tunes really take you higher, among them Chicago blues legend Buddy Guy and John Mayer on "You Can Make It If You Try," Moby's pure and simple remix of "Love City" and the Roots' sampling of "Everybody Is a Star." And while Sly is credited as producer, it seems as if he added as little to this lost opportunity of an album as he did at the Grammys.