Spin Control

February 18, 2007


  • Luscious Jackson, "Greatest Hits" (Capitol)

    Critic's rating: 2 and a half stars

    Jill Cunniff, "City Beach" (MIlitia Group)

    Critic's rating: 3 and a half stars

    Proteges of the Beastie Boys, the four underrated women of Luscious Jackson were perpetual also-rans in the alt-rock sweepstakes of the '90s, but they deserve to be remembered for one brilliant, sexy, funky effort -- the Daniel Lanois-produced "Fever In Fever Out" (1996) -- and two good but not great discs, one preceding their masterpiece and one following in 1999 after keyboardist Vivian Trimble quit. The band broke up shortly thereafter.

    Given that Luscious Jackson only scored one hit -- "Naked Eye" made it to No. 36 on the Billboard pop chart in 1997 -- it's difficult to accept that it deserves a greatest-hits disc. "Fever In Fever Out" remains a must-own and the best introduction to the band. The new compilation includes several stray rarities and alternate mixes, but most of the non-"Fever" songs show the group working toward that peak or petering out afterwards.

    Much more rewarding for fans and new initiates is the solo debut by Jill Cunniff, Luscious Jackson's bassist and most distinctive singer. Aside from a handful of impressive collaborations -- Emmylou Harris adds vocals to "Disconnect," and Chicago singer-songwriter Rachel Yamagata contributes keys and vocals to "Kaleidoscope" -- Cunniff plays most of the instruments herself, creating swirling, gently rhythmic, minimalist-but-melodic settings for a strong set of tunes.

    This a bucolic disc; "Hey lazy girls and laidback boys / You got it right, life's to enjoy," Cunniff sings on the opening "Lazy Girls." But the energy and varied influences of New York street culture still permeate the mix, making for a much more interesting, entrancing, sexy-sweet gentility than Norah Jones or similarly conservative cabaret chanteuses.


    Sneakers, "Nonsequitur of Silence" (Collector's Choice)

    Critic's rating: 3 stars

    The missing link between Southern cult legends Big Star and today's legions of power-pop bands, as well as trailblazers for the indie/alternative-era success of groups such as R.E.M. and the B-52's, North Carolina's Sneakers are the oft-mentioned but seldom-heard collaboration between future dB Chris Stamey and future Let's Active frontman Mitch Easter. Recording largely on a TEAC four-track and only issuing two hard-to-find D.I.Y. recordings during its lifespan, the band finally gets the archival overview it's long deserved on this 21-track collection of its late '70s recordings.

    The sketchy quality of some of the home recordings make for uneven listening, but this disc is a must for power-pop aficionados, and songs such as "Decline and Fall" and "S'il Vous Plait" still boast a sparkling energy and surprisingly sophisticated vision of the ideal mixture of British Invasion hooks and post-punk art-rock experimentation.