Madonna: Zero to 90’s

Madonna began the 90’s at her commercial zenith, bestriding the

world in the overweening manner common to pop-

culture colossi. She ended the decade with only that English accent as her most

detestable affectation. In between, she released some magnificent singles. Greatest Hits Vol. 2 (WEA/Warner Bros.) not only complements her first hits

compilation, The Immaculate Collection ,

but also serves to silence those clowns who say she has no musical ability. She

has always relied on collaborators, but there’s a thread running throughout GHV2 that proves the simple fact that

when she isn’t distracted, Madonna is a supreme melodist as much as she is a

marketer or provocateur.

As it is, 1992’s Erotica

and 1994’s Bedtime Stories are pretty

shitty albums, redeemed only by the thrilling flamenco-househybrid “Deeper and

Deeper” and “Take a Bow,” her greatest ballad by some distance. Her futile

attempt to erase Patti LuPone’s “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” from collective

memory cleared the way for her second great period, emblematized by 1998’s Ray of Light and last year’s Music . Who knew that middle age and

motherhood would prompt songs as great as “Ray of Light,” “Beautiful Stranger”

and “Don’t Tell Me”? (By contrast, Prince, her closest analogue, used that time

of life to disappear into his own hindquarters.)

In any case, GHV2

amounts to 10 of Madonna’s most splendid tunes padded by five mediocre ones.

Thanks to the programmable skip function of your CD player, it’s one of the

only holiday gifts you can have sex to.

Kid Rock/Britney Spears:

Our James & Carly

Many showbiz couplings are head-scratchers. Even the most

absurdity-numbed mind boggles at the sick-making reports that Kim Basinger’s

current swain is none other than Eminem. Perhaps Alec Baldwin will start

courting Philadelphia’s own R&B pixie Pink in response.

I imagine that, 30 years ago, as another crisis threatened the

American psyche (not to mention American lives), it was comforting to know that

somewhere-either in Martha’s Vineyard or a Manhattan recording studio-James

Taylor and Carly Simon were cuddling.

And so it is in the national interest that I appeal to Kid Rock

and Britney Spears to have the “you know I’ll always love you, but it’s not

working out” talk with, respectively, Mr. Rock’s pneumatic consort and Ms.

Spears’ boy-band swain, and to begin dating one another. After all, Ms. Spears

has been carrying on for quite some time like a young woman who might drop her

flimsy raiment next to Mr. Rock’s chair at Scores.

Looking at Kid Rock, you can’t help but be struck by how he

resembles David Lee Roth circa 1981-85. These days, Bob Ritchie grins the same

grin that was plastered on Mr. Roth back then-the rictus of a man who has the

world by the balls in a downward tug. It’s impossible to begrudge him such

proclamations as “I’ve got the baddest bitch in the world” and “Got more money

than Matchbox 20 / Get more ass than [Sugar Ray singer] Mark McGrath” in the

song “Cocky.”

Unlike1998’s Devil Without a Cause , Cocky (Lava/Atlantic) tends to

vacillatebetweenbig, dopey,riff-rap behemoths-concerning Mr. Rock’s

affection for himself, the greater Detroit area, the signature guitar figure of

“Free Bird” and “big, corn-fed Midwestern hos”-and pleasant country and Southern-rock

ready-mades in which his good-naturedside shines. “Picture,” a duet with

Sheryl Crow, is the best of these.

Here is a man who, like Mr. Roth, is enjoying himself. While his

peers combine hip-hop and heavy rock (two idioms that should, at their best,

bellow “PARTY!”) and proceed to plumb the depths of cheap, aggrieved

miserablism, Mr. Rock’s narcissism is purely celebratory. God bless him!

Now, as for Ms. Spears: Her third album, Britney (Jive), is a fairly delightful mixed message. She’s “not a

girl, not yet a woman,” as a tune by that name puts it. Yet every sign, such as

that HBO special, points to where her true allegiance lies. Clearly, this is a

matter her handlers are still grappling with, but that sort of tension is what

makes pop music worthwhile.

The storied Swedish songwriting and production team of Max Martin

and Rami is joined by staccato R&B sculptors the Neptunes (Kelis, Mystikal)

and Rodney Jerkins (Destiny’s Child). The former fashion two terrific, vaguely

lewd tunes, the single “I’m a Slave 4 U” and “Boys,” which recalls the duo’s

work on Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s “Got Your Money”-and which finds Ms. Spears using

her coital purr to ask the object of her ardor if they should “turn the dance

floor into our own little nasty world.” Mr. Jerkins contributes a useless

rendition of “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll,” while Martin/Rami largely rearrange their

previous, better tunes like the immortal ” … Baby One More Time” and “Oops!… I

Did It Again” for Ms. Spears.

Britney Spears is the sum of her packagers, but maybe it’s time

for her to move on to mentors who are less conflicted about what’s appropriate

for the Nickelodeon set. It seems to me that Kid Rock is the kind of Svengali

she could use: someone who could help her find her voice as a full-fledged

woman. And they would look good together, don’t you think?

The Nortec Collective:

Forget the Donkey Show!

Ever since dance music (and its less danceable electronic-music

variants) became easier to produce via affordable technology, a consistent

pattern has emerged throughout the world. To wit: take your parents’ corny

music, chop it up, and use it to accentuate and distinguish the de rigueur bouillabaisse of pulsing bass

lines, 4/4 beats and ghostly synth washes you just cooked up.

The two-year-old Nortec Collective is nine chaps from Tijuana who

have taken the tropes of norteño

music (martial snare rolls, horn bursts, zip-zagging accordion fills), put the

beats on, and-hey, presto!-Nortec was born. The

Tijuana Sessions Vol. 1 (Palm

Pictures) is the prime exponent of a movement that may yet supplant donkey

shows and an indiscriminate drug trade as the thing that Yankees should know

about the crossroads of California and Mexico.

Norteño music doesn’t

have the foothold in New York that it does in the Southwest-particularly in

Texas and Southern California, where a huge Mexican-American presence ensures

that you can hear it booming out of car stereos all day. The Tijuana Sessions , while a fine techno record, isn’t a great norteño primer, since its elements are

either scattered or deeply submerged in the mix.

But the Nortec Collective’s show at S.O.B.’s with D.J. Krush on

Dec. 12 may make the role those same elements play much more explicit. Or it

may not! But you will be moved to

dance, unless you’re one of those pitiful souls who prefer to stand stock still

and stroke your chin.

King Crimson/

John Paul Jones:

Englishmen In New York

It is with some certainty that I predict that the only women

attending the King Crimson/John Paul Jones show at the Beacon Theater on Dec. 14

will be accompanying their husbands or boyfriends. In 1999, I dragged my ex

along to see Mr. Jones, the bassist of Led Zeppelin, at Irving Plaza, and she

promptly fell asleep in the lobby. This led to the realization that watching

technically demanding music played by rock veterans in their 50’s does not a

great date night make. So it’ll be me and my guitarist pal checking out King

Crimson-at some times the most vicious progressive-rock band, at others the

most rhythmically compelling-and Mr. Jones, the living half of one of the top

five greatest rock ‘n’ roll rhythm sections ever.

King Crimson is led by Robert Fripp, an owlish little pedant of

whom it was once said, “Rock music’s gain is the field of economics’ loss.”

People like him don’t typically make great guitarists, but his circumspect yet

frenzied approach is unique. He has led numerous incarnations of the band off

and on since 1969; the current version involves Adrian Belew, singer and

tremendous guitarist in his own right (the id to Mr. Fripp’s superego), and a

bassist and drummer who are disciples of their predecessors in the band. At

Town Hall in October 2000, King Crimson threw in David Bowie’s “Heroes”

alongside the brisk, interlocking geometry of their own songs.

Like fellow secret weapon George Harrison, John Paul Jones

largely retreated from view since the 1980 demise of Led Zeppelin, occasionally

busying himself with soundtrack and production work. In 1994, he paired with

Diamanda Galas on the sepulchral The

Sporting Life , following up with 1999’s bass-guitar showcase Zooma (released on Mr. Fripp’s DGM

label). His band, which includes a former member of Kajagoogoo (!), plays

rearranged instrumental versions of Led Zeppelin songs-such as the melody of

“When the Levee Breaks,” which Mr. Jones plays on lap steel guitar-alongside

his more recent pile-driving compositions.

So two essentially avant-rock bands, led by two stiff-upper-lip

Englishmen, will play to a bunch of folks who will use many bridges and tunnels

to get there. I promise you that this will be a fine thing.