Forget Madonna comparisons. Kylie Minogue’s scoring five paltry hits in the United States while being one of the biggest pop stars everywhere else for the last quarter century makes her, if anything but herself, the female Cliff Richard. Implicit in that metaphor is that her voice shines in these acoustic, orchestral versions of her greatest hits. It isn’t as elastic as Richard’s, but, because Minogue is a woman, it doesn’t have to be. The fairer sex has means of conveying vulnerability of which the most sensitive male can only dream.
Buddy Miller’s better half is still his wife Julie, but Jim Lauderdale is kindred spirit enough to make this loose-limbed collaboration evoke fond memories of the Everly Brothers. Not just the Everlys—the dance-craze anthem “The Wobble” has Traveling Wilburys written all over it. And sometimes not even the Everlys—their eternally youthful voices could never have done justice to the dark, self-recriminating emotions percolating in “I Lost My Job of Loving You.” And “South in New Orleans” would’ve probably been beneath them.
“And This No More” is the best Christian analogue-synthesizer instrumental since After the Fire’s “1980-F” (and a not bad updating of “Telstar” to boot). That the rest of the songs have words is only a slight anti-climax because, one, they’re worth trying to figure out and, two, Ronnie Martin is singing them. As with most switched-on pop, it’s tempting to wonder how these songs would’ve sounded unplugged. As with the best switched-on pop, the catchiness quickly nips such ruminations in the bud.
It’s probably overstating Prophet’s conflation of punk, power-pop, the Beatles, and San Francisco to say that it captures the decadence of America’s last half decade at its most flattering. Or maybe it isn’t. Prophet still sings like Iggy Pop crossed with Jonathan Richman, yet even that combination is not without its sonically significant reverberations. “Who Shot John” isn’t about the assassination of the Smart Beatle 32 years ago, but it’s analogous. As for “Willie Mays Is Up at Bat,” it will have Baby Boomers everywhere saying “Hey!”
Obviously, Green Day should have culled the best cuts from its just-completed ¡Uno!-¡Dos!-¡Tré! trilogy (Reprise) and made one impressive longplayer. But it didn’t, so fans will have to. ¡Uno!’s winners are the subliminally conservative “Sweet 16” and “Nuclear Family.” ¡Dos!—although it mostly finds the band ramming its head, wind-up-toy-style, into the pop-punk wall—proffers “Lazy Bones,” the closest Green Day will probably ever come to a common man’s fanfare.
So what of ¡Tré!? In the grand tradition of saving the best for last, it could have served as the triptych’s template. Best is “Drama Queen,” one of the few times the trio has convincingly waxed slow and acoustic. In it Billie Joe Armstrong, the real-life father of boys, not only doesn’t cuss but also nails the mixed emotions of every father whose teenage daughter’s uniquely feminine problems put her just beyond the reach of anything he can imagine to help. —A.O.