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Wednesday, May 15, 2002


Cornershop: 'Handcream for a Generation'

Repetition is both the substance and the curse of pop music. It doesn't take much for even the most delicious hook to become a nagging bore once it's had a chance to pass a certain saturation point.

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Take Moby's new album, "18," which uses the same melodic phrases he used on his last one, "Play," but minus the vintage blues samples that inspired them in the first place. Consequently, "18" sounds stale, a safe recapitulation of "Play."

On Cornershop's new album, "Handcream for a Generation," the recapitulation is both macro and micro. The entire CD not only reprises the mix of clubland collage and Punjabi garage rock that made 1997's "When I Was Born for the 7th Time" a left-field classic, but four cuts utilize the exact same melody that made "Brimful of Asha" a hit.

The distinction emerges on the opening track, "Heavy Soup," which features veteran R&B shouter Otis Clay acting as master of ceremonies for the record you are about to hear. While the band shakily re-creates the greasy horn vamps of early '70s soul revues, Clay runs down the list of songs, trying to maintain the requisite gospel enthusiasm but just barely containing his mirth at the ridiculous titles. If it's a lack of inspiration that makes Moby's latest sound like a cop-out, it's Cornershop's effortless exuberance which makes theirs sound so exhilarating. You'd crack up, too, if you had to announce a song called "Staging the Plaguing of the Raised Platform" as if James Brown were about to perform it; and you'd probably keep right on laughing once you heard it, what with its corny, pub-rock guitar and children's chorus infectiously intoning nonsense like "making the dope dope/and the dope, dope."

Even if you have no idea what the "overgrown supershit" is that singer-songwriter Tjinder Singh keeps ranting about on "Lessons Learned from Rocky I to Rocky III," his peculiarly insistent vocal style keeps the mystery, and the song, turning around in your head. "People power in the disco hour," he calls out in another song, pointing out that social commentary don't mean nothing on the dance floor if it ain't supplying full entertainment value.

While the band's Anglo-Asian character often seems submerged this time around, it's still an integral part of the overall sound. Sitar and tablas are forced to compete with Noel Gallagher's guitar on the 14-minute psychedelic raga "Spectral Mornings," but I can confidently report that the sitar and tablas win by a length. And what a glorious race it is.

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