3 ALBUMS PROVE `DINOSAURS' HAVE WHAT IT TAKES TO ROCK INTO '90S

Published: Friday, Dec. 29 1989 12:00 a.m. MST

While the 1980s saw the emergence of many eclectic bands like U2 and the Clash, it will probably best be remembered as the Decade of the Dinosaur - the decade when once-bright stars from yesteryear dusted off their '60s psychedelia and '70s apathy for another splash in the sun.

Some were commercial hits (Doobie Brothers, John Fogerty, Jethro Tull) and others failed (the Guess Who, Jefferson Airplane, 10 Years After).Even as a new decade is born, the "classic" rockers just keep on rocking, some of them with their best material in years.

Phil Collins: ". . . But Seriously" (Atlantic). It's not unusual to find Genesis front-man Phil Collins at the top of the charts these days. But you might not have noticed that Phil Collins of today sounds quite a bit different from the Phil Collins of 10 years ago.

Having endured criticism in recent years for producing rather lightweight pop hits, "But Seriously" is just that: A much more serious look at life at the close of the 20th century, from Northern Ireland to homelessness.

As he told one interviewer, "I didn't sit down with a sheet of paper and say I want to touch on serious social issues. I don't write like that. I write and whatever comes out, comes out. It's just that this time I've been more direct. As I've gotten a little older, I've gotten more direct. Why hide the anger?"

Not that Collins has lost any of the melodic magic that has made him a staple of any Top 40 radio diet. There are three, maybe four, tunes here that are guaranteed to work their way to the top of the charts. "Another Day in Paradise" is currently No. 1.

The serious-sided Collins has received mixed reviews, some criticizing his seriousness as artificial and others saying the new Phil Collins is not much different that the fluffy old one.

Fact is, ". . . But Seriously" - while not a great album - is as good a solo record as Collins has ever done (this is the fourth solo release). It's also a natural maturation musically and lyrically.

The album also features the likes of David Crosby, Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood and Stephen Bishop (all long-time friends and musical influences).

Eric Clapton: "Journeyman" (Reprise). Every time you think Clapton's best years are behind him, he up and surprises you with another stroke of brilliance. In this case, it's the sensational "Pretending" single on his new release "Journeyman."

Unfortunately, not all of the songs on the blues-flavored "Journeyman" are that good. But there are several highlights making this offering worth listening to, not the least of which is the guitar work of Robert Cray.

In the process, Clapton seems to have struck the perfect balance between the fiery blues of his youth with the pop flavorings of his later years.

As has been the case on the more recent Clapton releases, there is an all-star assembly of guests: Dire Straits keyboardist Alan Clark, George Harrison, Chaka Khan, Daryl Hall, Cray, Cecil and Linda Womack, Phil Collins and Gary Burton.

Harrison is particularly impressive on the duet "Run So Far," a Harrison love song about a lover who suffers "lonely days, heavy heart, no escape." Cray makes two soulful appearances. He and Clapton exchange riffs on Bo Diddley's "Before You Accuse Me" and the slow blues of "Old Love."

His slide guitar fairly sizzles on "Hound Dog" and Ray Charles' sultry "Hard Times." At the center of it all is Clapton's guitar work - his best studio work in quite some time.

If you pick up "Journeyman" expecting light-hearted, Phil Collins-produced pop, you will be disappointed. If you pick it up hoping for the blues, "Journeyman" is immensely satisfying.

The Grateful Dead: "Built to Last" (Arista). After 1987's surprise "In the Dark" album took Deadheads and Top 40 radio by storm, it stands to reason that America's most popular cult band would try something radically different.

Surprise. The Dead are back with "Built to Last," which is virtually a carbon-copy of "In the Dark," though with a touch less commercial appeal. There is no single song that has the charm of "Touch of Grey" or the brooding atmosphere of "Black Muddy River."

Instead, you get rather average songs that are likely to please neither long-time fans or radio listeners.

No question some older fans cringed last year when their favorite sons turned up on commercial radio. "Built to Last" is a step in the same direction toward the middle of the road - foreign ground to Deadheads everywhere.

Much of the blame has been laid upon the shoulders of keyboardist Brent Mydland, with the band since the late '70s. Mydland co-wrote and sings lead on four songs; Jerry Garcia sings on only three, and Bob Weir on two. Mydland's songs have been labeled literal-minded, self-conscious attempts at topicality ("We Can Run"), world-weariness ("Blow Away") or sexual savvy ("Just a Little Light").

While Mydland's work is lacking, there is enough blame on "Built to Last" to go around, Garcia and Weir included.

High points include Garcia's guitar solo on "Foolish Heart" - the album's first single, and the classic Dead sound on "Blow Away."

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