HUEY LEWIS AND THE NEWS "Small World." Chrysalis Records. * *
The good news from the News is they have another dandy hit on their hand with the single "Perfect World." The bad news is there isn't a whole lot more on "Small World" to get really excited about.But Huey Lewis fans shouldn't get distressed. At least not yet. Considering his amazing string of hit albums ("Fore," "Sports," "Picture This"), he's long overdue for a clinker.
Part of the problem here may be the band's increasing obsession with rhythm & blues and jazz _ two elements that can either complement or dominate Lewis' music. On "Small World," the later is the case more often than the former.
An interesting touch on "Small World" is the infusion of reggae sounds and messages into the band's patented "rhythm and rock" sound. According to a publicist, "they wanted their next record to have not only a great dance beat, but also a sense of social relevance."
Such messages come through on the captivating rocker "Perfect World," in which Lewis chants, "Keep on dreamin' of livin' in a perfect world." Other good songs include the ballad "World to Me" and the reggae-flavored "Better Be True." Lewis may have tried to give the album an international flavor, but for the most part the effort falls short. The songs don't have much of a melodic appeal, nor are they particularly original.
In an effort to give the album a relaxed, improvisational feel Lewis employs a lot of instrumentals on this recording, including a sax solo by Stan Getz on "Small World" and Bruce Hornsby's accordian on "Old Antone's" (neither tune is very memorable).
On the positive side, "Small World" showcases Lewis' desire to be more than just a pop-rocker with different versions of the same hit tunes climbing the charts each year. The reggae influences in particular show real promise.
BOB DYLAN _ "Down in the Groove" (Columbia). * * *
Critics have an interesting relationship with Bob Dylan. They call him a genius, a legend, a man ahead of his time. Then they rush out and pan the latest Bob Dylan album. That's pretty much what has happened with "Down in the Groove," the umptieth in the long list of Dylan LPs. The critics have lambasted it for being too commercial, too ordinary, too likable.
But when you read between the lines, critics love Bob Dylan most when his music is obscure. Too bad, because those critics are overlooking some of the most enjoyable Bob Dylan music in this decade.
We're talking tunes you can dance to, tunes you can sing along to, tunes you can sit back and say, "Wow, that was fun." It's not "Blonde on Blonde," but it's still a good album to add to the Dylan collection.
Dylan's fans, including most critics, have the annoying habit of trying to put more into Dylan's music that what was ever there. They try to translate the obscure lyrics, they analyze each strain on his acoustic guitar, they try to inject worldwide significance into every utterance.
Which may be why hard-core Dylan-maniacs are struggling with "Down in the Groove." The lyrics are not necessarily cosmic, not overly poetic and not that hard to understand. The music is primarily blues-rooted.
Still, the lyrics are catchy; the music is basic, traditional Bob Dylan. In essence, Dylan's "Groove" is an enjoyable mishmash of great little tunes that aren't going to set the world on its ear. But they're fun nonetheless.
Like "Silvio," a sassy little rock song with obvious Tom Petty influences. And "Let's Stick Together," which features Dylan at his bluesy best. And the whiney ballad "When Did You Leave Heaven?"
But the best of the batch is "The Ugliest Girl in the World," a sweet, comical song about being hopelessly in love with, you guessed it, the ugliest girl in the world. Which is all further evidence that the world's future is not the topic of discussion here.
Dylan is joined on this album by such rock 'n' roll greats as Eric Clapton, Jerry Garcia, Rod Wood, Mark Knopfler and Danny Kortchmar.