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  CONSUMABLES: GUSTER, LIZ PHAIR, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, BERNIE WILLIAMS.  
   
   
   
 

 

GUSTER "KEEP IT TOGETHER"
Their sound is sunshine and lazy days. They enjoy clever wordplay and shiny, pretty hooks. Do I even have to tell you that they used to open for the Barenaked Ladies in order to further illustrate their smiley limitations? But even if there's nothing magnificent here, every tune pleases. If I had a beautiful summer home by a lake, this might be my album of the year. But since I don't, I'll probably end up picking something more muscular and unpredictable. After all, this much niceness can drive a person to kill. B+

LIZ PHAIR "LIZ PHAIR"
The reviews have been so grossly, laughably idiotic that I had to think hard for the last time I rooted so hard for an album to succeed. Not blasphemy, not a sellout, not a career-ender. Not "Exile in Guyville" either, but it's probably the most engaging record she's done since that one. Plus, it rocks like AC/DC without the sexism. Yeah, the song about the underwear makes me cringe, too. Ditto the first single, a hummable little number I'd distrust no matter who was singing it. But my biggest complaint is that she didn't embrace her sellout as brazenly as she could have. Maybe next time. B+

GEMMA HAYES "NIGHT ON MY SIDE"
She's a sensitive female who can also rock the guitar if she feels so inclined. And she often does on the first side, which is why it's more impressive than the intimate, moody second side. There, she risks being just one more Beth Orton: smart, anti-bimbo, sensible, a flair for electronic sounds and restless nights alone. Nothing wrong with that per se, but "Let a Good Thing Go" and "Work to a Calm" are so bracing simply because they're, well, loud. Enough smart women can do soft. Smart, loud females are another story entirely. B+

FRUIT BATS "MOUTHFULS"
After doing extensive research, I have determined that no one from the Shins is in this band. But the confusion is understandable. Both groups have an acoustic peaceful, easy feeling. Both crank up the amps in only the most graceful ways possible. Neither singer would harm a fly. So how come this duo reaches me when the Shins mostly don't? Even I didn't know for sure. So I kept listening -- and kept enjoying this record more and more. Despite vague references to clouds the shape of New Jersey, Eric Johnson offers hymns, condolences, and kind remarks. And the music isn't afraid of being flat-out soothing and charming. These guys are friends with groups whose insular smugness easily irritates me, and yet this band never falls into that trap. This record is no less evocative or affecting because it'll piss off a lot of the hipster jerks trained to sneer as such shocking sincerity. A-

MAN ON THE TRAIN, DIRECTED BY PATRICE LECONTE
Consider me the dumb American. Leconte's film is thoughtful and moving, but his conceit of two mismatched friends yearning for each other's lives is (I'll say it) hardly groundbreaking. It's impossible not to love these two characters. Jean Rochefort and Johnny Hallyday are wonderfully worn-down and heroic. But if you're looking for a French film that examines our incurable obsession with the guy next door, go out and find Dominik Moll's With a Friend Like Harry immediately. Or be content to wait for its in-the-works Wes Craven remake. B

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, DIRECTED BY GORE VERBINSKI
A rarity: the hack blockbuster that actually entertains and surprises. Johnny Depp could have sat back and let his role go broad, but his Jack Sparrow is a figure of sympathy and humor. Geoffrey Rush could have chewed the scenery, but his Barbossa is intelligent and dastardly. Everyone else follows suit, even the director, who rises above his usually aggressive competency to deliver rousing fun in the summertime. Chronically opposed to handing Verbinski compliments, I give a lot of credit to a smart script and a good effects team. But fair is fair. The film could have been a lot more lazy, but for once the creative types decided to push themselves. B

TERMINATOR 3, DIRECTED BY JONATHAN MOSTOW
Where John Connor was the worst part of the last movie, he's the best part of this one. Nick Stahl has been great in everything from In the Bedroom to Bully, and he's more than passable as this textbook anti-hero. And being no Cameron devotee, I wasn't set to hate Mostow's direction. After all, at their heart U-571 and Breakdown were well-made retreads, and so he's perfect to do a sequel for this threadbare franchise. For a film that has no reason to exist, this is solid work. Better than Return of the Jedi. Better than Back to the Future III. Now stop. Please. B

MONK
Tony Shalhoub, Tony Shalhoub, Tony Shalhoub, Tony Shalhoub. OK, with that out of the way, what else is there? A show armed to the teeth with quirks. Writers who devise mystery plots barely as challenging as an Encyclopedia Brown whodunit. Side characters who will hopefully grow as the series continues. It all boils down to Tony Shalhoub, Tony Shalhoub, Tony Shalhoub, Tony Shalhoub, which is enough. But they shouldn't let that Golden Globe go to their heads just yet. B

 

 
 

GOOD THINGS.

FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE "WELCOME INTERSTATE MANAGERS"
Look, you've outgrown emo. And bands with dorky names. And self-deprecating singers. You're way past college. You work a job you hate because you have big debts. And so here's the band for you. The trick to this New York group's great step up is embracing the mundane real world. Beyond caring about some bullshit quarterlife crisis nonsense, they offer a range of musical styles and emotional responses. Losers working for their dad and pining for the girl who got away -- Fountains of Wayne respect you and sympathize. Girlfriends who stick around through the malaise -- hell, even the ones who don't -- get the attention they deserve. Used to be that the Star Trek references were cheap jokes from a life of easy privilege. Now, they're a meager way to buffer yourself from outright depression. Same for the New Wave and Oasis homages. Alas, one more CD that's too long for its own good. But, then again, it's just another way this band demonstrates their generosity and huge heart. A-

 

BAD THINGS.

BERNIE WILLIAMS "THE JOURNEY WITHIN"
For the Yankee fan in your life who likes Santana but thinks he's just too gosh darn loud these days. C-

 
 

 

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*BT*

Tim Grierson is an editor of The Simon, a weekly online publication of culture, politics, and humor.