Quirky, Inspired Music From Soviet Survivors

Posledny Shans, Kisunia & Krysunia/Kofeinia (Solyd)

In the absurd and wonderful world of Soviet culture and counterculture, the strangest things take place. Like Posledny Shans, or Last Chance, an underground band that performs nursery-rhyme songs. Guided by dissident writer Yevgeny Kharitonov and musically led by the very talented singer-songwriter Vladimir Schukin, the band started in the mid-1970s playing at events for children and in movie theaters showing cartoons. However, they quickly acquired a cult following with adult intellectuals thanks to their very smart lyrics, which always appeared very naive, at least on the surface, but in fact had great puns and double entendres. Another pull was their hilarious live show, which combined elements of musical clownage, theater of the absurd and rock 'n' roll chaos. Before Zvuki Mu hit the stage in the mid-1980s, Last Chance was by far the wildest show in the Soviet Union. Amazingly, the band has survived numerous splits and personnel changes, and exists today, led by the only remaining founding member, Alexander Samoilov. They're big in Germany, but occasionally also perform in the homeland. The two CD-reissues reviewed here present the recordings of the band's underground period and, even deprived of the visual element, they shine with stunning melodies and great youthful charm. An inspired work, making all of today's Russian pop and rock look totally dull.

Kenny G, The Moment (BMG)

Pop has Michael Jackson, classical has Pavarotti, jazz -- or bubble-gum jazz -- has Kenny G. Each is the market leader of their genre, automatically selling zillions of units worldwide. And of the three, Kenny's achievement is by far the most impressive because he's brought music that has never sold very well to the top of the charts. Young, handsome, American (although of Russian origin, by the way), Mr. G plays saxophone in the sweetest way possible, creating melodies that are so nice and easy, you might think you've been hearing them all your life. In "The Moment" he's developed the art of smoothness to perfection. I personally am bored with this kind of music, which I call "toilet spray sound" -- but Kenny G has my total respect as the ultimate professional.

The Cardigans, First Band On The Moon (Stockholm)

Two albums and three years ago, The Cardigans made their refreshing debut as a funny '60s-revival band with twanging guitars and swinging female vocals. Suddenly, they became totally cool and were known as trend-setters, and their music was soon covered by a tidal wave of imitators. Now, on their third album, the still-young Swedes are trying to come up with something new -- with mixed results. They've radically modernized their sound, introducing a hip trip-hop element, which means they have lost most of their melodiousness. An interesting but rather disappointing album.

Laibach, Jesus Christ Superstars (Mute)

An internationally renowned Slovenian musical workshop, Laibach produces conceptual albums with conveyor-belt monotony. They've had their Beatles Album ("Let It Be"), their States Industry Album ("Kapital"), their War and Military Album ("NATO") -- now the time has come for their statement on God and Christianity. Unfortunately, all the subjects are treated in a very predictable manner: They offer cover versions of famous pop songs -- in this case, the title number from Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical and Prince's "The Cross" -- that are performed as ominously as possible. When they have their own songs, the sound is equally serious and heavy. Musically, it is 80 percent heavy metal, 20 percent pure enigma. I used to eagerly await each new Laibach album, trying to guess what would come next: Death? Animals? Space research? I'm afraid to say I don't care anymore. They bore me. But the choral arrangements are still good.