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Now Hear This

Bryan Ferry, Weezer, Gomez, Will Downing, Cee-Lo

As for guest musicians, Ferry, keenly aware of the sound he's shooting for, brings on former Roxy mate Brian Eno to play keyboards and sing backup. Ferry also collaborates with Eurythmic guitarist Dave Stewart for a progressive '80s sound. And while Paul Thompson, also of Roxy Music, delivers the backbeat on "Goddess of Love," Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood and Robin Trower apply moody layers of guitar to the haunting "Hiroshima."

If all classic artists would embrace their past by re-creating the sonic pleasures that made them famous in the first place, perhaps they and their fans would have reason to celebrate the way the followers of Roxy Music can now. — Jeff Maisey

Weezer "Maladroit" (Geffen)

One of the shibboleths of music writing is that "rock taps into the anger" of disaffected teens.

But what to make of Weezer and its paeans to loserdom? "Maladroit," which veers between hopeless love, insecurities and wistful romance, probably sounds more like most people's lives than Andrew W.K.'s party anthems or Limp Bizkit's narcissistic rants.

Of course, Weezer front man Rivers Cuomo knows a thing or two about ups and downs. The band followed its multiplatinum 1994 debut with a disastrous flop and obscurity, only to make a comeback last year with the frothy "Green Album."

This time, the band wants to rock. "Maladroit" is a virtual doodle pad for Cuomo, who scribbles down 30 years' worth of rock influences: Van Halen guitar histrionics on "Dope Nose." T. Rex meets Lynyrd Skynyrd on "Take Control." Glam-rock homages and doo-wop choruses everywhere. On an objective level, it's a tangled mess.

But, these hangdog losers know how to craft a virulently infectious hook and send a three-minute pop song barreling forward — witness "Dope Nose." Relentlessly witty and catchy — and at roughly 30 minutes — "Maladroit" never wears out its welcome. In fact, you'll be wanting more.

— David M. Putney

Gomez "In Our Gun" (Virgin) ****

Gomez said they recorded this by locking themselves into a mansion in Gloucester, England, bringing along some dope and staying there until it was done.

"In Our Gun" features some of the whim you might expect from such a method. "Detroit Swing 66" kicks off with electronic hiccups, merges to some rhythmic guitar and, by the end, yields to the deep wah-wahs of a baritone sax.

Despite their kitchen-sink approach to this record, Gomez seems at heart to be a modern-day psychedelic rock band.

Their song structures and sounds are basic late-'60s, a steady escalation and building, then hook to the chorus and back again. But they have many more ways to make sounds than 30 years ago, and they like using them.

"Sound of Sounds" is a ballad, with such quiet harmonies and graceful guitars — and just a hint of electronic warbling — that its first play makes it seem like a familiar hit.

A few songs stray into dark jamming that can drag the listener down. Gomez probably forgot that not everybody gets fried all the time. But they don't care, and neither should fans of good, old rock. These guys can smoke.

— Lon Wagner

Will Downing "Sensual Journey" (GRP) **

Will Downing's one smooth dude. So smooth, in fact, that this very strength threatens to become a liability.

Downing's aptly titled follow-up to his disappointing "All the Man You Need" is an old-school outing of soul classics and fresh tunes, including four by Downing, that have a classic feel.

In opting for a more pop/R&B sound on his GRP debut, Downing missed a chance to reclaim the momentum he achieved with 1991's jazz-inspired "A Dream Fulfilled," his most acclaimed disc. Odd, too, considering that GRP is noted for its smooth-jazz output.

"Cool Water," a midtempo groove, is the perfect showcase for Downing's patented velvet-smooth emoting. There are some soulful covers, most notably The Main Ingredient's biggie "Just Don't Want to be Lonely" and Leon Ware's "If I Ever Lose This Heaven." On the romantic "Home," the singer re-teams with saxophonist Gerald Albright, with whom he worked on 1998's "Simple Pleasures" CD. Albright's fluid lines are a perfect backdrop to Downing's sensual voice.

Downing never breaks out of his Quiet Storm mode. Thus the question: Is he too smooth for his own good?

— Marvin Leon Lake

Cee-Lo "Cee-Lo Green and His Perfect Imperfections" (Arista) *****

After years of flying under the radar, the Mothership has landed in Atlanta.

Sure, everybody and their, uh, mother has sampled George Clinton's embrace-everything funk over the years. But it wasn't until Outkast's "Stankonia" in 2000 that the P-Funk aesthetic came through on a hip-hop album that really did embrace everything.

Now comes Cee-Lo, taking a break from Atlanta rap group the Goodie Mob and the larger Dungeon Family collective (which includes Outkast). Funk, soul, gospel and hip-hop are all in the mix on his solo debut.

Could there be a better song for a backyard barbecue than "Gettin' Grown"? Its bouncing piano, la-la chorus and whistling breakdown will stick in your head for days (and hopefully, so will its call for maturity). Cee-Lo croons on this one, but elsewhere he shrieks like James or flips tongue-twisted rhymes like Busta.

The album's main message is to do your own thing — although you might not catch the meaning during the double entendres of "Closet Freak." "Sometimes I like freakin' in the morning, sometimes I like freakin' at night!"

Innocently down-and-dirty. Trail-blazingly retro. Imperfectly perfect. — Dave Renard

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