THE FIRST TIME around, disco's anonymity just seemed like a liability. But to some wily but misinformed Europeans -- they thought the "acid" in Chicago's "acid house" was a reference to psychedelic drugs rather than to remixes that corroded the sound of the original -- it became the blankness of dance-floor satori, the soundtrack to a new Age of Aquarius. This spare but trippy sound has now traveled back across the Atlantic. Despite its psychedelic trappings, a lot of it is as machine-tooled as the emptiest disco, but some of it even has personality.
Beatmasters "Anywayawanna" (Rhythm King/Sire/Reprise). Knob-twiddlers are the real stars of acid-hop, as this collection of tracks produced by Britain's Beatmasters proves. Included are previously released tracks by the likes of Betty Boo and the Cookie Crew and vocals by, among others, Soul II Soul veteran Caron Wheeler, but the Masters' engagingly dinky rhythm tracks hold the anthology together. Boo's "Hey DJ/I Can't Dance (To That Music You're Playing)" (also available on her album) is the standout, but Merlin MC's "Who's in the House?," Jum Jum's "Ska Train" and Cookie Crew's "Rok Da House" are all beat-ific.
Black Box "Dreamland" (Deconstruction/RCA). Milli Vanilli took the heat, but it's hardly the only neo-Eurodisco outfit to display a frontman (or -woman) who doesn't actually sing. Italian neo-disco is the most notoriously larcenous on the continent, and this Italian outfit has faced some lawsuits from the real singers it sampled to produce the music purportedly performed by Katrin Quinol, the group's lithe but non-English-speaking star. Despite using the latest in sampling technology, though, this is quite traditional. Tracks like "Everybody Everybody" are barely updated disco throbbers.
Betty Boo "Boomania" (Rhythm King/Sire/Reprise). Former She-Rocker Boo is no acid-house hippie. Though the stripped-down rap/disco sound of her debut album is utterly up-to-date, her attitude is a welcome throwback to tough-talking '60s girl groups like the Shangri-Las. Her inventory of potential roles may be limited -- dancing, romancing and boasting is about it -- but she transforms them with the spunky self-possession of "Boo Is Booming," "(To My Last Breath) Doin' It to the Def" and "Doin' the Do." Even a plea that her boyfriend reveal his whereabouts, "Where Are You, Baby?" ends up sounding like a declaration of independence. This groove isn't in the heart -- it's in your face.
C+C Music Factory "Gonna Make You Sweat" (Columbia). There's some irony to most Brit-hop's mechanical tendencies, but this New York thumper is pure assembly-line product, complete with a noxious liner-note hymn to Columbia executives Donnie Ienner and Tommy Mottola ("You guys are Magic! True legends in the industry!"). Still, it's vigorous assembly-line product, which injects a needed muscularity into acid-hop's vagaries. The lead-off tracks, "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)" and "Here We Go, Let's Rock & Roll," both pump agreeably, and -- for those who can hold on through the squirm-inducing Suzanne Vega samples on "A Groove of Love (What's This Word Called ove?)" -- the disc is surprisingly consistent.
Deee-Lite "World Clique" (Elektra). This unexpectedly chart-topping New York trio celebrates the "global village" (Super DJ Dmitry supposedly hails from the Soviet Union, Jungle DJ Towa Towa from Japan and Lady Miss Kier from, among other locales, Washington), but its languid rhythms owe more to British than American funk -- despite the presence of Parliament/Funkadelic vets Bootsy Collins, Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker. The neo-flower-power trio's hit, "Groove Is in the Heart," does grab on to something, but the other 11 meandering grooves aren't in anyplace in particular.