New Edition

The time was right for the soulfully romantic vocal quintet New Edition in the early '90s. They tied hip-hop, doo-wop and R&B together in a silky blend that ignored the line between bedroom and dance floor. But the burden on innovators is a weighty one. Johnny, Ralph, Ricky, Ron and Michael (Bobby Brown has other fish to fry) have watched the form they invented grow in style and intensity thanks to sweat-dripping seducers such as Usher and Nelly. If the new New Edition wants to activate the current crop of booty, it had better step up.

Enter P. Diddy. The regrouped group's comeback, "One Love," is executive-produced by the hip-hop mogul, whose mogulhood has outstripped his talent for finding fresh beats. This old-fashioned choice points to an old-fashioned recording, and "One Love" is that. Dumb intro and interlude? Check. Puffy-like grunting "uh, uh" in the background? Oh, yeah. The boys even pose in vintage style in the luxe insert -- one shoulder cocked, both hands proffering imaginary jars of mayonnaise.

The various producers (Jam & Lewis, Ron "Neff-U" Feemster among them) work an effective but consistent set of motifs: thrupping drumbeats, occasional wah-wah, handclaps and the skittery beats coined by Timbaland. There's not enough variety to make up for some of the worst rhymes committed to record (right way, tight waist; lobb-ay, my place on "Hot 2Nite").

Every track is solid and professional; the singers' voices are strong -- Johnny Gill, particularly, kills on the slow-burner "Come Home With Me." But there isn't a cut here worthy of the old New Edition. "One Love" is an artifact driven by curiosity and affection.

-- Arion Berger


MF Doom

The rapper and producer Daniel Dumile calls himself lots of things: Viktor Vaughn, King Geedorah, Metal Fingers, MF Doom and so on. In the long view, the monikers don't matter, though, because Dumile is having the best run of anybody in hip-hop.

His Viktor Vaughn disc "Vaudeville Villain" was a weird triumph, and his junk-culture "Madvillainy" collaboration with producer Madlib is easily the year's most adventurous rap excursion. With those successes behind it, the new MF Doom disc, "Mm . . Food," seems like dessert -- it's just as odd but much easier to digest.

Dumile does have an elevated appetite for filler, though, and a good portion of "Mm . . Food" consists of silly sonic collages and radio-serial interludes (he loves Marvel Comics' supervillain Dr. Doom). But there are a half-dozen real songs, and they showcase his knack for recycling old-school funk, lite jazz and B-movie suites. The real treat is his wordplay, though.

"Deep Fried Frenz" reheats Whodini's "Friends" on a bed of sarcasm, with Dumile rapping that "I try to act broke" because jealousy is "the No. 1 killer among black folk." On "Kon Karne" he distorts a perky piano groove and drops cop-show lingo: "Do the statistics / How he bust lyrics, it's too futuristic for ballistics /And far too eccentric for forensics."

"Kon Queso" has this near-rhyme giggler: "Have no fear / The ninja here / Feel him like the tinge in your ear / From drinkin' ginger beer."

The secret to enjoying those tracks is to hear Dumile as a savant -- he toys with grooves and language because his brain demands it. But his taste, for now, is without parallel.

-- Joe Warminsky



Ever since German metal band Rammstein broke through on MTV with 1998's anthemic "Du Hast," Americans have headbanged in clueless bliss. To this day, fans pump their fists to the music, yet remain confused by -- if not oblivious to -- the foreign lyrics. Like, is it "Du hast" ("You have") or "Du hasst" ("You hate")?

Does it matter? If there was ever a metal group that proved the superiority of lyrical effect over meaning, Rammstein is it. Vocalist Till Lindemann exaggerates every Deutsche consonant roll, sounding like Josef Mengele after a bad batch of sauerkraut. That's all he needs. The rest of Rammstein (pronounced ROM-shtine) marches with military precision, unleashing cold, bombastic riffs that crunch like a tank rolling over skulls.

"Reise, Reise" (translation: "Voyage, Voyage") expands on the tried-and-true plan of orchestral influences, industrial-dance grooves and blockbuster movie-style production. One track, "Los," is driven by acoustic guitar yet still menaces. Another, "Moskau," features Russian rave-chick vocals and a glossy techno beat. And if you must know, "Mein Teil" is about 21st-century German cannibal Armin Meiwes, who ingested a man's, um . . . well, that's really enough.

On the commercial crossover single "Amerika," Lindemann trumpets the United States' influence on the rest of the world (citing Mickey Maus in Paris, for example). He then delivers a celebratory chorus in English, "We're all living in America, Coca-Cola, Wonderbra," before finally revealing the sardonic kicker: "This is not a love song / I don't sing my mother's tongue." Rammstein appreciates dark humor; it enjoys befuddling Americans. But this time, Lindemann wanted us to be clear.

-- Michael Deeds

New Edition's Johnny Gill (from left), Ricky Bell, Ralph Tresvant, Mike Bivins and Ron DeVoe: Relying on P. Diddy for a boost.Behind MF Doom's mask is a master of wordplay on "MM . . Food." Rammstein, left, unleashes cold, bombastic riffs with military precision on "Reise, Reise."