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CHUMBAWAMBA Tubthumper (Republic/Universal UD-53099). Are these eight Northern Britons a bunch of punk sellouts or just a group of merry pranksters? The question has never been properly answered, and that's what makes Chumbawamba so entertaining. The group began as part of Britain's dead-serious political punk scene in the mid-1980s. It took aim at the Live Aid concert with its debut, "Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records." Over the years the group continued to address immediate political concerns, but also insisted on toying with musical genres that were outside (and antithetical to) punk rock. "English Rebel Songs" was an a cappella folk album; "Slap!" was filled with anti-establishment dance tracks. As a result, they've endeared themselves to neither punk nor mainstream audiences. Yet it all serves as vicious commentary on the hypocrisy and vapidity of English culture. The album's title track (a mild hit stateside) is a hooligan anthem that makes fun of hooligans; "One by One" bitterly declaims union leaders who sell their interests for a seat in the House of Lords. In a way, Chumbawamba's toe-tapping agit-pop is still more punk than any of the punk bands they left behind long ago. Rating:***

-- Rafer Guzman
JONATHAN FIRE*EATER Wolf Songs for Lambs (Dreamworks DRMD-50024). This is the major-label debut of a band that has been playing its bizarre brand of garage-rock-cabaret for several years now. While most teen-age rockers were trying to imitate Nirvana or Green Day, the five young men of Jonathan Fire*Eater were looking for the common ground between Tristan Tzara and the Troggs. "True vaudevillainy" is how the band once described its combination of Farfisa organ, fuzzed-out bass, snare drum and creepy guitar. Stewart Lupton plays the part of the snarling emcee, describing shadowy skits that take place partly in modern Manhattan, partly in rotting Europe. Sample lyric: "A magazine party in a hotel yard/A girl had a seizure there/She was putting on her makeup in the club car/There's makeup everywhere." The band members dress in Byronesque black, with visible shirt cuffs and slim dress shoes, but their songs range from atmospheric ("Inpatient Talent Show") to downright fruggable ("Bipolar Summer"). Rating:***

-- R.G.


MOZART Gran Partita K 361, Serenade for winds K 388, Harmonie de l'Orchestre des Champs-Elysees, Philippe Herreweghe conducting (Harmonia Mundi France 901570). Philippe Herreweghe is a sort of golden boy of European music. At first known for his thoughtful interpretations of early music, he has branched out -- most recently with recordings of the Mozart and Brahms requiems. What I'm getting at is, he's great, and I feel like an idiot quibbling with him. But there's this subtle Adagio from the Gran Partita K 361 -- it made it into the movie "Amadeus" -- and I can't warm up to the quick tempo Herreweghe gives it. Maybe the trouble is that I'm used to my old Otto Klemperer recording; though people call Klemperer plodding, his unhurried pace seems gentler, lovelier. Aside from that Adagio, though, Herreweghe didn't disappoint me. His treatment of Mozart's Gran Partita -- a seven-movement serenade for wind orchestra -- is beautiful, with gorgeous oboe solos against almost liquid accompaniments. Rating:****

-- Mary Kunz
BRAHMS Lieder; Nathalie Stutzmann, contralto, with Inger Soedergren, piano (RCA Red Seal 09026-68660-2). Brahms songs are like wine -- deep, dark, rich and intoxicating. I love them sung by a contralto -- no other type of voice, I think, brings out so well the extravagant, lush harmonies. Stutzmann, a French singer, sings them beautifully. With a voice of amazing depth and resonance, she had sounded initially startling on her recent CD of Mozart arias -- but here, I think, she has found her real niche. She and Swedish pianist Soedergren balance often-sung songs with a lesser-heard masterpieces, taking us through 16 paeans to moonlight, roses and darkness before culminating in the biblical "Four Serious Songs." This team takes chances, altering the tempo here and there (adding their own twist, for instance, to the last verse of the folk song "Vergebliches Standchen"). But there's nothing wrong with that, and it helps set Stutzmann a bit apart from the great Christa Ludwig, whom in many songs she closely resembles. Rating:****

-- M. K.


(1) Candle in the Wind 1997/Something About the Way You Look Tonight, Elton John (Rocket). (2) You Make Me Wanna . . . , Usher (LaFace). (3) How Do I Live, LeAnn Rimes (Curb). (4) 4 Seasons of Loneliness, Boyz II Men (Motown). (5) All Cried Out, Allure featuring 112 (Track Masters).

(1) The Firm -- The Album, NAS Escobar, Foxy Brown, AZ and Nature (Aftermath). (2) You Light Up My Life -- Inspirational Songs, LeAnn Rimes (Curb). (3) The Dance, Fleetwood Mac (Reprise). (4) Butterfly, Mariah Carey (Columbia). (5) The Velvet Rope, Janet (Virgin).

(1) How Do I Live, Leann Rimes (Curb). (2) Something About the Way You Look Tonight, Elton John (Rocket). (3) Quit Playing Games, Backstreet Boys (Jive). (4) Takes a Little Time, Amy Grant (A&M). (5) Tell Him, Barbara Streisand and Celine Dion (Columbia).

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