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Various Artists
Man on the Moon
(Warner Bros.)

It's appropriate that the soundtrack to the Andy Kaufman biopic Man on the Moon is a jumbled affair. The comedian himself, who died in 1984 after a bout with cancer, was no stranger to oddball behavior. During the height of his fame as a regular on Taxi, not only was he making appearances as loutish nightclub performer Tony Clifton, but he also worked as a busboy in a Los Angeles deli. Man on the Moon isn't that exasperatingly bizarre, but it tries.

Anchored with a score by R.E.M. -- the film title comes from the band's 1992 homage to Kaufman, the song "Man on the Moon" -- the album is a mixed collection of vintage throwaways (the Sandpipers' "Mighty Mouse Theme [Here I Come to Save the Day]," which served as Kaufman's early signature tune), era-friendly pop relics (Exile's "Kiss You All Over"), cheeky covers by Moon star Jim Carrey as Kaufman and Clifton, and movie dialogue. It never quite settles into itself, and it certainly doesn't tap Kaufman's comedic genius through its short audio history. Yet, there's an inspired playfulness to its unevenness.

Carrey, in his dual roles, comes off as cloying and annoying. Playing both Kaufman and Clifton on the breezy '50s charmer "This Friendly World," a collaboration with R.E.M., he all but obliterates Michael Stipe's winsomely uncharacteristic giddiness. And Clifton's belligerent stumble through "I Will Survive" is gratingly self-serving (which is, I know, the point, but Carrey pushes its tolerance).

But R.E.M.'s original score -- its first -- is both a haunting and subtle tribute to Kaufman's charm and whimsy. Only six tracks of instrumental R.E.M. music are actually on the soundtrack (including an orchestral take on "Man on the Moon"), and they are quite brief. But the resonating lyrical and somber tones make the album's other instrumental, Bob James's "Angela (Theme From Taxi)," sound like pure lounge hell. "Man on the Moon" is also included, as is "The Great Beyond," a full pop song that slaps aside the somber tendencies of R.E.M.'s last album, Up. And, no doubt, Kaufman would approve of the sentiment in "The Great Beyond," on which Stipe sings, "I'm pushing an elephant up the stairs/I'm tossing out punch lines that were never there." -- Michael Gallucci

Gerry Hemingway
Waltzes, Two-Steps & Other Matters of the Heart
(GM Recordings)

In the summer of 1998, the long-standing Gerry Hemingway Quintet dissolved after a run of nearly eight years. This live recording catches Hemingway and company at the busiest period in their evolution -- the 1996 fall European tour. As he relates in the liner notes, Hemingway scheduled 27 performances in 28 days, including five major festivals and five radio recordings, and added nine new compositions to the band's already sizable repertoire. Despite or, perhaps, because of the manic situation, the drummer and his cohorts managed to come up with a terrific, appropriately manic live album.

Hemingway shows a robust interest in contemporary classical and free improvisational music. The quintet often maintains a delicate, sparse chamber sound, thanks in part to the string-heavy nature of the group (Ernst Reijseger and Mark Dresser on cello and bass, respectively), but also to the sweet, orchestral sound of Wolter Wierbos's trombone and the fleet clarinet playing of Michael Moore. Whole sections are given over to pulseless episodes of sound and explorations of texture. Other sections are entirely notated.

Yet for all the time he spent as drummer for musical iconoclast Anthony Braxton's mid-'80s quartet, Hemingway works out some very traditional musical ideas with his quintet. There's also a real flirt-with-disaster exuberance to its sound, taking more than a cue from early jazz and Dixieland. And the group demonstrates a marked interest in melody, harmony, and swing. In an instant, the quintet will shift from textured drone or polyphony to locked-tight swing unison, as on the exhilarating "Gospel Waltz" or the warped Dixieland of "Waltz in Seven." The group even brings more aged music into its sound -- overtly so on "XI," where Hemingway reworks a 15th-century madrigal. Hemingway's drumming skitters and trips all over the beat, but the ensemble's playing obviously respects the construction of the piece. It shows that Hemingway is every bit as interested in preserving structures as he is in subverting them. -- Aaron Steinberg

(Untitled boxed set)
(Junior Boys Own/V2)

Underworld fans should beware -- this is not a greatest hits collection. That's not to say that England's most consistently innovative electronic act doesn't deserve one after three blistering albums that stand the test of time. Over the last four years, DJ Darren Emerson, Karl Hyde, and Rick Smith have made everything from synth-heavy techno ("Dark Train" -- the baby-on-the-ceiling-music from Trainspotting) to neo-chant trance (Second Toughest in the Infants) and funk electro (this year's Beaucoup Fish). Most bands looking to cash in would throw their best into a shoddy jewel case and call it a career.

Not Underworld. It opts for a three-disc mix collection of four songs from Beaucoup Fish as a teaser for next spring's live DVD/album. First on the slate are four remixes of "King of Snake" -- the best of which is Dave Clarke's throwback to '91, which features a full-on house piano laid over his signature tech-house beat. Fatboy Slim contributes a laughable remix here, pumping in more non-funk percussion than he's used to and butchering Hyde's ramblings into what sounds like a 7-Up ad. Next up is the more sedate "Jumbo," which takes a New Order-inspired disco tack thanks to the Future Shock remix, then veers closer to Oakenfold trance fodder on the Jedis' "Sugar Hit" mix. Rounding out the "Jumbo" disc is a suave mix of "Cups" by Salt City Orchestra that should ensure that you get your game on. Last is the rapid-fire single "Push Upstairs," which is taken up a dirty notch by both Adam Beyer's caustic house treatment and Darren Price's predictable pumping. Also included are the unreleased but magically subdued "Please Help Me" and a roaring electro-fied version of "Bruce Lee" at the hands of Frenchmen the Micronauts.

For those who can't wait for the DVD, "King of Snake" comes with a humorous video assembled by Underworld's design moniker, Tomato. While more for the collector, this untitled boxed set provides enough variety to keep even passing Underworld fans entertained until spring rolls around. -- Heath K. Hignight

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