August 29, 1988 12:00 PM

Jenny Morris

There’s a striking contrast between the music of these two imports from New Zealand. In her first U.S. album, Morris, a former backup singer with the Australian band INXS, engagingly performs 10 pop-rock tunes heavy on romance—past, present, imperfect. An English, art and home-ec teacher in the ’70s before she quit to be a singer, she has maintained, within the context of rock music, fairly high standards of literacy (Animal Magnetism, which she wrote herself, may be knocking down the standards a little). Her album is sexy in a refined sort of way. Morris is to countrywoman Laing what Karen Carpenter was to Joan Baez. Laing, who wrote all the songs on South, seems to find it hard to hit a note without making a reference to, say, carnage on the roads (Highway Warriors), refugees (The Migrant and the Refugee), acid rain (Caught), or politics, war and celebrity on (Glad I’m) Not a Kennedy. She speculates about a nuclear winter and dedicates that song to some whales who beached themselves in New Zealand in 1987 (Soviet Snow). Carrying all these burdens, her first record here could have been as enjoyable as a UN tariff debate. But Laing’s penetrating voice and rhythmically hip, folk-rock singing style make it musical. Her lyrics too display an unsettling, stream-of-consciousness allure: “Postcard from a free state/Willed on through the wire/Free the night like a heat wave/On a half-hearted fire.” Ah, these are fascinating times in pop music. When the new talent isn’t coming out of Minneapolis-St. Paul, it’s coming from Wellington, N.Z. (Morris: Atlantic; Laing: TVT)

You May Like