October 21, 1991 12:00 PM

Sam Phillips

There are essentially two kinds of memorable pop songs: the zillion-selling sort that earn their creators guest slots on Club MTV and the quality sort that are too hip for radio.

Phillips specializes in the second. Though she will never be a pop star—her songs are a bit too low-key for the dance crowd—Cruel Inventions is picture-perfect pop. Catchy, quirky and unforgettable. Even after one quick skip through the album, you’ll have instant recall of at least half of its 10 songs.

Think of Phillips as a sort of Sinéad O’Connor with more hair and less angst. Both singers specialize in heavily percussive tunes with intense lyrics about love’s dark side. Still, Phillips’s music somehow seems more personable.

It has plenty to do with those upbeat hooks that this record, produced by her husband and fellow musician, T Bone Burnett, revolves around.

Such achingly self-aware lyrics as “If I said I don’t want what I don’t have/And all the answers are enough/ If I said I believe in myself/And that’s enough/I’d be lying,” from the loping “Lying,” might seem introspective in the extreme. Yet such potentially pretentious-sounding songs become very easy on the ears because they have been sugarcoated with a sweet sound. (Virgin)

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