Kari Wuhrer
(Del-Fi 6002)

I must say, my initial interest in this disc was the celebrity album angle: was it going to be an Edward Furlong type of album, or a Jack Wagner type of album?

Wait, I confused myself with that one. Anyway, albums put out by people who are already famous for something other than music tend to offer more in the way of condescending scorn for me than genuine musical enjoyment. That's probably because everyone from Rodney Allen Rippey to Chris Burke has made an album, and the results are usually pretty laughable.

But something has happened in the 90s that has allowed stars like Brandy and Will Smith to enjoy equal success in acting and music, somehow avoiding the Eddie Murphy/Don Johnson syndrome of having one or the other (or in the case of Eddie Murphy and Don Johnson, both) suffer.

And now Jennifer Lopez is a certified superstar in both arenas, and no one is laughing. The day of the Scott Baio-esque celebrity cash-in is gone, and we're living in a world where multi-talented people are free to explore their many creative facets.

Sure, I'll miss the opportunity to lampoon a new Jeff Conaway album, but on the other hand, it's a breath of fresh air to hear an album like this one from Kari Wuhrer – a decidedly commercial album that retains its integrity and honesty throughout.

I was surprised to like the album as much as I did, but after listening to it a whole bunch of times, I think that was just my prejudice against celebrity albums. This is really good music in a way that, say, a Ken Ober album would not be.

Kari is known to most people of my generation as the female sidekick on MTV's groundbreaking game show "Remote Control" (possibly the last cool thing MTV ever did, no offense, Tom Green, you attention-craving freak), as well as the show "Sliders" and several late-night cable movies that, ahem, I've only heard about, ahem.

Her level of fame as an actor is such that a diversion into music doesn't seem odd at all (whereas, say, an Ed Asner album would seem odd). Still, most will be surprised at how natural Kari sounds in this context, and beyond that, that she writes her own material, and it's damn good.

Her general approach is basically in the Natalie Imbruglia/Letters to Cleo/Alanis Morrissette vein, mainly angsty alterna-pop with defined choruses and hooky melodies. The album doesn't come off at all like a bandwagon-jumper, and in fact, it's a pretty bold album for a number of reasons. It's being promoted by legendary indie Del-Fi (Bob Keene's label, the one that brought us Richie Valens, among others), and it's being promoted primarily via the web.

It's a very indie sort of album, too – strong, uncompromising, and deeply personal. In fact, the bulk of the album is really sad, actually, a lot of that stemming from the fact that Kari was in the middle of a divorce from her husband and musical collaborator Daniel Salin while recording the album.

Several of the tracks deal directly with that subject, but stranger than that, several of the tracks were written by Salin, making for a difficult ride through the couple's dissolution for the listener. It's almost the anti-Double Fantasy in that respect. (Though if Mark David Chapman ever releases an album, his album will be the true anti-Double Fantasy.)

Shiny contains 10 tracks, 5 by Kari, 4 written by her ex, and a cover of "Come And Get It" by Paul McCartney by way of Badfinger, tacked on as something of a token cover version, but it's done really well, very 90s and fresh sounding. They could use it for one of those tampon commericals or something, or Volkswagen. Ideally, those two corporations will merge and they can use this track to promote their new product, which I will not be so crass as to imagine in the space of this review.

I've listened to this album about 30 times more so far than I ever expected to, and I have to say that Kari's songs are extremely good, very personal songs that demonstrate a real natural talent … I mean, she's already written more good songs on this album than Robert Palmer has in 25 years of trying. Her ex's songs are notably less satisfying, though they are still very catchy – lyrically, though, they sometimes veer into pure clunkiness ("Won't you tell me how to stop all the bleeding I see/'Cause my rag is dripping wet and there's no sign of a scab/Isn't it sad the first sign of relief is the sight of a scab").

I mean, that's a meaningful line, I guess, but someone ought to have told the guy that the word "scab" has never been successfully utilized in a song, much less twice in the same line. Oh, wait, didn't Cole Porter write one called "Oh, My Scab's a Scab?" Or was that another one of my music professor's "little white lies" designed to coax me out of my boxer briefs?

The album opens with the lead single, "There's a Drug," which has a 4 Non Blondes vibe that makes it a certain favorite for radio. It's a very strong song, followed by two Kari songs, "Normal" and "Your Octopus," both good, the latter excellent. On these I hear a bit of an Edie Brickell influence coming through, making me think it's about time for Edie Brickell to be given her due. She only made three albums (and only two of them were really good) but I suspect she's had a more measurably deep impact on the last ten years of pop/rock music than most 80s artists you can name.

At any rate, these are good-ass songs, brother. "Take Me Now" (the "scab" song) is catchy despite some of those odd lines, and it's followed by the aforementioned "Come and Get It."

The second half of the album is a bit more brooding, taking things into a bit darker of a place, starting with "Can't Cope" and "Sunflower Man," which show off a Smashing Pumpkins influence, particularly "Sunflower," which recalls some of the better moments of Gish but in a bit more of a straight-pop context.

"Little Birds" is probably my second favorite track behind "Your Octopus," quite oblique and weighty for a "celebrity album." (Well, I suppose there was that Rodney Allen Rippey concept album Trippey Rippey.)

"Hands of Mary" is the best of the Salin tracks on the album, quite a sad song that leads perfectly into the hugely downbeat closer "Better Off," which finds Kari utterly depressed – it's a power ballad with the tag line "I'm better off dead."

A great song, a great closer to this album, which ultimately doesn't feel that Shiny once you've got to the end. But it's a great testament to Kari's real claim to musical credibility – she's a strong, accessible songwriter and an engaging performer of some brutally honest material.

And for fans of Kari, there are plenty of ahem, artistic photographs – honestly, I'd say the album is more naked than these pictures are, though – so people who like metaphorical nudity will be greatly plee-sured.

An impressive and surprising debut. I can't tell if I would like it more or less if she'd called it Wuhrer All Alone and covered the Rita Coolidge/Boz Scaggs song … I am a sucker for puns, but that one might have been too over the top.

Review by Chillykid