An exquisite hit and a regrettable miss [p. 24]

LINDSEY BUCKINGHAM Under the Skin (Hed Artzi) Lindsey Buckingham generally had his "out there" musical tendencies hemmed in by the straightforward pop-rock conventions of Fleetwood Mac. But on his three solo albums - released in 1981, 1984 and 1992 - Buckingham, unfettered by the constraints of writing and performing under the supergroup banner, was able to let his imagination run wild. The results were pop symphonies with so many guitars and overdubbed vocals they sounded like listeners had gotten stuck inside Brian Wilson's confused head. Certainly a case of too much of a good thing. Which is why the spare, up close and personal Under the Skin is so refreshing, and finally justifies the "pop visionary" label thrust upon Buckingham all those years ago. Sounding like sketchy demos recorded in a home studio, the songs on Under the Skin usually feature just the echoing of an acoustic guitar, some kind of rhythmic beat or pulse short of a full drum kit, and a lone Buckingham vocal sometimes embellished by a counterpoint or harmony. It's haunting and exquisite, and enables Buckingham's full melodic capabilities rise to the forefront. Tracks like "It Was You," "Shut You Down" and the title song are sensual and dreamy, but never stray too far from standard pop elements. You can almost hear what Fleetwood Mac would have done if the band had put these songs together in a studio. But it's that very unglossy, spare quality that's the driving element behind their charm. Besides his own stellar material - of which the touching "Cast Away Dreams" is the standout - Buckingham also takes obscure Sixties molehills by the Rolling Stones ("I Am Waiting") and Donovan ("To Try for the Sun") and turns them into musical mountains. The songs are much too raw and "under the skin" ever to become radio hits - perhaps even to be played on the radio at all. But that shouldn't stop you from enjoying this unassuming gem of an album. AEROSMITH Devil's Got a New Disguise (Hed Artzi) Unless you're partial to latter day Aerosmith's mix of hard rock and pop, beware of this single-disc "Best of" compilation. It presents a skewed overview of the members of the Boston band, who started out as bluesy, Stones-inspired bad boys only to reinvent themselves post-drug addiction as generic arena rock purveyors of sing-along anthems. The problem with Devil's Got a New Disguise is not so much what it includes, but what it omits. Focusing almost exclusively on the period after the band's 1986 comeback, the album contains only two songs from Aerosmith's Seventies heyday - "Sweet Emotion" and the prototypical power ballad "Dream On." There's no "Same Old Song and Dance," "Mama Kin" or "Toys in the Attic," and nothing from the band's pinnacle of hard rock, the 1976 album Rocks. And the only version of the signature tune "Walk This Way" isn't the arguably superior 1974 version, but the much touted 1986 rap/rock collaboration with Run DMC, which jumpstarted Aerosmith's mainstream return. Instead, the 18 tracks include "Livin' On the Edge," "Cryin'," "Angel" and other commercial blockbusters strong on hooks, finesse and production but short on authenticity. Two new bonus tracks, "Sedona Sunrise" and "Devil's Got a New Disguise," are serviceable, but nothing to get excited about. For those looking for a fuller picture of Aerosmith, a far better portrait is the 2002 double disc O, Yeah!, which aside from its new tracks featured all the songs on Devil's and didn't slight the band's formative years. Walk that way instead.