Quebec-based artist Merlin pricked ears in 1993 with debut A Noise Supreme's heavy rock'n'rap recipe, then created confusion with last year's more conventional, grungy Cool Chicks and Other Babes, issued under the name "ma." In a consistent track record of deliberate inconsistency, latest venture Merlin's Arcade also goes its own way, albeit building on the poppier elements of the ma project. Mr. Merlin ravages confessional television ("Oprah") and organized faith ("Junk Religion"), but not before taking rather defensive aim at the lowly music critic on lead track "The Playboy Interview": "You're wondering where the buzz is/And you're wondering where the raps are/'Cause you never really knew me/How can you rate me only one star?" Despite this grievous assault, I find the disc a most enjoyable slice of ear candy, completely self-recorded at his home studio known as (if you haven't guessed) Merlin's Arcade. Marred only by overly-mechanical drum tracks, Merlin puts the microscope to an amplified history book of pop/rock archetypes, from Beach Boys-meet-Seal vocal arrangements to the fuzzed-up candystripe bubblegum of (aptly-titled) "Watermelon Gum" and "Deep End." "Redneck Town" throws a chance of pace with its mock-spaghetti Western condemnation of small-town small-mindedness.
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