Following their superb, decidedly weird 1989 release, The Half-Life of Desire, and with one's appetite whetted by the intriguing Caravaggio details used in the packaging, The Calculus of Pleasure came as something of a letdown. It's as though the mainstream qualities which were always present but offset by an avant-garde sensibility and some inspired wackiness suddenly rose to the fore and drowned out everything else. This might be all well and good, and to be sure, the ensemble goes through their paces quite ably, but the listener who thrilled to their rollicking covers of everyone from Bobbie Gentry to Robert Fripp may have been expecting a more progressive step rather than the regression to music that seemed so safe and even-tempered. The exception is perhaps their version of Julius Hemphill's classic "The Hard Blues," where the instrumentalists do indeed get a bit down and dirty. Even here though, little enough new is done with the material that one half-wonders why, aside from admiring the original, they bothered. Gershon's "Miles Away" is a funky tribute to post-Bitches Brew Davis, and the album closes with a charming lullaby by bassist Nieske, but the sense of drive and purpose achieved in earlier efforts seems to have largely evaporated. An enjoyable enough recording but not an essential one and, given the band's prior promise, a slightly disappointing one.
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AllMusic Review by Brian Olewnick