EW Staff
January 14, 1994 AT 05:00 AM EST

Tom Waits’ new album, The Black Rider, consists of music he wrote for a Robert Wilson opera recently staged at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. And surprise: Waits’ warped, carnival-barker score is actually pretty good. Most graying rockers who try to show they are Serious Artistes-as a way to relieve the tedium of performing in arenas full of screaming fans, garnering platinum albums, and hanging out with Tabitha Soren-aren’t as lucky, however, as the following run sheet of classically minded pop stars shows. PAUL McCARTNEY Title Of Work:Paul McCartney’s Liverpool Oratorio (1991) What It Is:Middlebrow choral work about a war baby who grows up, mistreats pregnant wife, and is redeemed. Latin lyrics included. Sample Silliness:In her role as the wife, opera diva Kiri Te Kanawa belts, ”Cancel my appointment at the Squash Club!” Critical Reation:”A padded, vapid, recycled, cross-dressed, sentimental, pretty-pretty oratorio- the sort of thing that gives saccharine a bad name.” Saving Grace:No tambourine parts for wife Linda.

CHARLIE WATTS Title Of Work:A Tribute to Charlie Parker with strings (1992) What It Is:.The Rolling Stones drummer fulfills childhood dream by recording Parker tunes with jazz-musician buds. Sample Silliness:Sax player recites poetry written by Watts Critical Reation:”Bird tribute shows Stone better keep his day job.” Saving Grace:Record stores often file it under ”jazz,” giving it a smidgen of authenticity.

CARLY SIMON Title Of Work:Carly Simon’s Romulus Hunt (1993) What It Is: Sample Silliness:Romulus’ mom sings: ”What about the hole in his nose where the ring was?/Will that grow back too?” Critical Reation:”The music is neither memorable nor catchy; the dialogue is often tortured and narcissistic.” Saving Grace:For an opera, it’s short-only one hour. Diluted mix of pop, reggae, and cabaret tunes would work well for future ketchup ads.

PRINCE Title Of Work:Billboards (1993) What It Is:The Joffrey Ballet company interprets pre-recorded hits from the unnamed one’s heyday. Sample Silliness:Classically trained dancers leaping around in tights to lyrics like ”Everybody grab a bod/Pump it like U want somebody.” Critical Reaction:”This relentlessly ‘now’ ballet is already looking dated.” Saving Grace:The Glyph didn’t design the costumes, so we’re spared hairy, uncovered butts.

ELVIS COSTELLO Title Of Work:The Juliet Letters (1993) What It Is:Fictional ”letters” sung to accompaniment of the Brodsky Quartet’s classical strings. Sample Silliness:Costello singing the address of an envelope. Critical Reaction:”You almost wished some drunk would scream out ‘Pump It Up.’ ” Saving Grace:Titles like ”Damnation’s Cellar,” ”Swine,” and ”Taking My Life in Your Hands” would make good death-metal songs.

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