P.M. Dawn's hefty front man Prince Be has been called everything from an ersatz hippie to a fraud (the latter by streetwise rappers like KRS-One). On the group's second album, he is revealed for what he truly, magnificently, is: the hip-hop version of Johnny Mathis. On ''Looking Through Patient Eyes,'' one of the many luscious highs on The Bliss Album...? (Vibrations of Love and Anger and the Ponderance of Life and Existence), Prince Be digs deep into his well-padded lungs and croons lines like ''Whatever it is I do/I try to think about you,'' as strings and new-jack harmonies swirl around him. Imagine a heating pad with a rap beat, and you get a rough idea of P.M. Dawn's sonic massage.
Be and his brother and bandmate, DJ Minutemix, laid the groundwork for that head-tripping hip-hop on their 1991 debut album, Of the Heart, Of the Soul and Of the Cross: The Utopian Experience, and they nail it even further on The Bliss Album...? Once again, the duo effortlessly blends disparate elements balladeering and rapping, samples and live orchestration into gorgeous, wide-screen tableaux of sound. They also write terrific songs, from galloping melodies like ''About Nothing'' and ''The Ways of the Wind'' to exquisite, forlorn ballads like ''I'd Die Without You'' (their Boomerang soundtrack hit, included here) and the Culture Club-like ''More Than Likely.'' (They even breathe life into a Beatles cover: ''Norwegian Wood'' becomes a rap serenade.)
The group's attempts at traditional hip-hop funk beats are a little timid, and their hippie tendencies can often make for moony lyrics. But all of that and its absurdly cumbersome title aside, The Bliss Album...? is pretty wonderful, wonderful. A-