Box Car Racer ( * * * ) The self-titled debut by Box Car Racer could be subtitled "A Midseason Growth Spurt by Blink-182." Guitarist Tom DeLonge and drummer Travis Barker, two-thirds of Blink, crafted this effervescent side project with rhythm guitarist Dave Kennedy and bassist Anthony Celestino. Blink singer Mark Hoppus joins his moonlighting bandmates on Elevator, further blurring the line between a full Blink and a winking Blink. But one glaring deviation sends Box Car down a different track. The music, while upbeat and even giddy, steers away from adolescent pranks and pratfalls, a welcome upgrade. The band creates a fresh breed of post- punk power pop by roughing up bright melodies in bracing tunes such as All Systems Go and Cat Like Thief, featuring the ragged growl of Rancid's Tim Armstrong. With luck, the next Blink-182 album will steal a few moves from this unpolished offshoot. -- Edna Gundersen
R&B: Raphael Saadiq, Instant Vintage ( * * * 1/2) Since the mid- '80s, when most music became more synthesized than soulful, Raphael Saadiq has never tried to fake the funk. Whether with Tony Toni Tone, Lucy Pearl or on his own, the guitarist/singer has always remained close to the essence of soul music. On his latest effort, Saadiq offers something that seems familiar but is at the same time refreshingly new. Body Parts, for example, is reminiscent of the '70s, but the sexy groove is straight Y2K2. And like singers of an earlier vintage, he's equally adept at setting a romantic mood and taking a political tone. He doesn't weigh his records down with studio gimmicks, either, trusting his skillful musicians to keep the listener's ear cocked toward the speakers. It will take only an instant to recognize the quality. -- Steve Jones
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