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U2 ``Rattle and Hum'' (Island 7 91003-1) - Does success lead to creative decline? Not necessarily, but U2's latest seems to indicate just that. This sound-track album from the Irish band's movie features nine new songs and six live tracks recorded during its last American tour. There's nothing here that comes close to the inspiration of ``Joshua Tree.'' The mild R&B numbers are really inconsequential. ``Heartland'' and ``Desire'' better indicate what the band is capable of. LEVEL 42 ``Staring at the Sun'' (Polydor 837 247-1) - Bassist Mark King and keyboardist Mark Lindup - the backbone of the British pop band Level 42 - are back with a new drummer and guitarist. This album doesn't have quite the punch or the catchy melodies of their previous ``Running in the Family'' or the depth in the lyrics, but King's slightly nasal vocal sound and pop-and-slap bass style, together with Lindup's arrangements, still make for good listening.

BING CROSBY ``The Crooner - The Columbia Years 1928-1934'' (Columbia C4X 44229) - This four-record set includes 65 songs, some rare and previously unreleased - digitally remastered material from Crosby's early years. A must for collectors, the set has a 12-page booklet describing each song. Glenn Miller, Paul Whiteman, Don Redman, and the Dorsey brothers are among the featured bands.

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CHRIS McGREGOR/ BROTHERHOOD OF BREATH ``Country Cooking'' (Virgin/ Venture 7 90998-1) - Imagine the sunny, liquid melodies and rhythms of South African music, then translate them to big-band jazz. This is what South African composer, arranger, and pianist McGregor has done with his interracial band, Brotherhood of Breath, and it's a joy to hear - all new, adventurous material, mostly by McGregor.

VARIOUS ARTISTS ``Rai Rebels'' (Virgin/ Earthworks 7 91000-1) - Rai (``opinion'' in Arabic) music comes from Algeria, and ``pop-rai'' is the defiant music of Algerian youth - a fusion of Arabic, Spanish, French, and African musical cultures, with Western rock rhythms. This collection spotlights some of rai's best-known singers, including Chaba Fadela and Cheb Khaled. Even though pop-rai sounds almost traditional to Western ears, it's great dance music.

ASTOR PIAZZOLLA AND THE NEW TANGO QUINTET ``Tango: Zero Hour'' (Pangea PAND-42138) - Pangea (Sting's new record label) has released Piazzolla's critically acclaimed 1986 album on CD and cassette. The master of the new tango stretches out here with a group of his own lively, romantic, dramatic compositions for bandoneon (accordion), violin, piano, guitar, and bass. The music has a raw, insistent urgency - driving, relentless rhythms, dynamic surprises, and lovely soaring melodies.

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