There is a certain warmth and sense of reassurance that comes with writing about musicians with whom you are deeply familiar!
This week I'll be writing about new releases from Madonna and Lionel Richie, two superstar artists with distinguished careers behind them--and it's a near certainty I'll sound authoritative as I write about their works, merely because I've been doing so, sort of, for years!
Still, there are few doubters out there--"haters," if you will--who have occasionally commented that it often seems the reviews I carefully craft are completely fictional and have no bearing whatsoever on reality!
Silly doubters! I've only "carefully crafted" about six of them in five years! The rest give me something to do on Monday nights!
Madonna: MDNA (Live Nation/Interscope) The volume of writing about Madonna that has anything whatsoever to do with her actual music as opposed to her image, the controversies that arise in her wake, and her admirable musculature is, in a manner of speaking, a very slim percentage. This is unjust! For in fact she's never been less than a fine, adventurous pop singer, one who's deliberately gone out of her way to explore the latest trends in contemporary music without being completely subsumed by them; her ear for a respectable pop hook, no small matter, has indeed never lessened from the days of "Borderline." Plus, she's kind of cute! I like this new album, think its title is sort of wise-guy trendy, am glad she's recording songs with titles like "Gang Bang," and suggest that any artist with the amount of cultural baggage she has long carried should also record such great tracks as this new "I'm A Sinner"! Between that and the "deluxe edition"'s "I F**ked Up," Madonna has clearly evaluated her life choices, decided that maybe she should have become a nun, and is probably one step away from giving all her money away to charity! Apparently these songs are all about her personal life--but since when has that ever mattered? Top notch!
Lionel Richie: Tuskegee (Island Def Jam) I think most of us will agree that when it comes to country music legends, between Hank Williams, Patsy Cline and Lionel Richie, someone's hit us really hard over the head and now even basic mathematics are a problem! This new release, which features 13 of his, as some would have it, "anthems of our day," sung in duet style with current country stars Blake Shelton, Jason Aldean, Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw, Willie Nelson, Shania Twain and Kenny Rogers, among others, is certainly an unexpected surprise! Still, so many of today's younger country stars grew up when artists like Richie and the Eagles were in full bloom, duets like "Say You, Say Me" featuring Jason Aldean are nowhere near as jarring as cynics might expect! I find this kind of interdisciplinary "jamming" fascinating, and in its way, quietly revolutionary--and can only hope in years to come, other trendsetting artists such as avant-rap superstar Soulja Boy will record a similar album with the likes of Barbra Streisand, Celine Dion, and the afore-mentioned Madonna! In some ways, maybe just posing for a picture would do the trick! At much less expense, I might add!
Macy Gray: Covered (429) What the heck ever happened to Macy Gray? Wasn't she supposed to be the next big superstar or something? Well, here she is, back again, covering bands like Metallica, Radiohead, Arcade Fire and the Eurythmics, and doing so entirely credibly if, that said, still somewhat pointlessly! But it's OK! I've often thought that Metallica's best works were aching for soulful vocal renditions, and if Macy's willing to supply them, more power to her! On the other hand, if a crew of window washers in Century City were aching for donuts and coffee from Dunkin' Donuts, and Macy were willing to take her car and go get them, more power to her as well! In short: I am completely into our marvelous capitalist system, and here I sit wondering if Macy is offering a supply for which there is no demand! Next thing you know she'll be singing with Lionel Richie!
The All-American Rejects: Kids In The Street (Interscope) I'm as much into rock 'n' roll as the next guy--I once saw Angel open for the Blue Oyster Cult!--but I think I may have once gone overboard in the case of the All-American Rejects! Seems I found myself waking up with a hangover in a hotel room in Livonia, Michigan with their frickin' name tattooed on my forehead! You too? Luckily, most of it--except, ironically, the word "reject"--came off thanks to modern laser technology and, between you and me, my personal magnetism has never been higher! I absolutely love this new record, as you might imagine, mostly because no one in rock history has ever written a song titled "Beekeeper's Daughter" before and...perhaps sadly...that's all it takes to completely satisfy me! I not only don't reject these guys, I'd like to invite them out to dinner in New Orleans for a heady dish of shrimp creole! And I'm not alone!
La Sera: Sees The Light (Hardly Art) In a peculiar twist I actually like this record, and have played it more than once, which rarely happens! La Sera--real name Gladys Edward Feinstein of the Vivian Girls--happens to evoke that joyful, understated verve displayed long ago by, say, the UK's Marine Girls, in which brief melodic tunes filled with a moving sense of emotionalism, longing, palpable guitar twangs and simple rhythms, evoke oodles more emotions than Mariah Carey might if she were, say, complaining about her non-functioning refrigerator! Nice tunes, understated throughout, topped by a music video--and let me point out I am not a fan of music videos--that evokes Eyes Without A Face and a pleasant mix of blood, horror and sexuality! We all win! Records like this are why I still do this for a living! Well, that and money!
Miike Snow: Happy To You (Downtown) Count me among the 3,418 people who consider Swedish trio Miike Snow to be pretty darned good, and this new album--the band's second--to be a big step up for the hapless trendy dudes! "Before this album we were an idea," notes American singer-songwriter Andrew Wyatt, "This time we were a band!" One has to love their candor--and also note, on an entirely personal level, that before next week's blog, I will be a concept, and then--next week--I will be a pancake! It's easy and fun! Not to get too analytical about it, but these cross-cultural bands sound more interesting than ever these days because, try as they might, their attempts to write simple, accessible pop songs are handicapped/aided by their lovable quirkiness--their inability to rise to the occasion with musical clichés, at least by American standards--and the musical result therefore can't help but sound fresh! It's, like, even their album title sounds wrong! In their case, I would like to invite them to Ikea for a photo spread! They're that good!
Tommy Bolin: Great Gypsy Soul (429) The musicologists among us know that Tommy Bolin was an extraordinary guitarist who made his name via stints in such bands as Zephyr, the James Gang, Deep Purple, and briefly as a solo artist--and despite his erratic nature, much of it aggravated by excess of one sort or another, his work at its best was fresh, sparkling and innovative--for which I'd also refer you to his contributions with jazz drummers Billy Cobham and Alphonse Mouzon. This new collection takes some of the late guitarist's multitracks and adds some compelling contributions by the likes of Peter Frampton, Steve Lukather, Glenn Hughes, Steve Morse, Derek Trucks, John Scofield and more. It's fascinating stuff, and considering the process, quite organic sounding: Bolin was a unique player, and this new airing of his material drives home that point in a new and unexpected way. A fine memorial and a great way to keep Bolin's memory alive. Recommended.
Paul Weller: Sonik Kicks (Yep Rock) Paul Weller remains one of Britain's more interesting pop stars: A fine writer who's never reached the inevitable point of stagnation that has dogged most of contemporaries, he continues to churn out adventurous albums that borrow from the best without sounding too derivative. With its groovily psychedelic cover, Sonik Kicks features prime Weller material--he's never lost his knack for a memorable melody--guest appearances from Noel Gallagher and Graham Coxon, and 14 songs that evoke the best of the same UK singer-songwriter tradition that his predecessors Pete Townshend and Ray Davies still, though less regularly, occasionally evidence. Very happy to have him around and working at this high a level.
Frankie Avalon: Muscle Beach Party: The United Artists Sessions (Real Gone Music) It's enormously gratifying that labels like Real Gone see--and are satisfying--the need to fill in the blanks when it comes to accepted pop history. In the case of Frankie Avalon, the teen star made his name chartwise in the pre-Beatle era; thereafter, his shift to the Beach Party movies with Annette Funicello, and his lack of radio hits, kept his recorded work largely out of the picture. And while earlier material like "Venus" has never faded from public attention, it's his later stuff, all of which is the focus here, which these days seems a mystery. This collection, focusing on Avalon's 1964-1965 material, is rewarding and revealing, and though occasionally corny, oddly Smiths-like thematically: Check out "Every Girl Should Get Married," "Don't Make Fun Of Me" and "Would Ya Like My Last Name." Get this before it goes away.
The Chemical Brothers: Don't Think (DVD/CD) (Astralwerks) A fab concert film showcasing everyone's favorite brothers, chemically speaking, live at Japan's Fuji Rock Festival! Featuring two new tracks! Advising everyone, purely on the basis of its title, not to think! And an album review lacking an actual verb! Where I come from, this is stylistically a knockout!
MDNA comes out this week, and only on Yahoo! Music, Madonna's fans can enter to win exclusive VIP tickets to her highly anticipated world tour. These "in the pit" tickets are for fans only and cannot be purchased; they can only be won on Yahoo! Music by uploading a photo of oneself with the MNDA album cover to the Flickr group http://flickr.com/groups/MDNA. The contest begins today and runs through April 23 at 11:59 p.m. ET. Go here to upload your photo and enter to win VIP Madonna tickets now!