New Albums: Good, Or Merely Funny Hats?
1) Mariah Carey has signed on to be a judge for the upcoming season of American Idol!
2) The latest single by P!nk is called "Blow Me (One Last Kiss)"!
3) This week offers up the best new album releases of the year!
Sadly, only one of these bewildering statements of fact is untrue!
Even more sadly, it's the most difficult to believe!
Rodriguez: Searching For Sugar Man (Legacy) Anyone who prowled the cut-out bin of used record stores over the past few decades has likely come across countless copies of Cold Fact and Coming From Reality--two excellent albums from Detroit-based singer Rodriguez that virtually defined the notion of instant obscurity. How strange it is that history has conspired to make them cult items so many years later, and that the singer himself—despite his cultural invisibility Stateside—managed to make such an impact worldwide that a movie devoted to his life would emerge and result in this soundtrack document. There's a fascinating story to be had here, and a lesson to be learned as well: Sometimes the most intriguing tales in popular music escape the radar of cultural bastions of their time (be it Rolling Stone, Pitchfork or Glamour) and can best be retold years after the fact. Pick up this soundtrack, see this movie, and wonder what else you missed while you were being told to pick up the latest album by Rod Stewart, Tuff Darts, or Pavement. Sad, but all too true.
Passion Pit: Gossamer (Columbia) Often called PP by longtime fans, Passion Pit combine the best of the wondrous passion fruit—a tasty treat grown in warm areas ranging from India and Peru to Florida and Venezuela—and Open Pit BBQ Sauce, a unique concoction that, like most good things, tastes marvelous when applied to a juicy slab of ribs! Their latest album, titled Gossamer—a fine silk that spiders, perhaps grossly, "produce" in a manner best left unstated—is certain to be a favorite of both gourmets and nature lovers worldwide! What's weird, though, is that the guy who sings for them has a really high voice! Oh well, as their many fans have rationalized, that's PP!
The Gaslight Anthem: Handwritten (Mercury) A fine band who, perhaps unusually, have attained massive success on the stages of Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo and Coachella, the Gaslight Anthem have now "risen up" from the indie roots and produced a wowser of an album produced by no less than Brendan O' Brien, a guy famous for having impressive names within the parentheses that invariably follow his name! Named after the song that many consider the anthem of a generation—Meatloaf's "Paradise By The Dashboard Light," only slightly modified after they found out about that Dashboard Confessional dude—the Anthem, as we longtime fans refer to them, here pay tribute to Meatloaf, his co-writer Jim Steinman, Dashboard Confessional, Francis Scott Key, and the Canadian record label that launched Rush on Handwritten's spectacular closing track, "National Anthem," and later go out for a couple of beers and sub sandwiches! Between you and me? I like them—but to be candid, I'm simply not interested in what temperature is required for the human body to spontaneously ignite!
Jennifer Lopez: Dance Again: The Hits (Epic) OK, let's be honest! Does anybody out there think Jennifer Lopez is the world's greatest singer? Not me! I just think she's good looking, and boy—does this album cover make that case! Still, the former Idol judge, described in her bio as being an "actress, entertainer, recording artist, film & TV producer, fashion designer, entrepreneur and philanthropist," has apparently sold over 55 million records worldwide, so she must be good! This great set, which features 16 tracks and all the music you'll ever need to play really loudly, dance in front of the mirror, and curse your parents for providing you with the sort of problematic genes Jenny herself has never had to endure, is one of the best albums of its kind! Like most of us, I enjoy "Jenny From The Block" the most, and it's here in all its glory—and thanks to the "repeat" function of most CD players, can be played over and over until you've crafted the exact dance moves necessary to impress your entire neighborhood! I'm particularly impressed with her hair! I saw her in a movie once!
Sugar: Copper Blue/Beaster (Deluxe Edition); File Under: Easy Listening (Deluxe Edition) (both Merge) I'm sorry, can I make a really dreadful confession? I believe I officially "parted ways" with the hipsters in my social circle—that being geeks who actually managed to make money writing about music for a living a few decades ago—when I found myself scratching my head over the supposed value of the works of two "seminal" "alternative" bands—namely Husker Du and Dinosaur, Jr.—who seemed to offer up the best of intentions but ultimately murky and too-derivative, loud rock 'n' roll songs. You might say I chalked up their acclaim to the sad truth that an entirely new generation of rock critics was less familiar with these artists' influences than the artists themselves were and thus not adept enough to, shall we say, call them out for being less-than-inspirational when they needed to be. My point? I probably preferred Sugar—Bob Mould's post-Husker Du band—if only because they owned up to their roots and covered the Who's stellar Sell Out anthem "Armenia City In The Sky" and perhaps acquainted an entirely new generation with music that was intrinsically more interesting. A live version can be heard here on Disc 3 of Copper Blue, recorded 20 years ago, and it's quite good. Otherwise? A deluxe version of more of the same!
Laetitia Sadler: Silencio (Drag City) For kicks, let's talk about a really good record! That would be this one, the latest from Laetitia Sadler, the vocalist from Stereolab—really, one of the better bands of the last two decades—who returns here after an equally impressive solo set (The Trip) with memorable lyrics, melodies, arrangements, guest slots from her Stereolab buddies and the Sea & Cake dude, and an enormously satisfying sense of making a piece of artwork—an album in which all the songs flow and contrast nicely with those that precede and follow them—that is aimed at mature, thinking, and well-groomed music fans, ideally residing on the west coast of the United States! Not a simple work, Silencio deserves repeated listening, perhaps a drink or two by the fireplace, and the trying on several pairs of pants for total sensory comfort! I for one am willing to make that move!
Slipknot: Antennas To Hell (Roadrunner) I think the biggest question about this great new Slipknot album—aside from how the heck they got Bruce Willis to pose for the cover shot—is whether the plural of "antenna" is spelled "antennas" or "antennae"! I'm inclined to vote for the latter—but still, can the most famous nu-metal band from Des Moines, Iowa possibly be wrong? Celebrating the "first chapter" of the band—and thus containing the Top 40 smash "People = S**t" among other 'Knot classics—this fab collection provides all the music everyone with any taste or sense of musical history could ever need! And though the band's planned "second chapter"—in which they renounce their musical past and instead focus on ballet and the crafting of fancy French desserts—could spell trouble by some accounts, I'm inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt! I mean, have they been wrong even once?
Booker T. & The MGs: Green Onions (Stax) A welcome reissue of Booker T. & The MGs' classic 1962 debut album Green Onions, this set sounds truly miraculous 50 years on: Impeccably polished, well-played, with not a single unnecessary or excessive note, the disc simply could not sound more contemporary--and might easily sit side by side with Krautrock legends like Can on a Spotify playlist and not sound the slightest bit jarring. With the addition of two live tracks from 1965 and a strong remastering, the disc is a great value and a necessary addition to any music collection that aims to be comprehensive. And I would kill to have a giant picture of this album cover framed on my wall.
Lawrence Arabia: Sparrow (Bella Union) A substantial, highly listenable set from New Zealand singer-songwriter James Milne, one that is well-crafted, harmony-filled, and filled with the tricky turns of melodies and arrangements that mark a songwriter who's ambitious and still making his way forward. Humorous, tinged with the sort of thing once called "orchestral pop" until critics realized that was code for a death sentence, this is highly recommended--and yet another indicator that any album bearing the Bella Union label is better than nearly everything else. What's scary is I actually mean that!