Apologies for being a day later than usual: I've just finished the second day of a planned three-day, work-related seminar that involves note-taking, PowerPoint slides, role-playing, and an endless supply of Diet Coke!
Yes, as you may suspect, it's been a virtual paradise!
Still, my chosen role as arbiter of good taste--the human whose sole role is to list the week's most interesting new album releases and often, for kicks, write something relevant about them--continues!
And so it is that I will now list 10 new releases--all of them equally exciting, emotionally compelling, and, in an odd way, sexually attractive--and appraise them not only for their cultural worth but for their physical appearance and relevance to you, my faithful readers!
I like the ones I listened to the best!
Norah Jones: ...Little Broken Hearts (Blue Note) That Norah Jones still releases albums on the esoteric and much-admired Blue Note label still says much about her artistic intent: She's quite good, focused on art, and apparently only mildly interested in selling oodles of records! And while she was once the bees knees sales-wise, and a Grammy winner beyond compare, she continues to dabble in interesting music forms, apparently less concerned with attaining massive record sales than many in her shoes, most recently with her country-esque outfit the Little Willies, and her with her new collaboration with Danger Mouse, supreme arty and cool dude and man of the moment! Boasting an attractive album cover with a design derived from a poster for a famous Russ Meyer movie, ...Little Broken Hearts sounds much more like a Norah Jones album than a Danger Mouse album, which is good, and is sophisticated, aimed at a comparatively hip audience, and a highly enjoyable listen! When will she wake up and smell the coffee?
Carrie Underwood: Blown Away (19 Recordings) New albums by former American Idol contestants are few and far between--at least on Neptune!--but this latest by contemporary country music star Underwood certainly drives home the point that a history marred by participation in a silly television show is by no means a bleak one! Chockfull of memorable songs, and bearing a cover featuring the singer dressed to the veritable nines, Blown Away may be just the album to elevate the award-winning, superstar singer to new commercial heights! Especially were it to grow to, say, three meters in circumference and she to board it--much like a flying saucer--and soar heavenward as, we can all agree, she's likely to do sooner or later anyway! And if the wind's just right--as the album title hints--she might even be flying over the Himalayas by now! As always, Underwood remains a blonde!
Various Artists: The Music Of Smash (Columbia) Like most of my hardcore rock 'n' roll writer friends, I grew up in a household in which the soundtracks to My Fair Lady, The Sound Of Music, Camelot, Bye Bye Birdie, Carousel and The King And I were repeatedly played--and while I begrudgingly feigned interest in rockers like the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Huey Lewis, in my heart of hearts I prayed for a future in which West Side Story and Funny Girl would set the template for all popular music to come, and I could write about the music that meant the most to me! And here it is, mid-2012, and now comes the soundtrack to the spectacular television show Smash, featuring the marvelous American Idol performer Katherine McPhee and more melodrama than I--or any other living, breathing human--could possibly bear! With a cover picture illustrating the enormously attractive cast crossing the Delaware River in 1776, The Music Of Smash is a life-affirming, joyous music experience that probably would sound great were you to actually listen to it! Between you and me: I'm so glad she dropped that whole bogus blonde thing! Looks really aren't everything!
Marilyn Manson: Born Villain (Cooking Vinyl) A new album by Marilyn Manson is a special cause for celebration! Especially if you're Manson himself--particularly after than night at a Valdosta, Georgia, bar when an overweight redneck fan named Willie Gee deliberately sat right down next to him, offered to buy him a "free" basket of Hava Heapa Hushpuppies, and proceeded to offer career advice to "over the hill musicians whose music once meant a lot to an admittedly small group of people who now, perhaps, have grown older and realized how transparently derivative most of their better-known music actually was"! "Dude," replied the stunned Manson, "you sort of sound like a rock critic!" Opening up a Schlitz Tall Boy and grinning, the fan belched loudly and noted that Marilyn was a "funny" name for a dude! Sad truth: Tires have been slashed in Valdosta for less!
Rufus Wainwright: Out Of The Game (Decca) While I'd be the first to acknowledge the raw talent of Mr. Wainwright--not least because I believe in the power of genetics and the raw talent of his Mom & Pop--I can't say I've felt much focus within the bulk of his works. Was he displaying his versatility? Maybe. Did the world really need another Judy Garland tribute show and album? Probably not! But this new set, produced by hipdude Mark Ronson, features not only the expected cast of slick humans, but also some of the finest, most tightly focused songs of Wainwright's career. Arrangements are charming, songs are distinctly hummable, the singer's vocals are, as per usual, top-notch, and the album seems an actual art object rather than a product self-consciously recorded as a reaction to other outside forces! Plus, the innate pain resulting from actually being named "Rufus" would have to cause great art every once in a while! I'd buy this!
The Ad Libs: The Complete Blue Cat Recordings (Real Gone Music) There's something to be said for holding an album in your hands and saying "Damn! I really would like to hear this!" And that's certainly the case for this unexpected reissue for R&B group the Ad Libs, whose early '60s hit "The Boy From New York City" was a massive radio hit when I was a pre-adolescent, and a song which bore lyrics like "..And he's cute/In his mohair suit" may well have been the first personal indication I'd ever had that chicks liked well-dressed dudes! Boy, did that mess me up for a couple of decades! Yet again kudos to the fabulous Real Gone Music label for assembling this collection, which is sociologically fascinating, highly rhythmic, and a terrific listen for those inclined to drive around Los Angeles in 2012 in a Cadillac Deville! Little Wille John? Cowboy Copas? They have found their niche and are completely ruling it!
Kevin Ayers: The Harvest Years 1969-1974 (EMI UK import) Speaking as someone who now holds in his hand a pair of tickets for a concert by a popular contemporary band each of which goes for $150--and these are unscalped, mind you--I look at albums like this--a 5-CD set which comprises the best works of one of pop music's best and most quirky artists, all recorded decades ago, all infinitely superior to the works of the unnamed band I hint at above, and all available to you the consumer today for less than $50--I'd have to say you're nuts if you don't buy this stuff while you can! Ayers, a former member of England's Soft Machine, released a memorable string of fascinatingly rich pop albums during this period, and all of them--Joy Of A Toy, Shooting At The Moon, Whatevershebringswesing, Bananamour and The Confessions Of Dr. Dream And Other Stories--are included here, with bonus tracks galore, and deserve literal months of devoted listening. An abundance of riches at a nearly unbelievable price: Better than a Coldplay sweatshirt? You be the judge!
Phil Collins: Live At Montreux 2004 Blu-Ray DVD (Eagle Rock) In the scheme of things, if I were a massive Phil Collins fan, and I were a big fan of his solo work and later "big band" projects--and I admired sheer music talent, fine production, and a good-natured artist who, much to his benefit, always seemed mildly stunned at his commercial popularity--I would very likely pick up this generous Blu-Ray disc, which features two live sets by Collins, circa 2004 and 1996, an admirable number of well-loved, popular songs, and a price point ($16.99) which would allow me to put my player on pause, hit the bathroom, grab a beer from the refrigerator, write a blog post or two, and then marvel at contemporary technology! That said, if I liked donuts, I'd probably buy them as well!
Patrick Watson: Adventures In Your Own Backyard (Domino) An enormously creative and adventurous singer-songwriter from Canada, Watson returns here with a successful album that builds on the legacy of his past work and, per his bio, features "the kind of music we would like to listen to at home." Highlights include "How The Hell Can I Be Growing A Lemon Tree In Canada?," "What's An Imperial Gallon And Why is This Empty Gasoline Can In My Garage?," "If I Hold Onto This Roll Of American Nickels That My Pal Joey Left In The Sun Parlor Last Summer For A Few Years Can I Actually Make Some Real Money?" and the admittedly climactic "Gordon Lightfoot Vs. Bruce Cockburn"! Some call him a niche artist, but they're wrong!
B.o.B.: Strange Clouds (Atlantic) A new album by pop sensation B.o.B. featuring guest appearances by Taylor Swift, Lil Wayne, Chris Brown, Nicki Minaj, Trey Songz and Morgan Freeman? A stagnant, excessive blob of commercial excess produced purely to milk a dying recorded music audience mere months away from exiting the scene entirely? A cold veal cutlet, sitting in your refrigerator, covered loosely by a piece of Handi-Wrap and growing moldy? I can't make up my mind!