Though I conscientiously try to write this blog every single week--and believe me, diligently covering pop music's hottest new releases is no easy task--time often gets the better of me!
And so it was that last week, as I traveled from exciting Los Angeles to exotic Nashville to glorious Miami, my fabled homeland, I allowed a week to pass without posting a blog! Rest assured, readers in Oklahoma, Lagos & Madison were both stunned and left wondering if in fact nothing whatsoever was even released last week!
So let's just say they were right, and pretend last week never happened! I've been doing that for years, and I still get to write this thing!
The Beach Boys: That's Why God Made The Radio (Capitol) I'd be lying if I said I had tremendously high expectations for this set--a "reunion" featuring most of the original Beach Boys except departed Wilson brothers Dennis and Carl, effectively celebrating their 50th year together as a band--but here I sit, impressed nonetheless. First, the production is surprisingly subtle, secondly, the songs themselves fit into the latter-day "smoothed over" mode of the group circa the early '70s, when bandleader Brian Wilson was still there, though muted, and thirdly because at least four or five of these songs--especially opener "Think About The Days" and closing tracks "From There To Back Again," "Pacific Coast Highway" and "Summer's Gone"--are genuinely moving works, top-notch both vocally and, especially via the closing tracks, surprisingly melancholy for a band that cemented its reputation decades ago singing "Fun, Fun, Fun" and "Good Vibrations." Highly polished, and sometimes just a tad too nostalgia-laden, but the best new album to bear the Beach Boys moniker since 1977's Love You.
Neil Young & Crazy Horse: Americana (Reprise) First things first: This thing sounds a hell of a lot better than it reads! Especially if you're a song-title conscious dude and wonder why the heck one of pop music's most proficient songwriters is tackling tunes you've never wanted to hear again in your life--including "Oh Susannah," "Clementine," "Tom Dooley"--if not for the simple fact that he can! Luckily, since Young is backed here by his hyper-proficient, professionally sloppy band Crazy Horse for their first album together in nine years, the entire grunged-up affair provides a new "take" for some very familiar songs and is a more rewarding listen than you might suppose. I don't know what it is about these aging, great artists like Young and Bruce Springsteen that compels them to make grandiose statements about Woody Guthrie and "The Great American Tradition"--dudes, there are only so many new coats of paint to go around--but if this means in 10 years someone else is going to record a brand new version of Neil Young's first album, fine--I'd probably want to hear it.
Joe Walsh: Analog Man (Fantasy/Concord) Back in the '70s, it was always my dream that I'd be reviewing new albums by the Beach Boys, Neil Young and Joe Walsh in the 21st century! Next thing you know, a black man will be president! Yet I'm quite impressed with this new album by Walsh--his first solo set in 20 years--which features 10 new songs tastefully performed and sung, excellently produced by Jeff Lynne, all of them contemporary sounding yet recalling Walsh's best solo work like "Life's Been Good," and most of them equally witty. Especially welcome is "Funk 50," a nod to his undervalued years in the James Gang, and a reminder of just how long he's been doing his masterful thing. While I'm grateful he's found a permanent berth in the Eagles--a man's got to eat, as they say--he's pretty much been buried over there, and Analog Man proves he's still got a lot left to say. Good move, Joe.
Emeli Sandé: Our Version Of Events (Capitol) She's already big news in the UK, but this debut set by Scottish singer Emeli Sandé will hopefully be making big noise over here as well: A marvelous collection of self-penned tracks, Our Version Of Events showcases a fully-formed talent in her prime. Though she's made conspicuous friends of Alicia Keys and Coldplay--she's toured with them and will appear with them on select US dates this summer--and she's written tracks for UK singers such as Susan Boyle and Leona Lewis, it's likely that she'll be succeeding regardless of those connections: As a live performer, she's an absolute knockout.
Heart: Strange Euphoria (Epic/Legacy) Now's as good a time as any to step back and consider the contribution long-lived rockers Heart have made to the world of rock 'n' roll. Pretty much key components of those "Women In Rock" features that started emerging in the pop music press right around the time the band itself did--mid-'70s--the group had some strong radio hits in "Crazy On You," "Barracuda" and "Magic Man," featured some impressive vocalizing by singer Ann Wilson, and via her equally prominent sister, guitarist Nancy, offered a striking visual counterpart to dreary Lynyrd Skynyrd lookalikes of the day. That the band managed to live through the MTV era, and in fact carry on with even bigger hits in the decades that followed, was no small achievement either. This collection--a 3-CD, 1-DVD boxed set--showcases the band throughout their lengthy career and offers enough rarities, demo tracks and performance clips to satisfy any fan of the band. An excellent value, and a worthy look at an even worthier band.
Amanda Mair: Amanda Mair (Labrador) I don't want to sit here and do the math, but if you take a label and add up the overall consistency of the music it produces, then Sweden's Labrador Records ranks among the very highest out there: On their roster are the Acid House Kings, The Radio Dept., the Mary Onettes, Sambassadeur and Pelle Carlberg--groovy artists all--and now, 17-year-old Amanda Mair. The singer, produced here by a dude from the Mary Onettes, has a striking, great pop voice, and has been described by a knowledgeable music retail website as residing somewhere in the vicinity between Lykke Li, Robyn, Kate Bush and Dusty Springfield--which frankly seems a little off to me, but what the heck. That said, if you like young, exuberant and fresh sounding pop music, especially when performed by attractive young Swedish women, you're bound to like this! Buy it today!
David Bowie: The Rise And Fall of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars: 40th Anniversary Edition (Virgin) Though to some this will seem the 10th anniversary edition of the 30th anniversary edition of this classic 1972 album, its existence offers curious consumers the opportunity to hear a spanking new, profoundly good sounding, 2012 remaster of the original--and for those into this sort of thing, as I am, a 5.1 mix and high resolution audio version on the DVD, which accompanies the more expensive deluxe vinyl version. Though my favorite Bowie set remains this disc's predecessor Hunky Dory, hearing the much-overplayed Ziggy in 2012 is a surprisingly enlightening experience: Heck, it's pretty good!
The Hives: Lex Hives (Disques Hives) Bands that are the "next big thing" often have a way of coming and going that, I would hope, would embarrass those overzealous fans who embraced them most conspicuously during their early days. I say that because I notice that fans of the Hives are also directed to albums by the Strokes and the Vines on Amazon; aside from having similar names, all three groups share that same massive buzz/gradual fade thing, which may be the way of nature but, at least in some small way, is heart-wrenching. Now releasing music on their own label, the Hives still actually sound pretty dandy and, to their credit, are as funny as they ever were. Still, even for a bunch of Swedes, a tribute to Superman's arch-enemy is fairly arcane.
Paul Simon: Graceland (25th Anniversary Edition) (Columbia/Legacy) OK, let's make this a clean sweep: the Beach Boys, Neil Young, Joe Walsh, Heart, David Bowie and now...Paul Simon! But if any of his solo albums deserve a recontextualization, it's this one. Featuring the set's original 11 tunes, 5 bonus tracks, "The Story Of Graceland As Told By Paul Simon," and--depending on how much you want to spend--additional tracks, a DVD featuring the impressive Under African Skies documentary, and more, it's an impressive treatment of the singer's most acclaimed solo album and a highly worthy purchase.
Crocodiles: Endless Flowers (Frenchkiss) Not just a fine new album, but exactly the record you want to buy, take home, show your parents the cover, and proudly announce, "This is the kind of music I like!" I always do that!