Admittedly there are times when longtime lovers of pop music might feel that all that really needs to be said has already been said. When all the innovation—all the glorious, unexpected, inspired madness that results in perfect pop music—has reached its peak. When, truly, all that can be done has been done. That's exactly what happens the week before a new Ke$ha album comes out! Yet here she is, the youthful goddess who once bragged of brushing her teeth with whiskey, back, dressed to the nines, and devoting her new, long-awaited album to a conceptual reworking of Brit rockers Wishbone Ash's 40-year-old classic Argus! I am so frickin' excited by today's pop music giants I may even stream this thing!
Ke$ha: Warrior (Kemosabe/RCA)
When it comes to global superstars with exciting new logos that thanks to their label names actually do look as if they were drawn by Tonto, Ke$ha is the best of the bunch! Pictured on her new album cover scant seconds before being traded by the Lone Ranger for Rin Tin Tin, the exciting young singer typifies all that is great about pop music in 2012! Her name is hard to pronounce, she's not the sort of chick you'd want to take to the prom, it's hard to figure out exactly what she has to do with her music—I guess she sings it!—and if you went to buy a bag of dog food for a new puppy at Petco, you'd feel OK buying a big sack of it with her name emblazoned on the outside! Plus, by my count, there are seven songs on his thing carrying an "explicit" warning! All told, it's either the album of the year or precisely the CD you'd want to be carrying in your jacket pocket when your car has frozen up and you're out of windshield wiper fluid!
Wiz Khalifa: O.N.I.F.C. (Atlantic)
"Being out in front of people and just being 'The Man' might seem like a vague and ridiculous dream to have," says Wiz Khalifa's new bio, "but for Cameron Thomaz it might be the most appropriate thought to cross any mind!" Cameron, for those who might not know, is a 14-year old Brooklynite of Latin extraction who marched down to the only remaining record store in the Northeast looking for the new Wiz Khalifa album, largely because he felt its title—apparently standing for One Nice Indication of Frugal Conservatism—would offer him the political defense he needed to explain to his classmates why he spent this summer working for the Romney campaign! Sadly, on his way there, he was mugged and forced to have his picture taken wearing pants exactly like those of Wiz Khalifa on this new album cover! "Wiz is a funny name," he'd later tell local reporters. "Sort of like those pants." Cameron later called his parents to fetch him from a local Duane Reed pharmacy and lately spends most afternoons on the rugby field! Cool!
Scott Walker: Bish Bosch (4AD)
Those who us who have been captivated by the remarkable work of former Walker Brothers singer Scott Walker way back in the late sixties with his third and fourth solo albums, and remain in comparative awe of the scattered work that would follow—arty, wholly non-commercial stuff--have dutifully checked out Bish Bosch and determined that 1) At first impression it sounds like you've got a defective CD, 2) It's not unlike that mock-operatic, arty stuff that populated Carla Bley's old Escalator Over The Hill album, and 3) If we're getting the lyrics right, this might be the most unpleasant album ever recorded! I kind of like it, enjoy sitting parked at intersections listening to it while smoking cigarettes, and tend to perceive it as what Bobby Darin's "Splish Splash" might sound like were someone to stick an icepick in my ear! Like Ke$ha, but, frankly, he's nowhere near as attractive!
Smashing Pumpkins: Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness [Box Set] (Virgin)
I would say that there's a cut-off point somewhere between deluxe reissues that make some degree of sense and those that seem purely moneymaking ventures, and this set—really, a superb restatement of the Smashing Pumpkins' all-time classic album of 1995—sits precisely on the correct side of that point! Really the album that suggested that Billly Corgan and company were taking the sum of their influences and producing something that sounded new, fresh and innovative, melding the roots of punk, art-rock and the crud in between, Mellon Collie, dopey name and all, was a colorful, diverse sampling of new and fresh musical ideas. This collection, offered up in a plethora of configurations including vinyl and all its permutations and ultimately 5 entire CDs, is beautiful looking, musically thorough—live performances abound!—and not especially overlapping any of the band's existing releases, which is no small thing. As a consumer, my goal would be to purchase it, place it on my coffee table, and mention to guests that I "especially like it" and plan to open it eventually! Recommended!
Hinder: Welcome To The Freakshow (Republic)
Like most of us, I tend to view pop music's all-time legends as a triumvirate of sorts: Beatles, Stones, Hinder! Celebrated by those in the know as "Oklahoma hard rockers," Hinder are everything that is great about today's newest, most exciting pop music! Renowned for not only their name—originally Hindu, then changed due to an infamous Boston scandal—but for their stunning originality, of which this album's "See You In Hell" is the best indicator, Hinder take the complete history of hard rock and heavy metal, turn it on its side, stick it into a meat grinder, wrap it in a sausage casing, heat it up on a steaming grill, smother it in onions, mustard and a mouth-watering roll of French bread, and then temptingly invite you to eat it! The new album's most gripping track, "Is It Just Me," nearly begs for a response and, speaking as one fan, presumably to yet another—the answer is…yes! Night Ranger with better hair? You decide!
Gavin DeGraw: Sweeter Live (RCA)
If you're like me, you have a room in your house where a guy from the late '60s took too much LSD, ate a few too many mushrooms, and slept through the last few decades! And when he woke up—maybe about six years ago, mostly because the microwave kept making noise—he took a look at my record collection and, after maybe six months, finally looked up and said, "What the heck is the deal with this Gavin DeGraw guy? I mean, what am I missing here?" It's a perspective I don't mind getting, I must say, because it's worth hearing: I can't explain what his deal is, because I can't figure it out! He's really good at…what?…wearing a hat and grabbing a microphone? I mean, it doesn't even sound like a real guy's name! Still, it's a nice hat! And he kind of looks like he's into whatever he's doing! That's a good thing, right?
Johnny Cash: The Complete Columbia Album Collection (Columbia/Legacy)
OK, in the scheme of things this is about as good as it ever gets: A mammoth box set containing every single album ever released by Columbia Records featuring country legend Johnny Cash—which, considering the duration of his career, consists of 63—that's right, 63—complete albums. A superbly packaged box set, holding individually wrapped cardboard sleeve reproductions of every Columbia album he issued from 1958-1990, with their tiny print on the backsides and all, this is the ultimate Christmas present, the completist's dream, and exactly the sort of thing major labels need to do to attract buyers who don't feel that hard-to-describe sense of personal ownership they used to have now that they're expected to pay money for raw data files. If any label can pull this off, it's Columbia—and with their rich catalog of heritage artists (Dylan, Springsteen, Cohen, etc.), it's probably a harbinger of what's to come. A colossal event and a signature moment in 21st century album packaging: massive, complete, and the final word.
Murray Head: Nigel Lived (Culture Factory)
I would be remiss were I not to point out the unexpected reissuing of one of the very best, unsung albums of the past few decades, and that would be this new version of Murray Head's Nigel Lived, a sumptuous, admirably conceptual early '70s release by the singer now best known for his work in Jesus Christ Superstar and Chess. Backed by a marvelous cast of musicians and detailing the sad demise of a once hopeful, upbeat lad—final tracks "Religion" and "Junk" not exactly your standard happy endings—Head put together a profound, sophisticated document (the intricate, diary-styled graphics are fully reproduced here) that was years ahead of its time and an unsung pop classic.
Mary Wells: Something New: Motown Lost & Found (Motown/Hip-O Select)
One of the most satisfying events in the music industry's long-lived reissue agenda has been the "scholarly" treatment of classic Motown recordings, which, all things considered, was late in coming but is now deeply appreciated. This collection, spotlighting mostly unheard works by one of the label's first and biggest stars, is more than a bargain—offering 47 tracks, 23 of which have never been heard, and all of them a pleasure. Motown legends like Smokey Robinson, Holland-Dozier-Holland, the Supremes and Marvin Gaye are all onboard, stereo mixes abound, and the packaging—with great liner notes—could not be more informative. Top-notch.
Florida Georgia Line: Here's To The Good Times (Republic Nashville)
Certainly one of this year's unexpected events has been the ability of inanimate objects to make records, obtain American citizenship and—most surprisingly—even get married! Even wilder? The same holds true for arbitrarily-declared abstract concepts! Thus comes the debut recording by the border of Florida and Georgia—heck, most of us never even knew it could sing!—reportedly on the heels of upcoming releases by Some Guy's Shirt and Cool Car In The Background, both pictured as well! Hate to use clichés, but this is one heck of a game-changer!