Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2006-02-14
Amadou & Mariam: Je Pense à Toi: The Best of Amadou et Mariam (Circular Moves/Universal Music Jazz, 2005) Although their French hits-plus are solider than the songs on their new Manu Chao album, on both records these Malians' pop ambition trumps their soul training, pop-by-ambition trumps soulful-by-training. Here their European label performs the old trick of stitching a pretty good CD out of three lesser ones. Translations would probably be beside the point, though I'm intrigued by one snippet quoted in the liner notes: "The world is no eternal dwelling place, it's a parlor for chatting." A-
Amerie: Touch (Sony Urban Music/Columbia, 2005) "1 Thing," "Touch"
Animal Collective: Feels (Fat Cat, 2005) Back when I was a young feller, we called these things hootenannies, only we thought they needed songs ("Did You See the Words," "Turn Into Something"). **
Andrew Bird: The Mysterious Production of Eggs (Righteous Babe, 2005) The main reason this record isn't insufferable is that Bird never preens. He shows off discreetly, underplaying his vocal chops and musical command, even his familiarity with scientific arcana--nay, his intelligence itself, which I bet exceeds that of 95 percent of the netcrits his ninth album has had its way with. But discretion exacts a price in identity, clarity, and meaning. The artist may know what these songs signify beyond cunningly arranged wordplay, but anybody else who does ain't talking. Nor does the artist reveal anything about his inner life, specifically including the delight that normally renders the ludic compelling. Certainly there are moments when the music asserts itself--I recommend the chamber-orchestra intro to "Fake Palindromes." But in this prog-rock moment, what half saves Bird's mild, pretty, supersmart album is that it doesn't throw the melody out with the rebop. B
George Clinton & the P-Funk All Stars: How Late Do U Have 2BB4UR Absent? (The C Kunspyruhzy, 2005) Two and a half hours that confound my capacity for quantification. Some of the funk is standard-issue ass-bounce, many of the femme cameos are piss breaks, the slow ones run down; there's too much throwaway, experiment, and crap. But four long tracks are as remarkable as any Clinton of the past two decades: the so-funky-you-can-smell-it "Something Stank," the Jerry Lee/Danny & the Juniors medley "Whole Lotta Shakin'," "I Can Dance" and its stripper shit-talk, "Viagra"'s too-fucking-hard speed-metal. Add the Prince cameo "Paradigm" (rhymes with "spare a dime") and the is-that-a-girl? closer "Booty" for a great album lasting 48 minutes. Then do the rest of the math. B+
The Clipse & Re-Up Gang: We Got It 4 Cheap Vol. 2 (mixunit.com, 2005) When they say, "Like the new Death Row," I think, "Just what we needed" (even though I know they're lying) ("Hate It or Love It," "Play Your Part"). ***
Keyshia Cole: The Way It Is (A&M, 2005) Bet she still hangs with her girlfriends ("I Should Have Cheated," "I Changed My Mind"). **
Daddy Yankee: Barrio Fino (Universal, 2005) "Gasolina"
D4L: Down for Life (Demoney/Asylum, 2005)
Neil Diamond: 12 Songs (Columbia, 2005)
Dramarama: Everybody Dies (33rd Street, 2005) So get those songs on the record while you can ("Everybody Dies," "Good Night, America"). **
Feist: Let It Die (Interscope, 2005) A little Dusty Springfield, loads of Astrud Gilberto, no Dionne Warwick at all ("Inside and Out," "Mushaboom"). *
Gorillaz: Demon Days (Virgin, 2005) Pop trip-hop as alternative reality, from fantasyland to apocalypse ("All Alone," "Dare"). ***
The Go! Team: Thunder, Lightning, Strike (Columbia, 2005) The gleeful clamor of Today's Young People listening to what they want when they want to without paying for it and dancing around like kindergarteners at a maypole or gay guys under a mirrored ball and no offense Mr. Businessman but this is their birthright not your copyright so butt out OK? A-
LCD Soundsystem: LCD Soundsystem (Capitol/DFA, 2005) Dance guy or rock guy, optimist or cynic--these are the troubling distinctions irony helps keep at bay ("Losing My Edge," "On Repeat"). *
John Legend: Get Lifted (Getting Out Our Dreams/Sony Urban/Columbia, 2004) For an ordinary soul man, he has excellent tunes ("I Can Change," "Live It Up"). ***
Lil' Kim: The Naked Truth (Atlantic, 2005) Throws her voice around more and her pussy down hardly at all ("Spell Check," "Lighters Up"). **
Lil Wayne: Tha Carter II (Cash Money/Universal, 2005) Lil has been a rapper so long that when he claims he keeps his stash in his bitch's ass-crack you know he means for personal use even if he wants his public to think otherwise. When he turns "I trieda talk to him" into a catchy chorus you hope against the available evidence that he means "before I punched him in the nose" rather than "before I pulverized his uvula with this nine that you pussy MCs couldn't even afford." Love his beats, enjoy his flow, admire his wordplay, and wish he knew the value of money. B+
Low: The Great Destroyer (Sub Pop, 2005)
Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley: Welcome to Jamrock (Tuff Gong/Universal, 2005) Anything but a fluke, the title hit barely stands out on an album where Irving Berlin takes full writing credit on "Road to Zion" because it's based on "Russian Lullaby"--and where there are many better tunes. I prefer several that sample reggae oldies not by his dad--Bunny Wailer, the Skatalites, Eek-a-Mouse. What is by his dad is Damian's authority. The son's legacy--this son's, anyway--is an international music of black protest that subsumes hip-hop more easily than hip-hop subsumes reggae. He's to both manor and manner born--his convictions reflect his inheritance and his professional training, not his experience. But he's learned his lessons well. A-
Morningwood: Morningwood (Capitol, 2006) Imagine an Elastica devoid of soul, but relaxed about it ("Take Off Your Clothes," "Jetsetter"). ***
My Chemical Romance: Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge (Reprise, 2004)
My Morning Jacket: Z (ATO/RCA, 2005) Mindlessly arresting pop of moderately original flavor ("It Beats for You," "Off the Record"). **
The National: Alligator (Beggars Banquet, 2005) "Abel"
The National: Cherry Tree (Brassland, 2004)
New Order: Waiting for the Sirens' Call (Warner Bros., 2005)
Rihanna: Music of the Sun (Def Jam, 2005)
Stars: Set Yourself on Fire (Arts & Crafts, 2005) The perils of romance among the disaffected classes ("One More Night [Your Ex-Lover Remains Dead]," "Reunion"). ***
Rob Swift: Wargames (Coup de Grâce, 2005) DJ nightmare for the war on terror ("Vietnam?" "Dream"). *
Wussy: Funeral Dress (Shake It, 2005) In which Chuck Cleaver--Ass Ponys, you remember, they still play out around Cincinnati--joins unknown Lisa Walker, multi-instrumentalist Mark Messerly, and amateur drummer Dawn Burman for 11 three-minute songs, all about perfect, one after the other after the other. Small, but about perfect, with Walker handling the human detail and Cleaver tossing off metaphors--a sideshow horse, a shunt to drain the fear from his brain. It's an ideal partnership--vocally and lyrically, Walker grounds the old guy and he lifts her. The band sound is more Velvets than Burritos, yet country still. It's as if they've reduced all of white Ohio to an articulated drone, unlocked a silo or warehouse of hummable tunes, and worked out the harmonies. A
Neil Young: Prairie Wind (Reprise, 2005) Where long ago Harvest's heavy orchestrations and dead beats groaned with significance, even the horn parts here are strictly utilitarian, meant to deliver the words as efficiently as possible. What makes the words different isn't that Young almost died, although that got his attention, but that they're devoid of fancy. Meditations on mortality and the passage of time are a trope that will wear out faster than road stories and fame plaints as more rockers visit the critical list. But few will make as much of unmistakable, one-dimensional language as this chronic obscurantist. "If you follow every dream you might get lost." "Yes I miss you/But I never want to hold you down/You might say/I'm here for you." "Silently it waits for me/Or someone else I suppose/This old guitar." For once he makes sure he's understood--a matter in which melodies that might otherwise seem overfamiliar are of great service. A-
Young Buck: Straight Outta Ca$hville (G Unit/Interscope, 2005)
Young Jeezy: Let's Get It: Thug Motivation 101 (Def Jam, 2005) "My Hood"
Crunk Hits (TVT, 2005) Crass, crude, and cartoon lubricious, saved rather decisively from male supremacist domination by Khia's "My Neck, My Back (Lick It)"--beyond "lick my pussy and my crack," "The best head comes from a thug" is a sign of progress too--this compendium of Dirty South dance hits is a mightier fuck you to the centurions of respectability than the most extreme rock band can manage anymore. To remind us how fast such shit gets dull, and how useless most of the corresponding albums are, it winds down before you want the party to be over. But power beats, tricky hooks, and who knows what combinations of accident and effort render the first half utterly joyous in its for-the-moment defiance. When the centurions conspire every day to deny the lower orders a decent future, reckless hedonism is a species of justice. Battle cry: "If you don't give a damn, we don't give a fuck." A-
Golden Afrique Vol. 1 (Network, 2005) N'Dour-Keita-Baobab warhorses are few on a Deutschmark-pegged double that homes in on late-'70s Senegal and environs. Where The Music in My Head explodes with independence, this comp honors capitalist-socialist hopes. Tribal identities melt and meld in cities where immigrants are hungry for more than drums drums drums. Beyond mbalax and Afrosalsa a-borning, there's continent-sweeping soukous, local ziglibithy, Les Amazones de Guinée, a pop smash whose singer went out to seek a fortune that boiled down to a few Tabou Combo cameos, a Conakry-based Miriam Makeba singing a stately pan-African praisesong in Paris. One hopes there's still this much action in some distressed African metropolis as yet undocumented. But one also hopes Afropop aficionados stuck in the past will keep showing us what we missed. A
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