Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2015-01-23

2015-01-23

Lily Allen: Sheezus (Warner Bros., 2014) The key's in a multivalent lyric she balances with a surehandedness that isn't guaranteed the way it was when she was single: "Life for Me," a tuneful rendering among many tuneful renderings (hell, all five bonus misses are tuneful) about feeling nostalgic for the discontented days marital bliss has put behind her forever, or so she usually thinks. Even when that bliss devolves into a painful argument, she can put it into song, and though the bite that was her premarital specialty has softened, give her credit--marital bliss is a theme few lyricists sharpen much at all. Opposites that attract: "Our Time," in which single working girls get wasted on Friday night, and the scornful celebrity-feminist "Hard Out Here." A-

Mary J. Blige: The London Sessions (Capitol, 2014) Blige's Brit pick-me-up has the general effect of taking a load off. Hooks of neither Swedish nor American manufacture provide a freshness--try Disclosure's on "Follow" or Naughty Boy's on "Pick Me Up"--and when she's beset by doubt, as is always going to happen with Mary, she doesn't get overwrought about it. Matched by the spare piano-and-drums of her countryman Rodney Jerkins, she contains herself even on the pain-wracked "Whole Damn Year." But though I love "Therapy" for telling us exactly where she's coming from, I wish I didn't suspect that the heal-thyself nostrum "Not Loving You" was ghostwritten by her therapist. A-

Toni Braxton & Babyface: Love, Marriage & Divorce (Motown, 2014) Through one number-one album, two number-two albums, one Vegas run, two Disney-on-Broadway runs, one season of Dancing With the Stars, two bankruptcies, and, absolutely, one divorce, Braxton has been as content-free as a soul diva can be. No wonder Kenny Edmunds grabbed her early on--she was platinum putty in his hands. But recall that Edmunds hasn't been Mr. Magic himself for a while, and assume Braxton would try anything. Bingo. Pretend they're writing/singing from experience. That's their line, and since each is but once-divorced, it has a patina. Weathered now, their mellow voices retain some lustre, and there's narrative arc and emotional texture to the well-doctored material--hurting the one you don't want to hurt, worrying about how she's doing, makeup sex, post-split attraction. Yet amid these consistent songs, the single sole-composer credit stands out, and it's Braxton's: "I Wish," about just how bad she hopes the other woman treats him. Inspirational Verse: "I hope she gives you a disease/So that you will see/But not enough to make you die/But only make you cry/Like you did me." A-

Keyshia Cole: Point of No Return (Interscope, 2014) Never actually tied the knot, one infers, which might have tightened things up ("Rick James," "Heat of Passion") **

Golem: Tanz (Corason Digital, 2014) Produced by bassist to the weirdos Tony Maimone, this all-acoustic klezmer sextet is amped up only marginally by a guest guitarist you'll hardly notice up against Annette Kogan's accordion and Jeremy Brown's violin. The title song translates "dance," naturally, and is more frenetic than and very nearly as compelling as most of the many African-inspired calls to that activity. Equally compelling are not one, not two, but three Kogan-penned love-songs-with-a-twist: "Mikveh Bath," in which a virgin bride fantasizes about her husband-to-be as she purifies herself; "Miskayt," in which a man and woman "so ugly you could cry" discover each other's good points; and "Love You All the Time," in which a perpetually worried Kogan implores her husband not to run with scissors or go on Facebook. Inspirational Verse: "We don't believe in heaven/We just want to die happy." A-

Jonathan Richman: No Me Quiejo De Mi Estrella (Vapor/Munster, 2014) Digs Leonard Cohen, digs his wife more, is so big in Spain he's learning the language, and--one more thing--will never own a cell ("Here It Is," "You Can Have a Cell Phone That's OK but Not Me") ***

Derek Senn: The Technological Breakthrough (dereksenn.com, 2014) Intelligently, uncomfortably, ex-boho singer-songwriter excavates his generational malaise ("Bless Her Insecurity," "Darlin' I'm Not Earning Enough") *

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