There's one thing you can always count on!
As we get closer and closer to the holidays--that glorious period in which friends and family members start looking for meaningful presents to give to their loved ones--the best records of the year will methodically emerge!
And as a result, a simple rundown of the week's best new album releases--which during certain times of the year can be drearily depressing--often offers up a non-stop array of fabulous and recognizable names!
Still, the holidays themselves, and all the emotion they typically engender, might lead one to wonder about their actual mortality--like, how long will I actually be here before I pass on and ultimately become dust in the wind?--and spend less time with trivialities such as new albums, new clothes, or whether it really makes sense to give any money to those official-looking dudes who stand in front of Rite-Aid all day wearing white suits and holding canisters of coins ostensibly intended for a "charitable cause"!
But those thoughts only last a minute at best! And a new album by a former American Idol winner? That stuff lasts at last three! And you can always play the second track if you're really into it!
That said, that new Oprah Winfrey Network is fascinating!
Coldplay: Mylo Xyloto (Capitol) In many ways, the quality of life itself on Earth is tied to the quality of the current Coldplay album! Just take a look at their discography and see for yourself! Those years when life was a bummer? Hey, Coldplay had a few stinkers now and then! But now, at the close of 2011, the marvelous Brit quartet have returned with a hook-filled stunner of an album, puzzlingly named after an over-the-counter Australian antacid medication, true--but perhaps best of all, featuring a guest appearance by rock goddess Rihanna, whose prior work with Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles and Yellowcard is already the stuff of legends, and whose appearance here on "Princess Of China" is certain to set the standard by which all future megastar guest appearances will be judged! Word is that Rihanna's upcoming cameos with the Dallas Cowboys, the Pulitzer Prize Committee and America's very own House Of Representatives will be equally eventful! As you may know, "Word" is quite hip, slangwise!
Kelly Clarkson: Stronger (RCA) A new album by Kelly Clarkson is, all things considered, a blessing to music fans worldwide! After all, as the winner of the first-ever American Idol program, the young singer has already made her enviable mark in the annals of rock 'n' roll history! And for those out there who always felt her prior albums were well meaning but somehow, at their very core--how to say this?--weak, by its very title, it's clear this new album is, quite literally, stronger! In a scientific test, researchers last week took a vinyl copy of this album and bent it a stunning 270 degrees before it snapped in half--notably beating her prior All I Ever Wanted record-setter by a good 54 degrees! Though those same scientists would later discard all the broken vinyl slabs and uniformly head out to Baskin Robbins for a Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Sundae is, however fascinating, nonetheless pointless! Me? I like Side Two best!
Michael Bublé: Christmas (143/Reprise) There's a certain cliché that we've all heard: niceness counts! So let's do some math! Here's one of the world's most talented and inoffensive singers! And he's singing a host of heartwarming, inoffensive Christmas tunes such as "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town," "Holly Jolly Christmas," and "Silent Night"! Who would dare take offense at this? To add to the fun, Bublé is of course Canadian--and not to be crass, but have you ever met a Canadian who wasn't friendly, courteous and considerate? Finally, this is one of those you're-going-to-love-this-so-much-you're-going-to-go-to-Target-and-pick-up-the-exclusive-special-edition-with-bonus-tracks albums! And don't forget! Canadians pay a nickel for every hyphen they see! Multiply that by 0.9961, and you're talking real money!
Tom Waits: Bad As Me (Anti-) Dubbed by those in the know as "clearly one of the most important figures in the modern pop era," charismatic crooner Waits returns here with a completely unexpected and harsh album that might best be called a scathing, self-loathing confessional not seen since the Beatles' harrowing "I Am The Walrus"! The 16-track epic, which begins jarringly with "Yes, I Know I Should Clear My Throat " peaks midway via "I Think It All Went Wrong Circa Swordfish trombones" and ends, depressingly, with "What if There Were Another Captain Beefheart Album?" shows absolutely no signs of the self-conscious pursuit of artistry for artistry's sake that has plagued all of his work since he left the Asylum label! Just imagine if he meant "bad" in the same way as, say, Michael Jackson! Yikes!
Howlin' Wolf: Smokestack Lightning: The Complete Chess Masters 1951-1960 (Hip-O Select) Not 100% sure why I'd transition from Tom Waits to Captain Beefheart to Howlin' Wolf--there's a quadrant of my brain that's got blood sugar issues--but I will say that this collection is about as great as any popular music has to offer, featuring 97 tracks over the course of 4 CDs, many of which are certified classics that have imprinted themselves into our culture in ways too numerous to count! A fantastic array, including dozens of songs that would later be parroted by envious young white blues bands, these tracks are remarkable, fertile and over 50 years later, jaw-droppingly contemporary! I would buy this if I were you!
Thomas Dolby: A Map Of The Floating City (Lost Toy People) The first new album from Thomas Dolby in over 20 years is every bit as good--as musical, as clever, as melodic, as imaginatively arranged--as all of his prior work, which from where I sit (chair, office, Sherman Oaks, California, USA), is the highest praise you can imagine. Featuring an interesting batch of guests--Mark Knopfler, Regina Spektor, Imogen Heap--and 11 clever, lyrical tunes, it's miles away from the "She Blinded Me With Science" stuff that broke him internationally but now seems a minor albatross, and perhaps proves the point that unlike most of his electro-pop contemporaries, Dolby could sit alone with a piano during a power outage and be a thoroughly compelling entertainer. Sharp, literate and passionate stuff!
Brian Wilson: In The Key Of Disney (Disney Pearl) As a longtime fan of Brian Wilson, I must confess to scratching my head somewhat about this release: I admire Wilson for his wonderful songwriting (not here), his dazzling song arrangements (not especially here), and his pioneering harmonies (barely here), and if I'm a fan of any Disney music, to be honest, it's not the stuff from Toy Story and The Lion King. And that this album is actually on the Disney label isn't the most convincing argument that the man himself has been a lifelong fan of the repertoire here. Still, I'd pick this up, I'd pick up next week's Smile Sessions box set, and I'd be entirely grateful that the human responsible for both of these still treads this earth.
Ray Charles: Live In France 1961 DVD (Eagle) A marvelous DVD that captures Ray Charles at his virtual peak, this 111-minute collection of the man fronting his best band ever, before a fully appreciative crowd, is a welcome dose of history and entertainment wrapped into one joyous package. Brimming with classics like "What'd I Say" and "Hallelujah, I Love Her So," the set is well-shot, admirably restored and shows that in 1961, Charles was at the peak of his game and has yet--really and truly--been fully appreciated for his contribution to popular music. An eye-opener or a reaffirmation, depending on the age of the viewer. Top-notch.
The Bevis Frond: The Leaving Of London (Woronzow) Eighteen surprisingly versatile tracks by cult Brit performer Nick Saloman, The Leaving Of London is roughly the 20th studio album he's released under the Bevis Frond moniker--and in the seven-year gap since his last, he's polished things up, made them tidier and more excessive at the same time, and unexpectedly put together one of the finest albums of his career. I think if you heard this, you'd like it loads. And I do think you should hear it.
John Prine: The Singing Mailman Delivers (Oh Boy) One can't rightfully declare that the entire world has been waiting for a new John Prine album, but if one must emerge, a set like this--which captures the highly praised singer/songwriter in 1970, right around the time his debut album had pop critics wheeling out the "new Dylan" comparisons for the first of 181 times--is about the best imaginable. Featuring "Illegal Smile," "Your Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven Anymore," and "Angel From Montgomery," among many other classics-to-be, the set is a welcome taste of a talented man, pre-unwanted hype, unleashing some fairly remarkable tunes to anyone who might care to listen.