Three female power-belters head up this week's top releases--as new albums by Alicia Keys, Celine Dion, and Aretha Franklin compete in a no-holds-barred battle for the consumer dollar!
Luckily, all three contenders are undoubtedly ladylike and would never view this simultaneous release schedule as competitive on any level!
So perhaps there's no point in visualizing an arena in which all three artists, dressed only in outlandish battle garb, duel to the death to determine who, ultimately, is the superior vocalist of the three! That would be silly!
Still, it might be fun to see.
Celine Dion: Taking Chances (Epic) It struck me earlier tonight, after watching a private performance by Evanescence (soon to come on Live Sets), that I would not be entirely averse to watching a hard rock performance given by Canadian chanteuse Celine Dion--especially if she were to dress in goth style, and, say, wear a Catwoman mask. Lo and behold, I drive myself home and play Ms. Dion's new album only to find that among her collaborators on her new album is none other than former Evanescence guitarist Ben Moody--as well as a host of other rockish types, including Linda Perry, Dave Stewart, and Kara DioGuardi! I am now fixated on this album and wish Ms. Dion nothing but the best!
Duran Duran: Red Carpet Massacre (Epic) I was mildly stunned to find that a significant amount of the music on this album--by onetime MTV prettyboys the Durans--was actually enjoyable, largely because singer Simon LeBon's former annoying squeak seems to have dropped an octave due to encroaching old age. Good show! Boasting a lovably offensive album cover and celebrated appearances by the ubiquitous Timbaland and the sadly ordinary Justin Timberlake, this could be the finest Duran Duran CD to ever be discussed in this paragraph! Occasionally I think them gods among men--then, mysteriously, the phone rings and my mind wanders!
Aretha Franklin: Jewels In The Crown: All Star Duets With The Queen (Arista) To call this a "new" album is somewhat deceptive, as this powerhouse collection of duets by the Queen Of Soul is largely a reissue of material recorded from the '80s onward. Joining forces with Franklin here are partners such as the Eurythmics, Whitney Houston, Frank Sinatra, George Michael, Elton John, Michael McDonald, Keith Richards, George Benson, Mariah Carey, and Luther Vandross. But not to worry--there's some new stuff here, including duets with John Legend, Mary J. Blige, and American Idol woman Fantasia, who was once on TV! It is difficult to knock Aretha's singing prowess, though the cynical among us may note that these seemingly random pairings would appear to be motivated more by blatant commercialism than a quest for superior art. Perhaps if she and each duet partner were dressed in outlandish battle garb and were to...oh, never mind.
The Hives: The Black And White Album (Octone/Interscope) Once trumpeted as the next big thing--some might say the bee's knees--Swedish band the Hives appeared to have stumbled commercially with their previous album, Tyrannosaurus Hives. What to do? Pair the clowns with Timbaland and the Neptunes and send 'em on the road with Maroon 5! Now we have The Black And White Album, which boasts a black and white cover and appears to be an album! Luckily, such tracks as "Giddy Up!" and "Well All Right!"--even with their conspicuously unnecessary exclamation marks--show that they still haven't lost their "buzz." They are simply the best band to have toured with Maroon 5 yet!
Led Zeppelin: Mothership (Atlantic/Rhino) As the world quivers awaiting Led Zeppelin's unexpected reunion in London next month, we've simultaneously been gifted with a full-frontal product assault--including this 2-CD best-of compilation, a remastered & bonused-up The Song Remains The Same soundtrack, and newly reissued DVD of the movie bearing the same name. All of it is really quite good, actually, and those who have no Led Zeppelin material at all would be well advised to purchase this disc to see what all the hubbub is actually about in the first place. In some ways this band may be better than Nickelback.
Alicia Keys: As I Am (J Records) There's every indication that this may be one of the biggest records of the year, largely because Ms. Keys is immensely talented, quite photogenic, and loved by millions! Further, she has wisely allowed Timbaland to appear on her album--always a great sign! Throw in the similarly talented John Mayer and an industry thirsting for superstars, an industry willing to do almost anything to anyone to save their own skins--not to mention a great track like Alicia's new "No One"--and you've got the feel-good album of the decade! Only a moron would say she should open for the Doors!
Shaggy: Intoxication (Big Yard/VP) In some ways I find this country's collective amnesia quaintly charming. I mean, is it not true that Shaggy was once immensely popular circa the year 2000 with his album Hot Shot? How can it be that this man--who sold over six million copies of that record here in the U.S. alone--is not now widely regarded as an international superstar now making a stunning return to form? Heck, I don't know. I kind of like him!
Paul McCartney: The McCartney Years [DVD] (MPL/Rhino) Pretty much all the post-Beatles Paul McCartney video you'll ever need, this deluxe 3-DVD set houses over 40 music videos, many mixed into 5.1 stereo surround sound, going back as far as "Maybe I'm Amazed" from his 1970 debut album. While there's all sorts of hip bonus stuff--his performance of "Let It Be" from 1985's Live Aid show, his more recent appearance at the Super Bowl--I'd say the music videos on the first disc are the real eye-opener here. In 2007, tracks like "Mamunia," "Helen Wheels," "Wonderful Christmas Time," and personal all-time krautrock-inspired fave "Coming Up" sound like significant masterworks that were unjustly overlooked by dopes all caught up in that "Beatles" thing! Where are they now?
Robyn Hitchcock: I Wanna Go Backwards (Yep Roc) Onetime leader of UK cult faves the Soft Boys, Robyn Hitchcock has seen his many fabulous albums reissued and rejiggered so many times, it's difficult to ascertain what's new and what isn't. This multi-disc reissue collects his 1981 solo debut Black Snake Diamond Role, 1984's I Often Dream Of Trains, 1990's Eye, and random set While Thatcher Mauled Britain: Demos '81-90. So it's a new reissue! If you've never heard him, this would be a good place to start. Sadly, if you have heard him, it would be an equally good place to finish! Time is like a donut, babe!
Seal: System (Warner) Often record companies send out advance releases of their upcoming albums that are copy-protected so intricately that, remarkably, reviewers like myself are hard-pressed to find a single functional CD-drive capable of playing them! As a result, I'm left to presume that this disc is in fact by British artist Seal--who I've met and who is quite charming and talented--and not, shall we say, a swimming mammal with whiskers and an affection for fish! It seems highly unlikely that any major label would sign the latter! Yet!