If I were a really cynical sort of fellow, I might take a look at this week's hot new releases and say, "Wow, a bunch of former American Idol singers, some High School Musical kid, a one-time grunge superstar now apparently floundering at the hands of the omnipresent Timbaland, a fading emo band produced by a member of the suspiciously reunited Blink-182, a formerly hot British band who've lost the knack for writing good pop songs, and a pair of R&B dudes famous for either writing other people's material or having one former hit single! How exciting can it get?"
Happily, though, I'm a very cheerful and well-adjusted music critic eager to embrace all that's new and happening!
So don't worry! I'm thinking this is one heck of an exciting batch of new releases! Like you, I'm rooting for all of them!
Kelly Clarkson: All I Ever Wanted (RCA) I would definitely say Kelly Clarkson is my all-time favorite American Idol singer, mostly because I thought she was pretty good when I saw her in concert and--between you and me--I generally hate all the rest of them! Plus, I sympathized deeply with her plight when she wanted to simply be herself artistically but was coldly refuted by The Man! Finally, if she were mysteriously transported back to the early '70s and, say, took the place of Ann Wilson of Heart before that band were to make their first album, I'd probably be one of the first guys out there raving about her role as one of the pioneering "women in rock"! That being said, it's doubtful any '70s rocker chicks would take the risqué plunge of naming their new single "My Life Would Suck Without You"--and, for that matter, most would probably opt out of singing a song called "I Do Not Hook Up," largely because back then, feminists were pushing for equality in all fields including electrical engineering! As you might therefore expect, this is a great record worth every penny you'd care to spend on it!
Taylor Hicks: The Distance (Modern Whomp/A2M) Like Kelly Clarkson, Taylor Hicks sang on American Idol, is an air-breathing biped, and is eager to strike out on his own for the sake of his art rather than having it compromised by the heavy hand of The Man! To that end, he enlisted the help of producer Simon Climie--renowned not just for his work with Eric Clapton but for his work with exciting pop duo Climie Fisher, who had two big international pop singles in the late '80s! Just not here! You can't help but feel that the good-hearted Mr. Hicks has his heart in the right place, and even his song selection--"What's Right Is Right," Keepin' It Real," and "I Live On A Battlefield"--displays the righteousness the apparently oozes down into the very core of his soul! So this is great too!
Chris Cornell: Scream (Suretone/Interscope) Far be it from me to take umbrage with former Soundgarden/Audioslave singer Cornell's decision to employ everyone's favorite producer Timbaland on his new and distinctive solo album! It actually sounds pretty good! Like, not a compromise between his laudable rock roots and the slickly fashionable, polished pop/R&B Timbaland can naturally produce in his sleep! In fact, I'd be wholeheartedly willing to embrace it were it not for the jarring cover photo--puzzlingly approved by artist, label and management--capturing Cornell scant seconds before his attempt to destroy an innocent mouse who'd wandered into the recording studio! He's deathly afraid of them, you know!
The-Dream: Love Vs. Money (Def Jam) There's lot's to admire about The-Dream! From his very name--I mean, can you imagine going through elementary school with a first name of "The"?--to his songwriting prowess (the dude wrote Rihanna's "Umbrella," Beyoncé's "Single Ladies," and Mariah Carey's "Touch My Body," among other hits), to the guest stars on his new album, which include Mariah herself, Kanye West, and Lil Jon on "Let Me See The Booty," a track oddly not covered by Rihanna, Mariah or Beyoncé to date! Additionally, The-Dream's ability to receive music mentally through projected thought waves--as the album cover illustrates--is a definite plus in this increasingly competitive music biz!
New Found Glory: Not Without A Fight (Epitath) According to a knowledgeable product description, New Found Glory are the "undisputed heavyweights of pop punk," and you know what? I'm OK with that! It's been seven whole albums that these guys have been doing this thing, and here they brought in Mark Hoppus from Blink 182 to produce their new album and Fall Out Boy mixer Neil Avron to make it sonically spiffy and, aww, what the heck, it's got a little bit of bounce here and there, and some decent melodies, and a cover that depicts our troubled political times and, you know, even an opening track called "Right Where We Left Off"! I mean, how unpretentious can you get? I suggest we keep finding them glorious until, I don't know, they pop or something! You into it?
Madeleine Peyroux: Bare Bones (Rounder) Madeleine Peyroux's an excellent singer who's gone through some interesting transitions since her Billie Holidayisms of a decade ago. Her latest set features production by bassist Larry Klein--whose apparent goal now is to produce an album by every female singer in the music industry--and songwriting contributions by Steely Dan's Walter Becker and singer Joe Henry. They are all very creditable musicians, and the songs here--for the first time penned by Peyroux with other writers--are excellent, especially the two written with Becker. If I were you, I would buy this and, later, play it.
Razorlight: Slipway Fires (Mercury) Renowned for being quite popular in their British homeland and simply guys that release records that nobody buys here, Razorlight yet again attempt to make inroads with a new album--their third--which seems strangely wordy, huffy, and the sort of thing you probably shouldn't have playing on your stereo when someone calls you up to chat on the phone! Upon second listening, I was somewhat taken with the song "North London Trash," which boasts--literally!--"I've got a hot body girlfriend/ I've got a wallet full of cash/ You can bury my body/ I'm just North London trash." Sadly, it would appear that that Razorlight's singer Johnny Borrell life is so different from my own, it's depressing! Think I'll stop listening and walk over to the bar!
Nat "King" Cole: Re:Generations (Capitol/EMI) The younger among us who picture Nat King Cole as a stylish pianist/singer from the mid-20th Century--or as the gimmicky add-on to daughter Natalie Cole's virtual duet of "Unforgettable"--will likely be floored by this amazingly contemporary update to Cole's music, as it's exceptionally well done and, in its way, quietly revolutionary. With a raft of producers, remixers and sonic collaborators--including Cee-Lo, Cut Chemist, Michaelangelo L'Acqua with Bebel Gilberto, Nas, will.i.am, TV On The Radio and, of course, daughter Natalie--it's a unique example of an experiment that worked, completely, and is excellent listening throughout. Weird!
J. Holiday: Round 2 (Music Line Group/Capitol) I've had a soft spot in my heart for R&B newcomer J. Holiday since his previous album Back Of My Lac' for two reasons: 1) I'm into misused apostrophes, and 2) I too have a Lac'! Though there's nothing here that's as outright memorable as his largish hit "Bed," guests like Ne-Yo provide a nice groove, and such songs as "It's Yours," "Homeless," and finale "I Tried" covertly spell out the dangers of giving your Lac' to a loved one during the heat of passion! The cover art says it all!