Those keeping track of the album charts lately may unwittingly see the big story as being who reaches the No. 1 spot--and little else.
One week it's Leona Lewis, the next it's Mariah Carey, and who knows? Maybe next week it'll be Madonna.
But there's a bigger picture, too. Like...maybe the rest of the new albums released--how to say this politely?--all stink!
So believe it or not, this is pretty much a banner week of new releases! I haven't seen this many good new albums on sale since all the record stores in LA went out of business!
Who knows? I may even buy one with this generous tax rebate we're all receiving! Or at least download a track!
Madonna: Hard Candy (Warner Brothers) Ah, well, c'mon. I love Madonna! First of all she's good looking! Secondly, she makes records! Third of all, she's photographed in unladylike positions for their cover! What more could anyone want? That being said, though, I'm a little concerned. I usually make jokes about artists beating each other up to get on the top of the charts, and here she looks like she's actually getting ready for a boxing match on the album sleeve! But she's classy, she's got brains, and she's from Detroit, so she's probably just going to put new collaborator Justin Timberlake out of his misery--and therefore all of society out of ours! You go, grown woman!
Lil Mama: VYP-Voice Of The Young People (Jive) Not to be overly cynical, but don't you find it slightly odd that this album--which is going to sell by the purseload--is coming out precisely when people like Ashlee Simpson and Britney Spears' li'l cutie sister are rumored to be pregnant or something? I mean, I don't have a teenage daughter, but if I did and I wanted to buy her an album, I'd see this in a store and say, "Hmm...new album...'Lil Mama'...yeah, this has to be by one of those people she likes!" Then I'd go about my business and buy some coffee while she was home getting stalked on the Internet! I'm glad I don't have a teenage daughter! Oh yeah, this record's pretty good, too!
Mudcrutch: Mudcrutch (Reprise) Isn't in funny that when albums just kind of slip out informally--like this one, a reunion of Tom Petty's band prior to the Heartbreakers--they generally are significantly better than the ones that artist, producers, and labels shed blood, sweat & tears over? Maybe that's because people like Petty--who grew up in Florida listening to bands like the Animals and grooving on garage band singles recorded in mono--drew inspiration from artists who didn't spend 50 billion dollars polishing and re-polishing turgid works of "art" that reached the top of the charts due to sleazy business practices! On the other hand, it may just be a wonderful coincidence! How 'bout that beard?
Portishead: Third (Island) A much-loved British group that disappeared during the turn of the century or so--apparently someone tactlessly showed them a picture of an actual Portis, and band self-esteem became an issue--these guys are picking up where they left off, and it's about time! The past 11 years have thus been erased, the Millennium's just around the corner, and most people's modem's are 14.4 kbps at best! Portishead sound just as good as they ever have, people loved 'em at Coachella, and I'm gonna get me one of them high-def TVs if it kills me! Have you heard the new Rancid?
Estelle: Shine (Homeschool/Atlantic) Quite a fab new record from UK sensation Estelle, who's signed to John Legend's new Homeschool label and is significantly better than guys who review 10 new albums a week might expect before listening to them! Stunningly, the record's list of guest contributors--will.i.am, Cee-Lo, Wyclef Jean, Mark Ronson, Swizz Beatz, Kanye West and my personal fave Kardinal Offishall--shows no sign of Timbaland, but suffers little as a result! That's because he's recently been hired to collaborate with the actual air itself, so he's always around! As a special bonus, this album is being "released physically"!
Def Leppard: Songs From The Sparkle Lounge (Universal) According to this article, these classic Brit rockers' new album was "about 85, 90 percent finished" at the time of the interview, was described by its lead singer Joe Elliott as "a very rock album" and one that was not "radically different to anything we've ever done." Of course, that article is almost a year old! So now we're told that the album's first single, "Nine Lives" was written by none other than heavy metal giant Tim McGraw! Like onetime labelmates Bon Jovi, Def Leppard will probably get into rap when that gets popular, too! But I love 'em just the same!
Robert Forster: The Evangelist (Yep Roc) The co-founder of Australia's legendary Go-Betweens--one of best rock 'n' roll bands ever--returns with his first solo album in 11 years. Though the event should be joyous, it's tempered somewhat by the fact that his longtime partner Grant McLennan--with whom he reunited since that last album--died nearly two years ago. The latter's presence is still felt on three co-written tracks, and the sound, as always, is unique, pure, classy and heartfelt. That means it's great and you should buy it!
The Roots: Rising Down (Def Jam) One of the best bands out there at the moment, the Roots return with a politically charged set that features guest appearances by the likes of Common and Talib Kweli--and fortunately, since Common likes Talib Kweli and Talib Kweli likes Common, it all works out! It strikes me that all of the Roots albums sound better with each listening, and that their earliest are so musical they really haven't dated in the slightest. Hopefully the band members have!
Steve Winwood: Nine Lives (Columbia) Onetime singer with the Spencer Davis Group, Traffic and Blind Faith, Steve Winwood may be one of the most consistent--and certainly most respected--musicians to have emerged from Britain since the dawn of the Beatles. His former Blind Faith pal Eric Clapton appears here on the album's first single "Dirty City," and overall--in light of Van Morrison's great new album Keep It Simple--the sinister campaign to keep baby boomers at home listening to old people's CDs while their cars are getting ransacked seems a smashing success!
Augustana: Can't Hurt, Can't Love (Epic) If you're like me, you confuse this band with the Fray and wonder if anyone notices! Then you start working on your e-mail!