In a world in which new albums by Grammy winners like Nelly Furtado can sell a horrifyingly small percentage of her past work—perhaps because she took a six-year break—and much less radio-friendly artists such as Mumford & Sons can set new sales records, all bets are off.
Nothing matters whatsoever.
And that's why, in short, the words of music writers such as myself have taken on an cultural importance that is heretofore unprecedented.
What we say goes!
Sadly, I kind of like everything!
Muse: The 2nd Law (Warner Bros.) On one hand one of the most powerful live bands in existence, on the other a bombastic, also-ran version of Radiohead, Jr., with an even dopier name, Muse is nothing if not a rock band! Still, following their worldwide exposure via the Olympics and a pop music scene hungering for deep and substantial rock kicks, one would hope the band would return with an album that would seal their deal, critically, and resonate on a worldwide level! But to devote an entire album to a series of arcane laws currently in force in Ludowici, Georgia—a smallish town once renowned for being an infamous highway speed trap—is no small stretch! The "second law," from which the album title is derived, thematically underscores nearly all of the 13 tracks here—but still, I must ask, is the legality of spitting on the floor of any commercial establishment that practices taxidermy really something any of us can relate to? I wish they'd just sing about hot chicks and stuff! Aside from that? A complete winner!
Van Morrison: Born To Sing: No Plan B (Blue Note) This is my fave release this week, as it's the latest in the non-stop flood of artful, peculiarly odd albums Van Morrison has managed to release since the late '60s, and its sheer listenability—I kid you not, I made a copy for an in-law nearing 80 years of age—combined with the quirkiness of its lyrics makes it one of Morrison's best efforts in several years. Over very smooth production, showcasing a band equally proficient at R&B and jazz, Morrison quotes Sartre's famous line "Hell is other people," rants about "phony pseudo-jazz," starts piping up about God being dead on "If In Money We Trust" and even quotes his own "Beside You" by titling a song "Retreat And View"—hey, is that an Irish cliché or something? It's a rich, intellectually stimulating album, and it's positive proof that the very weird muse that Morrison's been following since Day One still lies deep within his soul, probably intermittently poking at his stomach lining. Most importantly: what a fine hat!
Cher Lloyd: Sticks & Stones (Syco) As my close friends know, I am a complete fanatic when it comes to reality television—especially when music is concerned!—so you can believe I was thrilled beyond belief to hear this debut set by Ms. Lloyd, apparently a big deal on England's original X Factor show and as charismatic as they come! Due to a fortunate twist of Yahoo-esque fate, I managed to witness the young lass in private performance in Austin earlier this year and was I impressed? You bet! Still, the risk-taking at work on this debut set is jaw-dropping! With one side of the album devoted to Rolling Stones covers and the other to American pop demigods Styx, it seemed a dicey proposition that she'd emerge victorious…but…but…her versions of "Honky Tonk Women" and "Mr. Roboto" clearly better the originals, and her vocals on album closer "Lady" at times even rivals Dennis DeYoung's! The final irony? As the album cover depicts all too clearly, she now resides in a women's prison that allows make-up! Heck, I suppose it could be worse!
Heart: Fanatic (Epic/Legacy) You've got to hand it to Heart! The Wilson sisters, bless their heart—hey, I typed that and didn't even mean it!—are still at it, still devoted to powerful, emotive rock 'n' roll, still have all the chops that made them famous way back in the '70s, and in a sense—away from the need-radio-single aspect that dogged them through the late '80s and '90s—now emerge with a sonic purity that for too long has escaped them! With a guest appearance by Sarah McLachlan and song titles that namedrop Vancouver and Pennsylvania, Ann and Nancy Wilson are on the cutting edge of geo-cool! You can just bet the Chili Peppers are listening!
Tori Amos: Gold Dust (Deutsche Grammophon) The hallmark of true international success arrives here as Tori Amos, the delectable singer-songwriter whose passionate, inspired previous work has thrilled a generation, now reworks many of her past classics with the Metropole Orchestra! Featuring such favorites as "Silent All These Years," "Flying Dutchman" and one other one, the album will likely send shivers down the spines of her enthusiastic fan base, many of whom might imagine Gold Dust's cover depicting the singer on her way to the airport, where she'll take a small charter flight to their own locale, drop by to enjoy a bowl or two of shrimp creole, and perhaps pass the time trying on multi-colored wigs and making prank phone calls! I'm kind of into that—plus I also play piano! Maybe Tori is coming here!
Mark Eitzel: Don't Be A Stranger (Merge) Like an old friend who's been away for a while, singer Mark Eitzel—whose early work years ago with the American Music Club still remains so memorable—returns in entirely good stead: He's great, how has he been, where has he been? I haven't been paying much attention, and apparently things haven't been great (to quote his bio, "After a string of bad luck that included a heart attack"), but all seems quite fine here. Eitzel's writing abilities haven't declined, his edge may be even more intense, as opening track "I Love You But You're Dead" attests, and his unique perspective clearly remains: Who else would write a song titled "Lament For Bobo The Clown"? Well, except for Radiohead? Eitzel's track record is exemplary, his music hasn't been tainted by a pointless quest for commercial success, and his new album cover is sexy beyond belief! Buy this today!
Diana Krall: Glad Rag Doll (Verve) It would probably be the essence of poor music criticism to devote an album review to a cover picture that depicts an attractive jazz artist sensuously declining in an daring outfit featuring black stockings and garters—heck, I got killed that time for that Dizzy Gillespie review!—not to mention that gleaming lock of hair swinging so delightfully next to her plump, full lips and…oh, wait, really—what good does writing a review like that do? Let's just say I couldn't agree more with the astute Amazon reviewer who noted "the second disc has two 'C' labels (no 'D'), and the center hole won't fit on the spindle of my Thorens TD 125 MK II turntable," and that Krall is one heck of a pianist, vocalist, and all-around entertainer! Let's just cast her in that Gunsmoke remake and be done with it!
The Vaccines: Come Of Age (Columbia) I am completely in favor of Britain's Vaccines, who are young (though not as young as this album cover might suggest), rooted in the best tradition of grungy/melodic rock 'n' roll, and capable of wheeling out song after song that has that certain something that sounds instantly familiar! I'm thinking it may be notes! Their second album, and a great success in their homeland, Come Of Age displays wit, artistic growth, compelling dynamics, and an admirable distaste for fluff or excess! Additionally, were they to be ground up, liquefied and injected directly into your arm, polio would surely be a non-starter!
Three Days Grace: Transit Of Venus (RCA) I hate to get too personal in these reviews, but I should mention that only this morning I was at a staff meeting and mentioned the name Justin Timberlake when I meant Justin Bieber! So can I be honest? Brain process: "Justin (inconsequential dork)" means all things are equal! And so it is that the new album by Three Days Grace raises a similar question! Do I mean Three Days Grace or Three Doors Down? Or Three Dog Night? Or Three Degrees? No, I mean Three Days Grace, that fine band from Canada, who rock with the best of 'em, sock with the rest of 'em, and probably dropped that apostrophe because no one would ever get it right! I love 'em!
The Tragically Hip: Now For Plan A (Zoe) Having seen this band cover both "Baby Please Don't Go" and "Gloria," two songs memorably sung by Them long ago, I can only look at this album title, compare it to Van Morrison's, and note that they're Canadian! Also: Their nickels look funny!