When I look at many of this week's most intriguing new releases, I notice an interesting trend!
There are new albums by '70s stars the New York Dolls and Cat Stevens, a great reissue by late-'80s influential Scottish post-punk band the Vaselines, and a tribute album to iconic singer Scott Walker, who rose to fame in the mid-'60s as part of his group the Walker Brothers!
And then a bit of duller new stuff!
Far be it from me to beat a dead horse, or make portentous pronouncements about the current state of the music business, but truly, this needs to be said!
All of the above artists--that's right, every single one of them--sing in English!
It's enough to give one pause!
Ciara: Fantasy Ride (Jive) Three things of interest occurred when I played the new Ciara album! First, I found myself liking that "Love Sex Magic" track--which wouldn't be so bad except for the fact that I later found out it features Justin Timberlake, who I don't like, so I decided it was no good! Secondly, I was taken with the title of the track "Like A Surgeon"--like, is she making fun of Madonna here?--until a co-worker asked if it was the Weird Al Yankovic track! Weird Al Yankovic track? Like, I hate him, too! And no, it wasn't! So here's this enormously popular R&B singer who may have absolutely no idea about the collective works of Madonna or Weird Al Yankovic! Wow! Finally, in looking carefully throughout the many illustrations filling the CD booklet, I decided Ciara was quite attractive and therefore an excellent and noteworthy singer! I like almost all the tracks and think her costumes on pages 3, 6, 8 and 12 are my favorite!
Ben Harper And Relentless7: White Lies For Dark Times (Virgin) It's Ben Harper's ninth album or so, and you have to give him credit: he's a good player, a good singer, and a guy who's almost been there so many times maybe one day he'll actually arrive! Just saw this combo playing in Texas in March, and while I appreciated their sheer musicality--quote me!--I was left with the lingering impression that if Harper had recorded the same music you can hear here back in 1969 or so he'd be regarded as one of the most influential players of the rock 'n' roll era! But he didn't! It's not his fault, though, so I'm more than happy to admire him for his musical dexterity, his lyrical skill--it's tough to top "you've got to live my life to get boots like these"--and for his new band Relentless7, whose music, according to the album's product description, is "unrelenting"! How can I get to write product descriptions?
New York Dolls: Cause I Sez So (Atco/Rhino) It's a safe bet that a significant number of today's record-buying audience has never heard the first two New York Dolls albums, or for that matter have any idea who Buster Poindexter--Dolls singer David Johansen's later alter ego--ever was in the first place! Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers? Forget it! But it's that same audience who'll be able to approach this new album--produced, like the first Dolls album, by Todd Rundgren--without any preconceptions whatsoever and hear it for exactly what it is: A bunch of old guys who used to dress funny when they were kids! I'm inclined to like it, but that's because of the implicit threat of the album title! The music? Heck, I haven't heard anything over 2.5 kHz for 10 years now! You too?
Chrisette Michele: Epiphany (Def Jam) I like Chrisette Michele quite a bit! She's an excellent singer, she's got a solid musical background, and she has a heart of gold! Well, not literally! But she seems to be approaching the music business for the right reasons--she wants to sing and entertain rather than become enormously wealthy, from what I can gather--and her new album, her second, is a significant step upward! Working with Claude Kelly, Chuck Harmony (real first name: probably "Charles") and NeYo, Chrisette's assembled a solid, pop-leaning album that could well make her a household name! Somewhere!
Elliott Yamin: Fight For Love (Hickory) When it comes to American Idol, Season 5 was always my favorite! That was the one featuring Simon Cowell! It also featured this guy, who didn't win, but, like, in the scheme of things, do you think that makes any difference at all? Opening track "Let Love Be" sounds pretty slick, I must admit, but by the middle of track two it becomes obvious this whole package is yet another ride on the anono-funk machine--more soulless singing by a guy who spent too much time watching MTV when he was young and now mimics vocal behaviors he believes indicates he has singing talent! Plus, what's the deal with that curly hair?
Yusuf: Roadsinger (To Warm You Through The Night) (Universal) In other "Y" news, the latest album by Yusuf is in fact the latest album by the former "Cat Stevens," who changed his name, belief system and shaving habits some years ago and is now back with an album that's just about as good as any of his other ones! Some people used to find him cloying back in his prime, but now his voice is deeper, his song lyrics have taken on a new resonance, and everything else has gotten cruddy, so this doesn't seem so bad after all! Sort of like being stuck in a bomb shelter for five years with nothing but baked beans and suddenly finding a protein bar! My favorite track may be "World O' Darkness," but that's probably because I'm into the use of inappropriate apostrophes! I'm glad he's back!
The Vaselines: Enter The Vaselines (Sub Pop) An absolutely fabulous reissue of the late '80s works of one of Scotland's most worthy bands, this Vaselines collection assembles most of their recordings and makes a worthy argument for the talent of bandleader Eugene Kelly! He's quite good! Though this band fizzled, as did his later groups Captain America and Eugenius, Kelly's resurfaced from time to time--I heard his "I'm Done With Drugs" track from his Man Alive album in some movie or TV show this year--and in fact has temporarily reformed the Vaselines and will be in LA this very weekend! Hopefully representatives of major labels will attend in droves, offer him millions of dollars in signing bonuses, then get lost driving home! Oh yeah, also: Nirvana! This week's must have album!
Electric Owls: Ain't Too Bright (Vagrant) An apparent side project by Andy Herod, whose other band the Comas made some of this decade's more interesting music--specifically via their 2004 album Conductor, which I recommend you purchase immediately, or at least watch this live performance of a song taken from that same album and shot in our glamorous studio! Though I wasn't as taken with 2007's follow-up Spells, this new album still sounds like the Comas--and it should, since Herod sings and writes the material--and is better by far! I like these talented guys who pursue music rather than hit singles, and think you would too were you only given the opportunity to hear them! Why must The Man keep them down?
Various Artists: Music Inspired By The Film Scott Walker: 30th Century Man (Lakeshore) I recommend you catch this movie if you have the opportunity--it's out on DVD in Europe--as it does a great job of documenting the colorful career of American singer Scott Walker, who since his mid-'60s days in pop group the Walker Brothers has become the object of worldwide cult admiration; a Walker compilation put together by Julian Cope in 1981 was partly titled The Godlike Genius Of Scott Walker, after all, and put that "godlike genius" tag into common linguistic circulation! Cool! Those who've sought his albums out and perhaps been put off by the, er, depth of his vocal tone may like this collection, as it features many of Walker's best compositions sung by hip people with pleasant voices, including Damon & Naomi, Dot Allison, Nicole Atkins, Saint Etienne, and more! Buy this, buy all his albums, buy the movie on DVD, then buy yourself a speedboat! Hell, it's all for grabs!
St. Vincent: Actor (4AD) Formerly a Catholic priest dedicated to serving the poor--many churches ask for clothing donations in his name--St. Vincent de Paul was born in 1581, but, as a saint, apparently gets to come back to Earth and make records whenever he wants! Even as a lady! He's pretty good, sure--but with that much time to practice, who wouldn't be?