A day later than usual in posting this week's new releases blog, true—but can I be blamed for losing sleep over this week's past excitement?
First came the exciting news that both Nicki Minaj and Keith Urban would be accepting slots as judges on the fantastic television show American Idol!
Then came the even better news that Shakira and Usher would be filling in for Voice judges Christina Aguilera and Cee-Lo Green during its next season!
Then came the climactic news that my local Jo-Ann Fabrics is now offering an even larger assortment of fabric, sewing, quilting, scrapbooking, knitting, crochet, jewelry and craft items!
Oh yeah! Then I fell out of my car and passed out for two days!
P!nk: The Truth About Love (RCA) I've decided that despite all my misgivings about what P!nk represents—a colorful mouthpiece who essentially functions as a semi-front person for an admirable batch of plugged-in contemporary producers, going against the grain of what made most pop music get really interesting from the mid-'60s onward, back when artists were writing and singing their own stuff without outside help—I like her lots! She's got a filthy mouth! She can sing! And her songs that would drive me absolutely nuts if I had a pre-teen daughter singing her tunes up in her bedroom with the door shut! "Blow Me (One Last Kiss)"? "Slut Like You"? "Walk Of Shame"? A guest appearance by Eminem? Still: What a fantastic, blaring pop record! I would liken it to being chained into a theatre seat while being forced to watch The Rocky Horror Picture Show while being intravenously force-fed epinephrine! I wonder if she's into canasta?
The Killers: Battle Born (Island) Have to admit to being mildly puzzled about the Killers' appeal, as they continue to produce highly commercial, not particularly daring albums that—at least on this set—are starting to sound like Supertramp backed by E Street Band pianist Roy Bittan! Like, shouldn't have that happened a few decades ago? Not to knock their innate AOR tendencies—it's all sort of precious here in 2012—but this reminds me of those kind-of-OK albums that '70s album rockers were putting out while being completely shut out by critics enamored by geniuses like Sham 69, Tuff Darts, and a hell of a lot of the Epic Records roster! Also: not sure, but isn't killing a mortal sin?
Grizzly Bear: Shields (Warp) I've got to be honest! There are a lot of bands like Grizzly Bear and, say, Shearwater, who are cool, completely indie, and sound exactly like the sort of bands I would really like if I only had 20 albums, had absolutely no access to the multi-millions of records now available to all of us via music streaming services like Spotify and Rhapsody, and decided not to shave for a few months just for kicks! But unfortunately, I have lots of albums, can listen to nearly anything I want to, can't really tell one song by these guys from another, and shave regularly so that no one can now see my beard has turned completely white! It's embarrassing! That said, I do collect pictures of people's noses, so this album cover got me from the word go! It's a winner!
Nelly Furtado: The Spirit Indestructible (Geffen) It's puzzling but probably symptomatic of the times that there hasn't been more hubbub about this new Nelly Furtado album, as her last one—not counting the Spanish-language Mi Plan--was 2006's enormous Loose, which was hit-filled, scarily contemporary, and sort of exactly the right album at the right time. This, its official follow-up, is quite strong, excellently sung—she stopped by our studio a few months back and played a few tunes that blew all of our minds—well, someone had brought a few helium balloons and, um, you know—and about as substantial as anyone could reasonably expect in 2012! Plus, even if you pay absolutely no attention to the words she's singing, you have to admit "Big Hoops (Bigger The Better)" is one heck of a song title! I think she is quite skilled and worthy of high acclaim, critical idolatry, and the sort of praise anyone might accord someone actually named Nelly in this day and age! Talk about artistic courage!
Aimee Mann: Charmer (Superego) Uh-oh! Here comes trouble! Unlike nearly all of my rock critic friends—they're the ones who don't talk much, read a lot, need haircuts, and post on Facebook way too much—I for the life of me can't get this whole Aimee Mann thing, and perceive her "burgeoning" solo career (it's been burgeoning for a couple of decades now) as a puzzling artifact of Mass Critical Consensus gone wrong: I listen and listen, but as someone famous once said, there's no there there! I simply don't hear a hook at all! And I perceive coldness and resentment when I want to perceive warmth, candor and spiritual refreshment! Heck, I could buy a six-pack of Sprite for what this album costs! Also: Mann is a funny last name for a girl!
Michael Jackson: Bad 25th Anniversary Edition (Epic/Legacy) I have to confess: Off The Wall was the Michael Jackson album that worked for me, Thriller was a fascinating cultural/sociological experiment that was fabulously successful and now sounds dated beyond belief, and Bad—the 25th anniversary of which this package celebrates—truly was the beginning of the end. Less an album than the ultimate result of a play-it-safe focus group devoted to determining what songs and what material would offend the fewest people possible while simultaneously achieving success on the largest number of radio formats—this album arrived with a comparative thud that few seem willing to bring up now, but it's worth recalling. Looking at the tracks here—"Bad," "The Way You Make Me Feel," "Man In The Mirror," "I Just Can't Stop Loving You"—one is less reminded of a powerful artistic legacy than that time in the late '80s when radio was, just as Michael Jackson sang, really, really bad. And he got even worse after this.
Ben Folds Five: The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind (Sony) Though original trio Ben Folds Five came and went after a fascinating run toward the turn of the century, and Folds himself went on to ambitious projects and—best of all—a short-lived career as a reality show judge, there are many of us who look back on that band's early albums with great fondness. This new set—the trio's first real "new" album in 13 years or so—is quite good, reminiscent of precisely the sort of music they made at their peak, and a worthy addition to a legacy that has perhaps been unjustly ignored. Not just that: The guy on the cover is a dead ringer for a toy I used to have when I was kid that you could wind up and a little record inside (no lie) would say "I am Robert Robot, mechanical man. Ride me and steer me, wherever you can." Later one of my mom's fat friends came over and sat down on my brand new plastic Mickey Mouse ears and broke them! I cried! New Ben Folds album = made me cry! What more need be said?
Carly Rae Jepsen: Kiss (604 Records) The latest album by hard rock legends Kiss offers up a stunning rock-operatic scenario devoted to an imaginary girl who apparently "looks like Barbi Benton's skinny little sister," has a background in Canadian reality TV, and goes on to record one of the world's biggest singles with "Call Me Maybe." While the grizzled quartet's vocals admittedly sound a little higher than usual—real rockers don't use auto-tune, dudes—and there's more pop than, say, "Strutter" to be found here, the album as a whole works and works well—kind of like a 21st century Destroyer! Gene's cover pic? Priceless!
The Coal Porters: Find The One (Prime) A great return from the much-acclaimed band led by Sid Griffin, whose '80s group the Long Ryders laid down some very impressive recording in their day. This new one, the Porters' sixth, may be their very best and in its way is a psychedelic wet dream: featured guests include guitarist Richard Thompson and distinguished BBC host Brian Matthew, and the entire affair was produced by John Wood, whose past track record will be, to most people, jaw-dropping. Great new songs, creative arrangements, covers of "Paint It Black" and "Heroes" and much, much more. Give it a listen!
Band Of Horses: Mirage Rock (Fat Possum) Produced by the distinguished Glyn Johns, the latest set by this astounding animal act can't help but impress! Between the harmonies of Flicka, Fury and Silver and the incredible rhythm team of Trigger and Mr. Ed—sort of the Keith Moon of the group!—the band runs down the most incredible Hall & Oates medley you'll ever hear! Next up: Touring with Shoes!