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album reviews

"Weird Al" Yankovic

Mandatory Fun RCA
6

When we talk about timeless artists, the ones who truly cross generations, how come no one mentions Weird Al? Where his 1983 debut spoofed then hot singles like "Mickey," his 14th album turns Lorde’s "Royals" into "Foil" (as in aluminum) and Iggy Azalea’s "Fancy" into "Handy" ("I’ll fix your plumbing/When your toilets overflow"). The schoolhouse R&B of "Word Crimes" is clever enough to win over the harshest critics of Robin Thicke’s "Blurred Lines." Then th... | More »

Bleachers

Strange Desire RCA
6

As the guitarist for pop-rock stars fun., Jack Antonoff helped build a sound that brought Eltonian grandeur to the kind of open-wound introspection that's usually confined to the dark, comfy corners of emo records. With this one-man side project, he goes deeper into his Eighties synth-rock and Arcade Fire influences, piling snazzy hooks and knotty feelings into ravenously over-the-top therapy rock. The hit "I Wanna Get Better," which came with a video directed by his girlfriend... | More »

Puss n Boots

No Fools, No Fun Blue Note
6

This charming hang session with Norah Jones, jazzy singersongwriter Sasha Dobson and alt-rock session vet Catherine Popper began as three friends blowing off steam at a pool hall – think of it as a slacker version of Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt's Trio project. Most bar bands don't manage trio harmonies near this gorgeous, but the song selection is uneven. A cover of Wilco's "Jesus, Etc." is a keeper; their take on Neil Young's "Down by the Ri... | More »

July 14, 2014

Alvvays

Alvvays Polyvinyl
8

It's a rare treat to discover a debut like Alvvays'. Each of the nine songs on the Toronto band's first LP is a sharply drawn indie-pop wonder, steeped in romance, wit and melody. The unsentimental proposal "Archie, Marry Me" is the kind of song some acts spend careers trying to write: "Forget the invitations, floral arrangements and breadmakers," singer Molly Rankin suggests over swoon worthy guitar jangle and a driving backbeat. The shy come-ons of "Party... | More »

July 9, 2014

Judas Priest

Redeemer of Souls Epic
7

Judas Priest have been looking for redemption since their 2008 concept album, Nostradamus, fell flat with fans. Their follow-up goes back to guitar-bludgeoning basics on songs that explore vengeance, virility and Valhalla – classic metal themes that might feel tired if it wasn't for the fact that Priest are one of the bands that helped pioneer the pummeling genre in the first place. Frontman Rob Halford's operatic howls soar on "Battle Cry," and the group's guitarists bri... | More »

Various Artists

Country Funk II 1967-1974 Light in the Attic
7

Country has always drawn from African-American music, but as part two of this Southern-fried funk compilation series shows, that cross-genre impulse got wildly amplified in the Sixties and Seventies. Dolly Parton sings “Gettin’ Happy” with a gospel choir, pedal steel and an amped-up, sample-ready drum beat; Kenny Rogers gets all funky outlaw on “Tulsa Turnaround” (“Oooh, Lord, I wish I had never been stoned. . . .”). Even Willie Nelson (&ldquo... | More »

Riff Raff

Neon Icon Mad Decent
2

Houston meme machine Riff Raff is a free-associative goof-ball who raps in a put-on deep-Southern drawl – call it swagger or minstrelsy, your choice. The lyrics on his latest album are nonsense masquerading as new-age ("I can throw a BB through a Frosted Cheerio") or dumb masquerading as self-aware ("You should practice martial arts/The way you karate-chop my heart"). There are punk, country and EDM experiments that sound like Nineties novelty act the Bloodhound Gang without the... | More »

Kitten

Kitten Elektra
5

This L.A. act's debut LP sounds great when 19-year-old singer Chloe Chaidez is delivering huge, dramatic hooks over New Wave-styled jams like the breathless opener, "Like a Stranger." It falters when the band indulges in out-of-nowhere rap verses or misplaced filtered vocals. When they get it right, it's not hard to imagine Kitten playing to a screaming arena, as with the fuzzed-out highlight "Kill the Light" – but way too many of these songs try way too hard to be notice... | More »

Body Count

Manslaughter Sumerian
6

The fifth record from Ice T's metal group is easily its best since its 1992 debut. There’s nothing as incendiary here as that year’s "Cop Killer," but Manslaughter does feature the band’s smartest musical leap in decades: evolving from its original sloppy mix of thrash and punk to lean, contemporary extreme metal. Over precise doublekicks and lurching metalcore riffs, Ice sounds like he’s having more fun than he’s had in years – ragin... | More »

Robin Thicke

Paula Star Trak/Interscope
5

If Robin Thicke needed a lesson in the consequences of disrespecting a woman’s boundaries after his controversial 2013 hit "Blurred Lines," here it is. The blue-eyed-soul singer named his new LP after his estranged wife, Paula Patton, and he spends much of it croon- ing about lost love in a weepy timbre or making bluesman appeals on hyperliteral tracks like "Get Her Back." His soft falsetto is sumptuous, but too many tracks veer into uncomfortable parod... | More »

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Song Stories

“Wake Up Everybody”

John Legend and the Roots | 2010

A Number One record by Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes in 1976 (a McFadden- and Whitehead-penned classic sung by Teddy Pendergrass) inspired the title and lead single from Wake Up!, John Legend's tribute album to message music. The more familiar strains of "Wake Up Everybody" also fit his agenda. "It basically sums up, in a very concise way, all the things we were thinking about when we were putting this record together in that it's about justice, doing the right thing and coming together to make the world a better place," he said. Vocalists Common and Melanie Fiona assist Legend on this mission to connect.

More Song Stories entries »
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