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Thunder And Lightning!

February 20, 2013 5:06 PM ET
Thunder And Lightning!

One of the major benefits of today’s out-of-kilter pop scene—where it’s entirely conceivable that the best-selling artists of the moment are likely to have a shelf-life of months, rather than years—is that today’s most sophisticated music fans can go about their business having absolutely no opinion about the latest works by Justin Timberlake, Rihanna, or Beyoncé and still sound like they know what they’re talking about.

Especially when they use big words!

And as we come to a new release week when there are no “major” new albums, no long-awaited returns to the scene by artists we’re likely to completely forget within five years, we can instead pick and choose from a wide array of truly interesting albums from artists both old and new--who apparently make records more for the sake of art rather than money, or of making an overblown career statement concocted purely to jettison them into the stratosphere of the super-rich.

Between you and me, I like the sexy ones best!

Celtic Thunder: Mythology (Celtic Thunder) A surprisingly straight return to the marketplace from metal titans Celtic Thunder—whose previous showstopper Grasping At The Short Hairs Of Cthulhu took all that was great about Switzerland’s Celtic Frost, emulsified it, sped it up, and hurled it directly in unsuspecting listeners’ faces—Mythology regurgitates traditional faves such as “Danny Boy,” “Carrickfergus” and “She Moved Through The Fair,” adds their trademark buzzsaw-bass and pounding tom-toms, then tops the whole thing off with a cover pic paying tribute to both Stonehenge and restaurant cultist Howard Johnson! I suspect they’d be bigger if people knew whether “Celtic” was pronounced with a hard or soft “C,” but they should take that up with their manager!

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds: Push The Sky Away (Bad Seed) Like most of us, Nick Cave is plagued by beautiful naked women who keep walking into his house! Sometimes it’s a bummer! Adorned by a typical slice-of-life cover shot, Push The Sky Away may in fact be Cave’s best album yet: Not as deliberately atonal as his Birthday Party fare, less joyously raw than his earliest Bad Seeds material, and not as teeth-grindingly self-mythologizing as much of what would follow, the album strangely evokes an artful Eric Burdon, circa 1972 or so, who has opted to play down his bellowing ways and offer subtle vocals that ooze with sincerity, depth, and the sort of thing that sounds especially good after the requisite number of drinks longtime Nick Cave fans need to imbibe purely to function in today’s get-up-and-go environment! And the album title? Ironically, since the sky is an artificial construct that essentially has no mass, pushing it will have no effect whatsoever! And I think Nick knows that! He’s tricky that way!

Buckcherry: Confessions (Century Media) Sometimes, in the world of rock criticism, it is the artists themselves who make the most profound analyses! And so it is that Buckcherry’s lead singer Josh Todd, describing the sixth studio album from this much-loved combo, gets to the essentials of this fab new Buckcherry album! “It’s pretty intense” says he, “but everybody’s gonna love it. It’s quintessential Buckcherry, at the end of the day.” Thus, between the marvelous array of songs such as “Gluttony, “ “Greed,” “Sloth,” “Pride,” and the classically-inspired “Dreamin’ Of You,” we’re treated to the band sharing a few pre-dinner drinks, gathering in the backyard for cookout of pork steaks and Carlo Rossi, playing a few video games, watching a couple of Buffy reruns and the inevitable snuff movie, and, finally, the ritualistic brushing of each band member’s teeth (except for the drummer!), a final few Hail Marys, and then bedtime! The next morning? Checking SoundScan! But that’s another album!

Atlas Genius: When It Was Now (Warner Bros.) Actually being good purely for the sake of rebelliousness, Australia’s Atlas Genius appear here with a spritely, melodic debut album that will sound especially good to anyone who grew up in the ‘80s and ‘90s and dug the melodic sounds of danceable MTV-inspired Britpop. Deaf people, it should be said, will have no opinion whatsoever! Still, the likelihood of plopping in a random CD by some band you’ve never heard of—well, except for their earlier EP—and saying, “Hey, this is not bad, buster!” decreases with each passing year, but Atlas Genius—like all bold and inspiring innovators—break all the rules and then some! Only a troubled writer would mention their name is an anagram for both “Lasagne Suit” and “Sausage Lint”!

Iceage: You’re Nothing (Matador) If you’re like me, after a few spins of the latest singles by Rihanna, Lil Wayne and Justin Bieber, you’ll be entirely in the mood for something loud, fast and deliberately obnoxious rather than inadvertently so! Thus this new set by Copenhagen’s Iceage, their second album and, according to popular retail site Amazon, one that mixes “punk, Goth, hardcore, and post-punk to even further extremes”! It sounds great! Not to offer too much information, but if you ever get the urge to dress up in black, put on sunglasses, stare in the mirror without moving and lip-synch to Willy Wonka’s “The Candy Man”—and I think we all do!—playing this new Iceage album immediately afterward offers immeasurable rewards! It also helps if you get a check in the mail earlier that day!

Herb Alpert: Fandango (Shout! Factory) I find it fascinating what time will do to your perception of music--meaning that upon the 1982 arrival of this “contemporary” effort by Herb Alpert, the distinguished trumpeter whose Tijuana Brass colored nearly everyone’s memories of the ‘60s, one may have heard slick, overly-polished pop jazz and little more. But all these years later, there’s an understated briskness and sharpness to what’s heard here that, in retrospect, is not only unique but actually special—particularly since it’s all led by Alpert’s unmistakable trumpet. Danceable, funky, extremely well-played and deliberately multi-cultural—and it sold lots back then—Fandango is bold for its time and yet charmingly accessible. Kind of like his hat!

Robin Trower: Roots And Branches (V-12) Considering that in the last month I have spent all my spare time listening to albums by Procol Harum, John Lee Hooker and Taj Mahal—I understand they’re hip!—it may come as little surprise that I’m quite enthused by this latest album by Procol’s quite stellar guitarist, who went off on his own in the ‘70s and, quietly or otherwise, has steadfastly pursued his muse to sometimes amazing results. This latest disc, a tribute to his blues roots, features a batch of highly recognizable covers—“Born Under A Bad Sign,” “The Thrill Is Gone,” “That’s Alright Mama”—expertly played, emotively sung, and strangely thrilling in that subtlety+excess style at which Trower has long excelled. As players go, few are more convincing. Recommended.

The Soft Hills: Chromatisms (Tapete) A Seattle band who wisely realized that all the best music in the world has been made by incorporating the word “soft”—see Soft Machine, Soft Boys, Soft Parade, Soft Cell, Electric Soft Parade, The Soft Bulletin, “Soft Fun,” etc.—this highly listenable combo signed to a German label, produced a wonderfully melodic album, and return here now with very fine, subtle stuff that lingers with a single listening. According to their bio, “To listen to The Soft Hills’ music is like wandering through a magical landscape where horse-like creatures run wild across velveteen fields and mythological birds soar under melancholy clouds,” but they’re better than the Goo Goo Dolls!

The Sound: All Fall Down (1972) Anyone who missed the stunning work of ‘80s Brit band the Sound—a pioneering group who emerged with a trio of album that bettered those of such contemporaries as Echo & The Bunnymen and U2 but never really commercially connected—is advised to pick up this reissue of their startlingly good third album, released in 1983 and still sounding highly contemporary. Led by the talented but troubled Adrian Borland, the group played tense, melodic, inward-leaning rock that evoked the Doors and, in some ways, the Stooges, and were among the most dynamic unsung talents of their era. Though not as perfect a set as 1981’s harrowing predecessor From The Lion’s Mouth, this may be a more accessible introduction to the group’s intense, throbbing style and the late Borland’s singular worldview.

Pussy: Pussy Plays (Secret vinyl reissue) Originally released on the highly collectible Morgan Bluetown label in 1969, this Brit set is quite good, worth hearing, and the sort of band it’s fun asking record store clerks if they have! Everyone’s into them!

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