Maroon 5: V (Interscope) Well, the word on this album is that it may as well be an Adam Levine solo album; it is a complete sell-out; it is further proof that paid-popmeisters here like Dr. Luke and Max Martin have an ear for the hook that however catchy is increasingly formulaic; and that fame in the music biz has never been more meaningless than it is at this very moment. Plus, tattoos are cool! It’s hard to feel betrayed by this catchy piece of pop fluff, which with its processed vocals at times evokes the Police, Bruno Mars, and about everyone else popular for the last decade you might imagine; even Gwen Stefani pops up for no discernible reason, and it sounds better than her not popping up, so why argue? As critical consumers at Amazon.com have it, “”What N’Sync would have sounded like if they were still together,” “What was once a very talented group now sounds just like Justin Bieber,” and the heart-wrenching “What a disappointment.” I think all of these naysayers might well consider Adam Levine’s response when the LA Times recently asked him about his line of designer fragrances: “Not very successful — didn’t do what we wanted it to do. But do I think it smells good? Do I think it was designed well? Do I stand by what I did creatively? One hundred percent.” Let’s be fair—all things considered, this album smells great!
Counting Crows: Somewhere Under Wonderland (Capitol) An unqualified success for Counting Crows—once, long ago, the new kids invited to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame Awards to represent no-show Van Morrison, now several decades into it and still making thoroughly meaningful music. This new album is their first in a while; their last, Underwater Sunshine, was a loving, cover-filled look back at music they admired, and further evidence that Adam Duritz & crew were, musical skills aside, fans and music geeks of the highest order. This new set is image-laden, verbose, catchy, and filled with Crows songs more memorable than usual—the best of which, “Earthquake Driver,” “Palisades Park” and the upbeat “Elvis Went To Hollywood,” boast that unique warmth and character that have marked most of the band’s best work since 1993’s August & Everything After. As always, they appear to make their music without commercial compromise—but, not incidentally, it just happens to be highly listenable. Not a bad place to be.
[Related: Counting Crows Are Back From Wonderland]
Big Star: #1 Record, Radio City (both Stax) Speaking purely as one who writes about pop music, it would be bad form not to mention this new opportunity for consumers to hear the wondrous works of legendary Memphis rockers Big Star—whose first two albums, issued on Ardent Records in 1972 and 1974 respectively, are back again, remastered and sounding as spectacular as ever. With appreciative liner notes by Mike Mills—who became quite famous with his band R.E.M. since these records were recorded—both discs are oozing with melody, sophistication, warmth, longing, and just about everything you’d need to create fantastic albums that rank among pop’s finest ever. There’s much to be learned about Big Star and the considerable influence they had—books, a movie, solo albums—but all of that should not overwhelm the fact that taken just as they are, these two albums, Big Star’s debut #1 Record and its follow-up Radio City, are really perfect pop albums, and all you really need to hear.
Blonde Redhead: Barragán (Awal) Never thought I’d associate this band with raw listenability, let along sustained subtlety, but much has gone on since their noisily enjoyable 1995 album debut. And what’s here is very good. Between them, singer/guitarist Kazu Makino and twins/rhythm section Simone and Amadeo Pace have evolved into a style of impressionistic/electronic mood-setting that at times evokes the quieter side of Can’s Soundtracks, at least briefly, but never without conveying there’s some “there” there at each song’s core. This is generally pretty, expressive stuff—really not what many would’ve expected back in the mid-‘90s, but since it’s now 2014, maybe a really good thing. Give it a listen.
Various Artists: God Help The Girl: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Milan) Collectors note—and in this instance, that would mean record collectors, soundtrack collectors, and film collectors—this is the week that we see the release of God Help the Girl, the film written and directed by Belle And Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch, in theaters, on demand, and via this soundtrack. And while there’s some overlap with Murdoch’s 2009 side project bearing the same GHTG name, there’s much here that will be new to many and equally as fascinating. Great fun, and in some surrealistic way, a modern-day evocation of those quaint-but-alien ‘60s Brit films like The Touchables or Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush. Imagine how it’ll play in 30 years.
Game Theory: Blaze Of Glory (Omnivore) You could’ve made a case a few decades ago that a select few American rock groups were playing advanced, cerebral rock music with enough emotional depth that what was was then called “power pop” might’ve evolved into something sharper, better, smarter and different. Not retro, not evocative of the Raspberries, but something entirely new. I’d say that in fact almost did happen—and that bands like the dB’s, early R.E.M. and Game Theory, whose 1982 debut is reissued here, came very close to making that happen. But then fate intervened. While R.E.M. became huge, and the dB’s are still remembered for the one-two punch of their first albums, Game Theory faded from public view. The Northern California band, formed by the late Scott Miller in the early ‘80s, released a number of highly lauded (and little-purchased) albums that decade; despite many personnel changes, a later name-change to the Loud Family, and a consistent flow of intellectually stimulating, densely melodic music, only a small cult really seemed to get it. With luck, this reissue—the first of many planned by Omnivore Records—will offer Miller’s work the audience it has long deserved. Bursting with bonus tracks, intelligent liner notes, and a general sense of possibility—really, most of Game Theory’s music had that sense—it’s a great package much deserving your attention.
YOB: Clearing The Path To Ascend (Neurot) There is something quaintly beautiful about very loud, throbbing metal that simply floats, noisily, vocals not in the foreground, not in the background, not even necessarily distinct, just adding atmosphere and a human touch. This is what we have here with YOB, or as they are precisely called in their bio, “doom trio powerhouse YOB.” Formed in Eugene, Oregon by guitarist/singer Mike Scheidt in 1996, the band proudly wields its “signature of surging doom” through this album’s four lengthy (shortest = 11 minutes, 21 seconds), compelling tracks, with the occasional “what is reality” spoken word interlude thrown in amid the pulsating throbs and sounding all the better for it. With its groovy cover all Krautrocky and not Venomish, Clearing The Path To Ascend is very much the goods, loud-style.
Coves: Soft Friday (Nettwerk) A quick word about a buzzy Brit pair arriving here this week with this charming debut. Consisting of singer Rebekah Wood and multi-instrumentalist John Rigard, Coves have been dubbed “a ’60s infused, indie psych-rock duo,” which just about covers it—short of offering up some actual music, which, when you hear it, you’re likely to like very much. Loud, drummy, and dreamy—always with a soft human center—Coves are deliciously off much of the time, which as these things go, is therefore a significant turn-on. Go figure.