Rebellious! Rock and pop innovators release new music for the fall

Rebellious! Rock and pop innovators release new music for the fall

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Madonna

“Rebel Heart Live”

Eagle Records

 

The second song on this live album documenting Madonna’s recent tour is “Bitch, I’m Madonna,” which is pretty much the answer that springs up in our heads for any criticism we might have for this latest release.

Madonna has more than 30 years in the game, selling out arenas and stadiums all over the world and putting on spectacular stage spectacles that most pop divas can only dream of. She pretty much wrote the blueprint for what most younger pop divas aspire to achieve in their careers. And she’s doing all this while closing in on the age of 60.

Bravo!

So what can we say about “Rebel Heart Live”?

It definitely follows the blueprint of many of the Madonna tours that preceded it, which comprises a lot of tracks off the new album, as reimagined versions of her more-familiar hits are interspersed with some detours into world music along the way. So suffice it to say, there are no big surprises here.

“Bitch, I’m Madonna!”

You know what? You’re right. You did pretty much write the book on this sort of concert experience. So, there goes that argument.

The new songs tend to hold their own against the hits. The mashup of “Holy Water” with the classic “Vogue” puts a sparsely modern twist on the latter. The less-mechanized songs from “Rebel Heart” take on a new life in a live setting like “HeartBreakCity” and “Body Shop.”

But the real intrigue with a Madonna concert is what hits will she perform from her expansive catalogue of hits, and in what form will they arrive? For some reason, Madonna loves to do sets in some kind of a gypsy/folk/flamenco genre on each of her tours. And I get it; show off those musical chops. But why she chooses to reinvent her classic club bangers through this filter is a mystery. “La Isla Bonita” and “True Blue” both work perfectly in a minimalist style but hearing “Dress You Up” and “Into the Groove” stripped down is almost anti-climactic. She has other songs in her catalogue that would fare better in those styles (“Bad Girl,” “Rain” and “Secret” come to mind).

“Bitch, I’m Madonna!”

I know. You are not our personal jukebox. Your show, your rules.

Other Madonna classics get a fresh coat of paint and are exciting as a result. Both “Material Girl” and “Like a Virgin” get refreshingly funky electro makeovers. “Deeper and Deeper,” on the other hand, is pretty much delivered with hardly any changes from its ’90s techno/house feel and fits perfectly with everything else. Plus, the whole shebang ends with relatively faithful renditions of “Holiday” and “Like a Prayer,” sending fans home feeling like they got their money’s worth.

Madonna’s “Rebel Heart Tour” was a sonic and visual tour de force. If you missed out on it (or even if you didn’t), this is a good way to catch up.

 

Living Colour

“Shade”

Megaforce Records

 

Grammy-winning rock group Living Colour’s first album in more than eight years definitely lives up to its reputation as a pioneering all-black rock band with a penchant for exploring a multitude of styles and moods.

The entire album bristles with energy, bombast and attitude as evidenced by the opening salvo of the fiery “Freedom of Expression (F.O.X.)” and stomping rawness of “Preachin Blues.” But Living Colour has never been a band content to rest on its laurels and let the listener get too comfortable.

The band’s secret weapon is vocalist Corey Glover, whose strong and soulful vocals stand out even next to the abstract brilliance of acclaimed guitarist Vernon Reid. By the time you wrap your head around the high-octane rock foundation they have built, the band whisks you into a track like “Come On,” which percolates with electronic beats and synths throughout.

Further down the track list, they dive into hip-hop twisting Notorious B.I.G. “Who Shot Ya” from a boastful anthem into something more thought-provoking. The band takes on another classic in the form of Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues,” delivering a respectfully different rock version of the R&B classic.

For the rest of the album, Living Colour spins through welcome shifts in tones, like those of the dreamy alternative rock of “Always Wrong” and the spacey funk-infused workout that is “Blak Out.” Songs like “Who’s That” barrel along like a bluesy bar jam with organs and horns bolstering the celebratory feel. The band saves its most emotionally arresting track for last with the soaring rock epic “Two Sides.”

If you want to experience an eye-opening journey through rock music and everything adjacent to it, definitely give “Shade” a listen.  

 

Prophets of Rage

“Prophets of Rage”

Fantasy Records

 

Comprised of members of Rage Against the Machine, Public Enemy and Cypress Hill, it’s safe to say this rap/rock super-group exists to unleash some righteous protest music and fight the power in the process. And boy, does this world need it.

Yeah, Kid Rock and Ted Nugent this ain’t.

The musicians of Rage Against the Machine were powerhouses of aggressive and innovative grooves back in their heyday and still are. So the big question is, can the two revered emcees from Public Enemy and Cypress Hill fill the void left by ex-Rage Against the Machine frontman Zach De La Rocha, and carry the vocals and political torch they carried so defiantly and proudly?

Yes, they can.

With song titles like “Unfuck the World,” “Strength in Numbers” and “The Counteroffensive,” this album screams “resist” to anyone who will listen. The musicianship is what you’d expect (big beats, seductive low-end bass and inventive guitars) and undeniable, from the urgent swinging aggression of songs like “Hands Up” and “Who Owns Who,” to more dynamic and nuanced psychedelic-tinged songs like “Legalize Me,” “Living on the 110” and “Take Me Higher.”

The X factor here is Chuck D and B-Real. The different vocal and rap styles work well together with such a talented rhythm section, as Chuck D’s bass-heavy and authoritative styles keep the songs grounded. It also counterbalances B-Real’s distinctive, nasal style of rhyming, giving the verses a stoner vibe and otherworldly feel.

Supergroups are a dicey proposition that oftentimes don’t result in something that isn’t better than the sum of its parts. But with Prophets of Rage, there is definitely some magic happening. Every note is a fist in the air, every lyric is a fiery manifesto and every song is a middle finger in the face of the orange man-baby currently residing in the Oval Office.


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