Divas and rock bands go electro-pop on new releases

Divas and rock bands go electro-pop on new releases

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Queen Latifah Persona Flavor Unit Entertainment

Damn! Add some more titles to Queen Latifah’s impressive résumé.

She’s already got rapper, movie star, jazz singer, producer, model and spokesperson locked down. Now she’s going after pop star. And it looks like she’s going to take that title easily.

Latifah has already represented her unique style in the realms of old-school rap (1989’s “All Hail The Queen”), new-school rap (1993’s “Black Reign”) and jazz (2004’s “The Dana Owens Album”). With her latest, she is poised to make her presence felt in the mainstream pop world: Rihanna, Pink and Jennifer Hudson should all be shaking in their boots.

Latifah wastes no time getting down to business with the bombastic hip-hop of “The Lights,” in which she name-checks every big name that came out of her native New Jersey. The same vibe carries over to “Long Ass Week,” where the melodic chorus is the perfect counterbalance to the street-savvy rhymes on the verses. Mary J. Blige even shows up to help the Queen hold down the groove on the excellently funky “People.”

Auto-tune, often a played-out deal-breaker these days, brings a welcome texture (especially since Latifah can actually sing) on the Motown-meets-modern-pop of “Fast Car” and the clubby but laidback “With You.” Latifah then gets her rock-star groove on with crunchy and propulsive songs like “Cue the Rain” and “Runnin’.”

She finds time to get her sexy going with sultry tracks like “My Couch” and “Take Me Away,” as well as the more-island-flavored “If You Wanna.”

This Queen isn’t in any danger of losing her crown any time soon.

Colton Ford Under The Covers Peace Bisquit

It sounds like porn-star-turned-singer Ford is starting to get the hang of it.

Ford’s 2008 album “Tug of War” wasn’t bad, just unconvincing in its R&B and pop aspirations. It’s obvious Ford loves R&B. The problem is his ambitions sometimes outstrip his vocal talent. Ford can sing well enough, but not enough to pull off some of the emotive vocal acrobatics he tried on his last album.

Luckily, “Under The Covers” overall is a better effort, with Ford sticking to what he does well vocally and sonically. Not that there aren’t some missteps.

Ford, for some reason, loves to lay down multiple vocal tracks — in essence creating a one-man vocal chorus that can be quite distracting. For that reason, avoid all the interlude tracks, as well as the very-dated-sounding cover of Robin S’ “Show Me Love.”

And another thing: no grown-ass man should ever, ever, ever cover a Britney Spears song (“Trouble”), unless he is performing it in full drag.

Still, Ford’s choices of cover songs does yield some pleasant surprises. His stabs at R&B covers work out well in some places too. His take on Alicia Keys’ “No One” is pleasantly laidback and his dance-heavy rendition of Babyface’s “It’s No Crime” is better than it should be.

Ford is even more successful at turning rock songs into electro-club monsters. R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” gets a well-done club makeover and Faith No More’s “Ashes To Ashes” gets an industrial-dance upgrade that is still faithful to the original. His take on Nirvana’s “Lithium” is more predictable, but not so much that it seems like sacrilege.

Ford isn’t 100-pecent there yet, but he’s headed in the right direction.

Datarock Red Nettwerk

This album is proof that ’80s nostalgia isn’t entirely played out just yet.

“The Blog,” the opening track on Datarock’s second album, is a big, wet, sloppy digital-punk kiss to ’80s pop rock and ’90s tech-happy optimism, dripping with bravado and references to Guns n’ Roses and Prince.

It’s catchy enough, but thankfully these Norwegian rockers don’t repeat the same trick.

On the rest of “Red,” the group artfully fuses retro global punk-rock sensibilities with vintage synth noise. Listening to songs like “Molly” (and yeah, it’s exactly about the Molly you’re thinking of), “Give It Up,” “The Pretender” and “True Stories” is like playing an Atari 2600 and while listening to your favorite albums from The Clash or The Police at jet-engine volume. Further down the line, “Not Me” is arguably the best song a young U2 never wrote, as it rocks with an infectious, self-righteous energy.

Datarock is also not afraid to trade in its hipness for some full-on nerdy experimentation. Tracks like “Fear of Death,” “In The Red” and “Amarillion” ease off the rock throttle of the track preceding it for some pleasantly smarter Talking Heads-style vibes.

Even if you didn’t love the ’80s, Datarock has enough fire and inventiveness on its new record to win over even the most jaded of indie and modern-rock fans.

Larry Nichols can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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