Stars in their eyes

Stars in their eyes

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AFI Crash Love DGC/Interscope

The musicians of AFI have already proven themselves as superior to the majority of their punk-ish brethren, with breakthrough albums like 2003’s “Sing the Sorrow” and 2006’s “Decemberunderground. ” So it’s no surprise their latest effort, “Crash Love,” remains true to the polished goth- and new-wave-influenced sound that has served them well. But somehow the results aren’t as earth-shattering.

Make no mistake: “Crash Love” is a solid album, with vocalist Davey Havok still belting out dramatic wails and guitarist Jade Puget whipping out intricate and melodic textures. The band comes together in grand bombastic and brooding fashion on tracks like “Torch Song,” “OK I Feel Better Now” and “Beautiful Thieves.”

But something is missing. “Sing the Sorrow” had an anthemic and aggressive urgency that is hard to find on “Crash Love.” Tracks such as “Sacrilege” and “Cold Hands” come close but don’t hit the heights fans have come to expect. “Decemberunderground” had an exploratory vibe, with lots of electronic elements augmenting AFI’s sound. Sadly, there is little of that on this effort.

Still meat-and-potatoes AFI is better than no AFI at all. The band swings in rocking fashion on the catchy “Too Shy to Scream.” “Veronica Sawyer Smokes” is a jangly piece of pop punk guaranteed to be blaring from the ear buds of teenage girls who wear fishnets and combat boots.

“Crash Love” is a good record for AFI fans to sink their fangs into, but let’s hope the band gets its sense of adventure back on the next album.

Jeffree Star Beauty Killer Popsicle Records

Out model, makeup artist, DJ and performer Star runs the gamut of styles on his first full-length album. The foundation of “Beauty Killer” is rooted firmly in synth-pop but Star isn’t afraid to push the boundaries of the genre to take it to some pleasantly ridiculous and dark places.

Most artists in this genre are good for a song or two before they run out of inspiration or ideas, but Star manages to keep things interesting and, more importantly, entertaining throughout his clubby gender-bending adventures.

For every naughty but bubblegum song like “Bitch, Please!” and “Get Physical,” there are full-on raging rock tracks like “Fame & Riches, Rehab Bitches” and “Love Rhymes With Fuck You,” where Star is often snarling with the venom of a teenager whose mother threw out his favorite Nine Inch Nails T-shirt.

Who knew pissed-off and dance beats worked so well together?

Star also does a great job of blending hard beats with overtly gay lyrics that are campy and bleak at the same time. Songs like the moody “God Hates Your Outfit,” the funky “Party Crasher” and the rocking “Louis Vuitton Body Bag” ooze with ominous and infectious curiosity. In contrast, tracks such as “Electric Sugar Pop” and “Lollipop Luxury” veer in a more celebratory and decadent direction, not unlike the offerings of Gwen Stefani and Goldfrapp.

With explicit lyrics (he seems to be getting fucked a lot in the choruses of most of the songs) and a wild aesthetic, “Beauty Killer” probably won’t be a big mainstream hit, but Star has more than enough juice to become a monster underground sensation.

Robbie Williams Reality Killed the Video Star Virgin Records

Don’t let the title fool you and don’t you dare lament for Williams. He is a huge, filthy-rich pop star everywhere else in the industrialized world except the U.S.A.

Part of Williams’ sonic charm (and most likely his Achilles’ heel to American stardom) is his willingness to explore a number of different pop landscapes most of his mainstream male contemporaries wouldn’t touch. Also, you get the sense he’s doing exactly what he wants to do without pandering to any particular audience.

Williams lays down a Beatles-esque groove on “Morning Son” and “Superblind.” He gets his Elton John fix on piano-driven songs like “Blasphemy” and “You Know Me.” Rufus Wainwright is probably stewing over the fact that he didn’t write a song like string-drenched “Somewhere.” Or maybe he did and we didn’t notice.

Meanwhile, “Reality” offers lushly orchestrated retro-pop and a modern-pop groove. “Bodies” and “Do You Mind?” are radio-ready rock tracks. Williams’ mid-range voice is the only thing keeping “Last Days of Disco” from being a Depeche Mode song. Williams cops a club-ready techno groove on “Difficult for Weirdos.”

“Reality” probably won’t change his fortunes in the States much, but it’s still an ambitious, damned good pop record for anyone who cares to pay attention.

Space Cowboy Digital Rock Star Red One/Cherry Tree/Interscope

French DJ, producer and singer Space Cowboy is ready for his closeup after making a number of guest appearances and remixes on songs for Lady Gaga. He’s also created remixes for a range of artists including Fergie, Paul McCartney and Marilyn Manson, but we suspect Miss Gaga’s rapid ascension to pop stardom is the driving force behind this record.

With “Digital Rock Star,”we understand why Space Cowboy and Lady Gaga have each other on speed dial: They share a brash electro-pop sensibility. But it also becomes quickly apparent that Gaga is the more-refined talent, who crafts better hooks and commands more attention.

Space Cowboy is better off when his guest vocalists (of which there are many) do most of the heavy lifting, especially on the propulsive “My Egyptian Lover” featuring Nadia Oh. The pulsing groove of “Devastated,” featuring Chantelle Paige, and the swaggering “I Came 2 Party,” with Cinema Bizarre, also make good use of imported vocal talent.

Things don’t come across as well when Space Cowboy rides solo. For one, he saturates his voice with so much autotune (think Eifel 65 circa 1999), it could be anyone in the vocal booth, talented or not, and have the exact same result. It’s fine as a garnish but when it’s the main course, it wears out its welcome fast on songs such as the smarmy “Boyfriends Hate Me” and the way-too-up-tempo “I Want You Back.”

Not a bad effort, but if Lady Gaga ever stops returning Space Cowboy’s phone calls, he’s in trouble.

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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