It’s been a minute since we’ve been inspired enough to do some CD reviews, mostly because we’ve been bored with some of the ho-hum music on the market. But this week we hit the motherload.
Maybe it’s because the weather is getting nice out and people need some sonic newness to pulsate from their car stereos and iPods now that we can finally roll the windows down after a long and miserable winter. Maybe we’re enjoying watching two of the biggest pop divas on the planet compete for the hearts and minds of LGBT listeners. Maybe we didn’t have anything more compelling to write about this week.
Whatever the reason, we’re delighted that a wave of well-known pop stars and lesser-known fringe rock acts are offering up some interesting new releases for us to crank up.
Britney Spears Femme Fatale Jive Records
Britney’s back! Yay!
That’s what most of the world is saying regarding the release of her new album, and it’s good in that this-is-exactly-what-we’ve-come-to-expect-from-Britney sort of way.
And that’s the point, right?
Right about now, modern-day pop divas are in two camps: They’re either chasing the superstar glittery coattails of Lady Gaga and coming up woefully short (Ke$ha, Christina Aguilera, etc.), or they’re reinvesting in their own individual sense of attitude and finding varying degrees of success and street credibility (Pink, Robyn, etc.).
Britney isn’t doing either. She’s an institution and her own industry. And it looks like she isn’t trying to tinker with anything that isn’t broke. The formula is still selling (safe pop songs + Wonder Bread glamour photos + vague album title), so why change it?
Did Britney write any of the songs on “Femme Fatale”? No.
Did Britney do anything on this new album that her fans couldn’t see coming a mile way? Nope.
Is she going to sing a note on her upcoming tour? Why start now?
Is there a moment of the CD that isn’t purely calculated, pre-fabricated pop? Nah!
Can you still see the puppet strings attached to her career? Yup.
Is there a good chance that the real Britney Spears has been replaced by a “Stepford Wives” robot lookalike while she’s locked in a room somewhere with a shaved head, talking to an empty KFC bucket and high as a giraffe on prescription meds? Probably.
But, at the end of the day, the album works like it should.
Singing live, co-writing your own songs and lyrics and trying to stay on the cutting edge of pop are all admirable aspirations for a pop star, but it’s not doing Christina Aguilera any good these days now, is it? And you can’t muck up the lyrics if they’re pre-recorded.
Britney knows she’s a confection and, as long as we keep eating it up while she shakes her ass and lip-syncs, she’s never, ever, ever going to tire of dishing it out.
“Femme Fatale” is expertly and expensively constructed dance-floor and remix-ready fodder overflowing with slick production, chopped-up slightly auto-tuned vocals and catchy but predictable pop hooks as evident on the first two singles, “Till the World Ends” and “Hold It Against Me.” The album also stays consistently electro-pop, not a ballad in sight, until the last song, “Criminal,” which shifts into more acoustic-pop territory. It’s also the most authentic-sounding song on the whole disc.
Otherwise, “Femme Fatale” unleashes a furious barrage of potential club bangers, like the propulsive “Trouble For Me,” “(Drop Dead) Beautiful” and “Gasoline.”
But then there are tracks like “Seal It With a Kiss” and “Inside Out” that are as solid as one can expect, but sound like songs that didn’t make onto Katy Perry, Fergie or the Pussycat Dolls’ latest.
Anyone who likes Britney isn’t about to stop now. Let’s hear it for coasting!
Jennifer Hudson I Remember Me Arista
Jennifer Hudson’s sophomore release is definitely a more confident collection of songs than her debut solo effort.
Don’t get us wrong: Hudson’s first, self-titled album, hot on the heels of her star-making, Oscar-winning turn in “Dreamgirls,” was good, but it seemed like she was getting songs from every corner of pop R&B thrown at her to see what would stick to the wall.
As a result, her first album seemed all over the place, with showtunes bumping up against the by-the-numbers urban radio track with requisite rapper cameo.
Hudson’s latest album finds her sweet spot style-wise: big organic beats anchored by piano-driven R&B that give her amazing voice room to soar on uplifting tracks like “Gone” and the title track. Hudson also goes to town vocally on the ballad “Still Here,” which showcases her range without beating you over the head with it.
Hudson also gets into a neo-1970s groove with disco-flavored tracks like “Everybody Needs Love” and the jazzier “Don’t Look Down,” the latter of which was written by Alicia Keys. Keys wrote two other songs on Hudson’s new album (“Angel” and “Everybody Needs Love”) and, while both have that unmistakable Keys retro swagger, Hudson’s vocal performance does a great job of making them her own.
“Feeling Good” is a dramatic and solid-enough track but, much like Sarah McLachlan songs and sad, abused animals, we can’t hear this song without seeing cans of Slim Fast dancing in our heads. Yeah, we know Hudson shills for Weight Watchers, but we’re trying to paint a picture here.
Hudson has definitely delivered the goods on her second album.
Lady Gaga Born This Way: The Remixes Parts 1 & 2 Interscope Records
Gaga’s new, hotly anticipated global smash hit and gay anthem came out of the gate sounding all high-energy, glossy and club-ready. You would think remix artists, of which Gaga would probably attract the best and the brightest, would be a little more adventurous when revamping a song everybody and their mother has heard by now.
Michael Woods does a fine but textbook job of taking the song in the techno-trance direction. The Dada Live remix does the same for the distorted Daft Punk-ish techno contingent.
The most dynamic transformations of the song are the Zedd remix, which strips down the verses and then drops the sonic hammer on listeners in the chorus, and the Grum remix, which gives the song a very cool 1980s new-wave spit-shine.
On the other end of the spectrum, the LA RIOTS remix and the DJ White Shadow remix are lukewarm rave fodder that any teenager with a laptop and free remix software could pull off.
The Bimbo Jones Club remix and the Chew Fu Born To Fix remix are lively enough, but shouldn’t one of the more daring and attention-grabbing pop stars warrant remixes that push the envelope as much as the artist dares to?
Eh. Whatever. This is enough to chew on until Lady Gaga’s new album drops next month.
Rasputina Great American Gingerbread: Rasputina Rarities & Neglected Items Filthy Bonnet
This probably isn’t the best place to get introduced to the quirky and naughty charms of Rasputina’s cello-driven sound, but “Great American Gingerbread” is a great collection of oddities amassed from the group’s career.
Rasputina is the kind of band that would seem equally at home playing a Renaissance fair as it would performing at a goth club. That’s probably why rocking and distortion-drenched tracks like “Black Hole Hunter” and “Do What I Do” seem to fit when played next to more traditional and ethereal songs like “I Go To Sleep” and “Loom.”
Other songs split the difference. “Death at Disneyland” and “Children’s Reform Center” both start out lush and gorgeous, then launch into furious distorted choruses.
Other songs are cinematic in scope, such as the sprawling instrumental “On My Knees.”
Oh, and there’s also the bonus of a live DVD of the band performing at the Knitting Factory to sweeten the deal.
Rasputina is definitely a one-of-a-kind band and, like the rest of its albums, “Great American Gingerbread” is definitely an adventure.
The Sounds Something To Die For Side One Dummy Records
The Sounds, fronted by bisexual singer Maja Ivarsson, thrust its new-wave punk sound deep into electronic territory with the latest album.
For the new album, the Swedish band decided to produce the record itself in Sweden, unlike the last two albums, which were recorded in the U.S.
While there is a palpable shift in the band’s sound on the new record, the results produce some impressive ear candy.
Album opener “It’s So Easy” is enough to make longtime fans panic, as it’s more techno/electro than anything found on previous efforts. But it turns out the band just treads in that territory briefly. The rest of “Something To Die For” is brimming with the muscular, electronically enhanced rock the band is known for, although the electronics are inching closer to the forefront these days.
That still doesn’t hamper tracks like “Dance with the Devil” and “Yeah Yeah Yeah” from bristling with attitude and aggression.
The only other overly mechanized song in the bunch, “Better Off Dead,” holds its own up against strong flesh-and-blood tracks like “The Best of Me” and “Wish You Were Here.”
Is the new record “to die for?” That’s a definite maybe.