Chris Cornell Scream Interscope Records
You know how you get that uncomfortable knot in the pit of your gut when you run into someone you haven’t seen in a long time and you’re freaking out because they’ve changed their look to something they think is the bomb but you think is a hot mess? Maybe got some bad collagen, botox, a jacked-up new do or adopted a really unflattering aesthetic, but you just want to get the hell out of there because you know their new look is going to come up and you’re too much in shock to lie and pretend you know what they’re trying to do?
Chris Cornell’s new album, “Scream,” is the sonic equivalent of that moment.
One of the most distinctive voices in rock music put himself in the hands of Timbaland, a producer who has revolutionized R&B, hip-hop and pop, and at the same time homogenized all of them within an inch of their lives. How else can the high crime of Cornell’s voice being buried under layers of Autotune be explained?
It’s not like Cornell isn’t allowed to experiment. But if he really wants to be a pop maverick like Justin Timberlake, he’s going to have to be more convincing than he is on songs like “Part of Me” and “Get Up.” If he wants to be a world-music-influenced showman, he’s going to have to try a lot harder than the sanitized Middle-Eastern flourishes on tracks like “Take Me Alive” and “Time.”
Toward the end of the CD, things start to look up. “Other Side of Town” and “Climbing Up The Walls” manage to find a decent balance between Cornell’s rock past and his current forward-looking vision. But listeners have already been to artistic hell by the time those tracks surface.
Cornell can be admired for taking such a huge risk with his sound, but he is far too talented and too powerful a performer to be buried under production this superficial and plastic.
Julien K Death to Analog Metropolis Records
New wave, rock, electro and goth music collide with the debut album from Julien K, the new synth-rock group founded by Ryan Schuck (guitars, vocals) and Amir Derakh (guitars, synths) from the fashionista nu-metal band Orgy.
“Death to Analog” is a sleeker, shinier offering than anything you could associate with Orgy. The eyeliner, pancake makeup, industrial-strength hair products and nail polish are still there, but the crushing wall of guitars and rap-metal bombast have given way to a greater prominence of futuristic synths.
What keeps “Death to Analog” interesting throughout is the group’s refusal to stand still within the genre and crank out different shades of electronic rock. Orgy fans will rejoice upon hearing some of the group’s heavier songs, like the title track and the seriously crunchy and distorted “Technical Difficulties.” Modern-rock hipsters should approve of radio-ready tracks like “Someday Soon” and “Forever.” And Goths have a new hook-up anthem in the form of the delightfully sinister “Systeme de Sexe.”
The end result of all this experimentation is a rock hybrid sound more in the vein of groups like The Killers, Depeche Mode, Duran Duran and Berlin, thanks to mainstream-leaning songs such as “Maestro,” “Spiral’ and “Kick The Bass” — all of which have hit potential.
Whether Julien K ever gets as big as any of those bands remains to be seen, but this album is a fantastic foundation to build on.
Pet Shop Boys Yes Astralwerks
The Pet Shop Boys may not exude the same kind of urgency they once did in synth-pop’s glorious heyday. On their 10th studio album, “Yes,” Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe are awash in artistic maturity but prove they still have some interesting tricks up their sleeves.
Tennant’s voice is still as strangely hypnotic and pleasantly alien as ever, maintaining a familiar sonic anchor to a number of songs with distinct feels over the course of the album.
The group is at its best when it sticks to its roots. Longtime fans will adore classic-sounding and synth-poppy tracks like “Love etc.” and “All Over the World.” Keeping it dark and danceable pays off on tracks like the subdued “The Way It Used to Be” and the thumping stomp of “Pandemonium.” Guitars add a welcome texture to songs like the shoegaze shuffle of “Beautiful People” and the upbeat Europop of “Building A Wall.”
“Yes” shows the Pet Shop Boys haven’t lost an ounce of their luster over the years. We all should age so gracefully.
Telling on Trixie Ugly, Broke & Sober Independent
Ugly, broke and sober: three qualities we may hate in a date, but apparently provide fodder for a promising rock band.
The indie-rock band’s 2007 self-titled debut CD was such a favorite on the LOGO Network that it funded the recording of this latest collection with fan donations, which leads us to believe their fans really miss early- to-mid-1990s safe alternative-rock radio darlings like The Gin Blossoms and Collective Soul.
The production does lend a grungy quality to the group’s otherwise fluid and polished brand of pop/rock, but since its fan-generated budget of $20,000 can only go so far, we’ll let that slide because the songwriting does manage to shine through.
Telling on Trixie has a swagger and verve that sets the band apart from the above-mentioned bands it comes dangerously close to sounding like. The group is at its most interesting when it cranks out the pogo-inducing college rock on songs like “Your Silence” and “Eden (Take A Bite).” It pulls some interesting sounds out of the ether on songs like “Late So Tired” and “Steps to the Throne.”
Yet, it’s hard to believe somebody didn’t try to talk them out of doing a cover of Belinda Carlisle’s “Mad About You,” which is an annoying distraction but not a deal-breaker.
Let’s hope this band gets pretty, rich and drunk soon.