With finals finally behind me, I can start breathing life into this site again. Sorry for getting so behind. Anyway, in the past few weeks, there’s been a number of high profile releases, so thought now’s a good time to catch up.
Jack White – Blunderbuss
It’s been weird seeing the promotion for Blunderbuss, with Jack White on posters and stages all on his lonesome (and on the album’s blue album cover). But, after listening to it, Blunderbuss couldn’t be anyone else’s record. The shortest thing I can say about it is that it sounds the way you’d expect a Jack White album to sound; blends of folk, blues, and rock with vintage-yet-current production. But Blunderbuss is able to sound comfortable instead of complacent. While these are familiar elements to White, he puts them together in new ways; for someone with as big a back cannon as him, nothing here sounds like a rehash. “Love Interruption” stands up as one of his finer acoustic numbers, and album mid-point “Weep Themselves to Sleep” is an unquestionable high. A common complaint is that Blunderbuss doesn’t rock as hard as some White Stripes diehards wanted it too (there’s as much skillfull piano here as there is guitar soloing), but “Sixteen Saltines”, the Obvious Rock Single here, is one of the better straight ahead rock songs I’ve heard this year. Running surprisingly low on filler, and high on sharp musicianship and lyrics, Blunderbluss never blunders, and will probably be the only album this year that your rockist friend loves. 4.5/5
Marilyn Manson – Born Villain
It seems that for the last nine years, Marilyn Manson’s worst enemy hasn’t been the media, but Marilyn Manson. Every record since The Golden Age of the Grotesque has been billed as a reinvention or rebirth, and Born Villain is no different. But, while those records retrospectively didn’t take off, Born Villain makes a noble attempt. Unfortunately, it takes awhile to get to that attempt; the album is frontloaded with rockers that, while trying very hard, fail to leave an impression (“Slo-mo-tion” marks the cutoff). There’s more inspiration on the album’s back half, including the utterly pissed “Disengaged”, which is anything but, a Mechanical Animals-y “Children of Cain”, and a dementedly fun cover of “You’re So Vain”. The album’s much longer than it needs to be, and shows how Manson became the irrelevant industrial king on a rusted throne when it misses. But, at the same time, Born Villain hits harder and thrashes in the right direction. Which is why Marilyn Manson will bill their next album as their comeback, 3/5.
Norah Jones – Little Broken Hearts
Female singer-songerwriter might be the hardest genre in which to make yourself stand out, especially over time. If that theory holds true, then Norah Jones might be exhibit A, having fallen quickly out of the public eye after her world-taking debut Come Away With Me. Two albums later, she sounds refreshed on Little Broken Hearts, which takes the jazz songwriter closer to indie pop territory. The album sounds like a Norah Jones album filtered through producer Danger Mouse’s characteristically murky atmospherics. According to Jones, Danger Mouse helped her develop these songs, and they sound like collaborations; “Say Goodbye” combines Jones’ deft vocals with DM’s rhythmic sensibilities, and his production style keeps some of Jones’ slower numbers interesting. From a lyrical standpoint, Little Broken Hearts is an unambiguous Breakup Album, but the writing never really delves into self-pity or shallow bitterness. Unfortunately, the line between songs smoldering with mystery (“She’s 22”, “Miriam”) and plain old boring (“4 Broken Hearts”) is a thin one. But, all the same, Norah Jones and Danger Mouse made a sorrowful album of indie-meets-jazz headphone tunes, 4/5.
B.o.B – Strange Clouds
“I used to dream of success/Now success is inadequate/It seems the bigger I get/The more they get mad at me” Such are B.o.B’s opening lyrics to Strange Clouds, which left me thinking “Not another ‘fame is hard’ rap record“. But, in Atlanta-native B.o.b’s defense, he had a hit bemoaning fame before MBDTF’s lead single or Drake’s first album dropped. Anyway, like debut album The Adventures of Bobby Ray, Strange Clouds is a hard album to pin down because to B.o.b’s credit and determent, the dude tries to do everything. Let’s start with the good news: there is much more B.o.B on Strange Clouds; his guests don’t take up nearly as much room (and credit for the success) here as they did on the debut, and as far as punchline rappers go, he hits with a consistency to die for. The money-is-no-object production works, whether working with all instruments on “So Good”, or the stuttery synths of “Out Of My Mind”. And when the album’s good, it’s one the the most solid pop-rap albums I’ve heard; “Bombs Away”, “So Hard to Breath”, and “Where Are You” lead about half a dozen or so fantastic cuts. However, the album overreaches more than it should, slightly moreso on the second half, and I’ve had bad dates with more chemistry than B.o.B and Taylor Swift share on “Both of Us”. Strange Clouds establishes B.o.B as a headlining performer with pop smarts and lyrical heart, but the sum is less than the parts, 3/5.