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|Written by Mike Cullen|
|Thursday, 21 January 2010 00:00|
Jack's Mannequin - Dear Jack (EP)
Back when Jack's Mannequin lead singer Andrew McMahon (you'll remember him as the lead singer of early '00s indie band Something Corporate) was diagnosed with leukemia, a little documentary was made of his journey through treatment and recovery from the disease. During the recording of his second album under the same moniker, rumors started that a song titled "Dear Jack" was probably one of the best songs McMahon had ever written and would be on the album. The song did not end up on the album and was only played live a handful of times. It turns out the song was in the documentary of the same name, along with three other tracks on this release. Is it the best song McMahon has written? No. But it is still worth releasing anyways.
"Diane, the Skyscraper" and "There, There Katie" are slower numbers, while "Swim (Music Box)" gives an unusual but rather lackluster sound from the original track featured on the band's second studio album, The Glass Passenger. There really is not much to say about this release other than if you are a fan of Jack's Mannequin or Something Corporate, you should pick this up.
Lady Gaga - The Fame Monster (EP)
It took quite some time for The Fame Monster to grow on me. "Bad Romance" is not a track that has particularly won me over, but the rest of the album is a fantastic release! With nine tracks, including "Bad Romance," this EP -- as described by Lady Gaga -- illustrates the darker sides of fame, sex, and money. In such a rare occurrence in music nowadays, Gaga manages to keep her themes strong and on track throughout the entire release. Where "Bad Romance" falls flat for me she makes up for it and then some with "Telephone" featuring Beyoncé, which should have been the collaboration used as Beyoncé's latest single (for a review on "Videophone," see below). Along with the Roisin Murphy-influenced "Teeth," "Dance in the Dark," and "Alejandro," -- which feels distinctively like a "La Isla Bonita" for this generation -- this album packs quite a punch for such a small package. I highly recommend this EP.
Rihanna - Rated-R
I have very strong, mixed feelings with this album. On the creative side of things, it demonstrates a lot of growth from Rihanna. Remarkable about her musical career so far is the fact that she has managed not to retread old ground. She pushes into new territory with each release, seemingly challenging herself creatively. Sure we have that strong R&B influence this time around, but we also have Rihanna exploring more rock-and-roll sounds, as evident in "Rockstar 101," an excellent collaboration with guitarist Slash.
The album is, however, mired with too much heavy material. Clearly, instead of seeing a therapist after the physical abuse she suffered in her last relationship, Rihanna went into the studio to record this album. As a result many of the songs tend to fall flat. I think fans and critics alike were expecting another huge track like "Umbrella" in lead single; instead "Russian Roulette" falls flat in comparison. Even her earliest stuff seems better than this song.
Negatives aside, one song in particular stands out, one soars without vocal acrobatics and elicits a better emotional response from the listener than "Russian Roulette:" the final track on the album, "The Last Song." Other noteworthy tracks include "Rude Boy," "Firebomb," and "Hard," which bouy (and quite possibly save) this album into something that may not be an instant classic but will be appreciated for what it is.
Robbie Williams - Reality Killed the Video Star
In many ways this album is not a comeback for Robbie Williams but a return to form. Unfortunately it is this very reason that makes this album, his eighth, sound dated, tired, perhaps a bit clichéd and even a little more frustrating.
I want Robbie Williams to do well. I also think he is one of those rare solo male artists that can keep adapting his sound as he goes along. He tried that to a lesser extent with Intensive Care and carried it further with Rudebox, with mixed results and mixed reviews. I personally thought both albums were great simply on the merit that Williams was trying something new and, by his standards, daring. He was running the risk of appealing only to mothers and grandmothers and really losing touch with the younger fan base. The only noteworthy tracks on this album are lead single "Bodies," "Do You Mind," and "Last Days of Disco." Everything else on the disc is rather disappointingly very same old, same old.
In "Last Days of Disco," Williams sings "don't call it a comeback." Sadly, Mr. Williams, this fan is in agreement with you.
Beyoncé ft. Lady Gaga - "Videophone"
One of the quirkier numbers from last year's I Am... Sasha Fierce, the released version of this song featured guest vocals by Lady Gaga. Two of the hottest female singers for the price of one, but does it equal a really fantastic collaboration? Yes and no. Comparing it to Beyoncé's other female duet, with Shakira on "Beautiful Liar," this song is a better fit. It is catchy without sounding jarring and actually sounds like a more believable collaboration. It is too bad that Gaga features very little in the song itself, making it seem more like a publicity stunt than a true pairing. Get the track, but don't expect it to be the best thing ever.
John Mayer - "Who Says"
In a way, "Who Says" has that familiar, simple melody of a John Mayer track back when he had just started out in the music business all those years ago. While some would consider this song more regression than progression, considering that this song would feel right at home on Room For Squares, this song also reminds listeners that John Mayer is more than just a bluesman.
The song itself has come under some criticism for its drug references. Big deal. Other artists constantly sing about drugs (would Snoop have a career without them?), so what if John wants to sing about it? Just because John Mayer sings in the first person does not mean it is necessarily from his perspective. That may be a naïve approach to the song, but I think a bit of naïveté goes well with this simple little ditty. In a way, Mayer has never sounded this cool before.
First Time Reader, life-time fan