Night Falls

Sweet Swedish pop and a couple of train-wreck celebrities

Jens Lekman

Night Falls Over Kortedala (Secretly Canadian)

Jens Lekmanâ’s third album isnâ’t an homage to Kortedala, the Göteborg neighborhood where it was recorded, so much as an escape hatch from the miserable Swedish suburbia there. At the least thatâ’s the explanation from Lekman himself, the wistful 26-year-old at the forefront of Göteborgâ’s indie-pop revival.

There are far more American pop touchstones to be found in Night Falls than Swedish onesâ"from the Motown beat of â“The Opposite of Hallelujahâ” to the Happy Days-jukebox sound of â“Friday Night at the Drive-In Bingo.â” Lekman creates a sense of warmth and intimacy around an assortment of ghostly orchestral samples. At the microphone, he inhabits the likable role of the deadpan romantic, like Jonathan Richman and Stephin Merritt before him, skillfully treading the line between melodrama (â“I would never kiss anyone who doesnâ’t burn me like the sunâ”) and silliness (â“We could start a little farm, with little white bunnies, because watching them copulate is very funnyâ”).

Lekman had decided to leave the country behind after his current tour, making Night Falls a farewell to his homeland, and a gratifying salute to pop music everywhere. â" Andrew Clayman

Britney Spears

Blackout (Jive)

From the looks of Blackout, Britney Spearsâ’ first collection of new material since 2003, before her reputation as a troubled celebrity began snowballing, sheâ’s still acting out. Jive has reportedly given up its promotional efforts, and the cover art is like something a Koch intern slapped together. The lyrics are one big, overstated come-on (â“Baby, Iâ’m a freak and I donâ’t really give a damnâ”), even if her vocals never sound very hot, and generous use of a vocoder further detaches Britney and her various backup singers (in snatches, itâ’s hard to decide when Spears is the one singing) from any emotion.

Blackout is, however, a solid piece of dance pop. The Danjahandz-produced â“Gimme Moreâ” is a commanding single, and the spacey Euro-disco treatment stays strong throughout the first third of the record. From there, the Bloodshy & Avant beats get monotonous, but the album keeps afloat with the slick, major-key â“Heaven on Earthâ” and the spastic edge of â“Toy Soldier.â” The disc loses steam in its final thirdâ"though it provides one of Spearsâ’ more compelling performances, the worst of the bunch is the finale, the Neptunes-produced â“Why Should I Be Sad.â” â" Amanda Mohney

Babyshambles

Shotterâ’s Nation (EMI)

â“Delivery,â” the first single from Babyshamblesâ’ latest, has a few riffs that just mightâ’ve been lifted from the Kinksâ’ â“All Day and All of the Night.â” But no matterâ"Babyshamblesâ’ founder, front man, and ubiquitous tabloid-cover-boy Pete Doherty sings, â“Oh now what use am I to anyone/Iâ’m fucked, forlorn, frozen beneath the summer/Donâ’t sing along or youâ’ll get what Iâ’ve got.â” Who could resist that ringing endorsement? Doherty, that smug-faced raconteur whoâ’s never known the definition of bad press, is the epitome of a rock casualty. But the bastard still knows how to get a band togetherâ"even 1960s folk legend Bert Jansch makes an appearance on â“Lost Art of Murder,â” giving the albumâ’s finale a sense of extreme lamentation. And Dohertyâ’s acoustic doodles remind us that weâ’re dealing with a rock â‘nâ’ roll madman, whoâ’s working to make junkie narratives seem just as cool as they were in the â‘60s and early â‘70s. If he really wants to shock us in the future, heâ’ll get clean and find Jesus. â" Kevin Crowe

Carrie Underwood

Carnival Ride (Arista)

Carrie Underwood kicks off her second album with â“Flat on the Floor,â” a barn-burning, banjo-and-electric guitar kiss-off that resembles Miranda Lambertâ’s â“Kerosene.â” Itâ’s a promising new direction for the former American Idol winnerâ"but a red herring for the rest of Carnival Ride, which delivers exactly the kind of big-note ballads and good-vibe mid-tempo anthems at which the 24-year-old Underwood already seems like a seasoned veteran.

Thatâ’s not to say thereâ’s anything perfunctory about Carnival Ride. It doesnâ’t all workâ"the less said about the plodding of â“Last Name,â” the betterâ"but Underwood totally sells a stunning cover of Randy Travisâ’ â“I Told You So.â” â" Matthew Everett

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