platters (2007-42)

Out and Back

Kanye graduates, Turbonegro comes backâ"and so does The Modern Loversâ’ debut

Kanye West Graduation (Roc-A-Fella) On his first two albums, Kanye West matched the big beats of mainstream hip hop with the self-conscious nerdiness of indie rap. It was, initially, a refreshing inversion, but it risked becoming both self-indulgent and formulaic by the end of 2005â’s Late Registration. Heâ’s certainly not treading water on Graduation; heâ’s far more confident as a performer, and his production is expansive. Unfortunately, heâ’s not any better as a rapperâ"he sounds a lot more like Sean Combs than he does his one-time mentor Jay-Zâ"and his rock- and dance-influenced tracks are occasionally arresting but way too often just plain boring. Even the superstar guest spots from T-Pain (â“Good Lifeâ”), Lil Wayne (â“Barry Bondsâ”), and Mos Def (â“Drunk and Hot Girlsâ”) disappear under the monochromatic mid-tempo production. And thereâ’s nothing particularly likable about his new cocky persona. The Daft Punk sample on â“Strongerâ” makes it the standout song on Graduation, but Westâ’s boasts about his sexual prowess and his wealth come too close to the petulance West displayed at the MTV Video Music Awards last month. â" Matthew Everett

Turbonegro Retox (Cooking Vinyl) Ass-kicking hard-rock band or colossal joke? The question has haunted Turbonegro fans for the entire decade-plus of the bandâ’s existence. Essentially the Village People of the turn-of-the-century black-T-shirt brigade, Turbonegroâ’s stock in trade is punk/metal buffoonery packaged in gay clichés. And itâ’s not always clear whether the bandâ’s meat-headed fans are in on the joke.

Although it doesnâ’t come close to the riff-pilfering perfection of Turbonegroâ’s 1998 magnum opus Apocalypse Dudes, Retox is probably the bandâ’s strongest release since reforming in 2002 after a four-year hiatus. Thereâ’s nary a clinker in the albumâ’s banquet of butt rock, with heaping helpings of sophomoric sexuality and power-chord riffage in each thick-sliced slab of musical rump roast. Prior to Turbonegro, only KISS has so capably served up bathroom-wall ribaldry for wannabe rent boys. Lyrics like, â“You know Iâ’ve emptied all of my glands / Into the emptiness of all my fans,â” are exactly what parents donâ’t want their children hearingâ"and thatâ’s part of what makes the songs so much fun. Retox offers plenty of catchy choruses, wailing leads, and pummeling beats for the moron in all of us. Just quit analyzing your reasons for liking it and bang your head till you pass out, OK? â" John Sewell

The Modern Lovers The Modern Lovers (Castle Music) What makes this umpteenth reissue of The Modern Loversâ’ debut any different than the last several? Well, other than three toss-off alternate versions, a punchier mastering job, and a photo or two, not much. But there are still plenty of people out there who have never unearthed this sonic treasure. More than a pop-friendly bookend to anyoneâ’s Velvet Underground collection, The Modern Lovers, originally recorded in 1973 and released in 1976, is one of those oft-cited but rarely heard masterpieces that every adult rock â‘nâ’ roll fan should own.

Modern Lovers auteur Jonathan Richman is at his finest on this LP, recorded before he veered into a frustrating career of acoustic child-pop. The tension between Richmanâ’s innocence and the pulsing grit of the band, which nicked most of its riffs from the Velvets and The Stooges, is what gives this slipshod collection its charm. What we have here is a nearly 35-year-old record that still sounds incredibly modern.

Itâ’s not an acquired taste, either. Unlike the pre-punk canon of Can, The Stooges, and the Velvets, tracks from The Modern Loversâ’ first album could have easily made it onto the radio if the spheres had aligned just right. Thereâ’s a definite edge to the proceedings, but the band couldâ’ve fit in as well at a high school dance as at Maxâ’s Kansas City. And the dialectic between Richmanâ’s precocious naiveté and the bandâ’s big city cool is the key to the entrancing complexities of the album. This is that rare hipster touchstone that youâ’ll actually find yourself listening to over and over. â" J.S.

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