Cassadaga (Saddle Creek)
When you bite off more than you can chew, either brilliance or disaster can result. Over the course of Cassadaga 's 13 tracks, Bright Eyes proves that there's room enough for both extremes.
The opening track, â“Clairaudients (Kill or Be Killed),â” offers yet another example of the gradual-submersion technique Connor Oberst has perfected on previous albums, wherein in lieu of bombasting listeners immediately with music they are instead coaxed inside via vignettes of conversational sound. This time, the heady strains of a symphony warming up are juxtaposed with the voice-over of a psychic medium, alluding to the spiritualist community in Florida for which the album is named, with a lullaby-esque interlude by Oberst surfacing midstream. The dueling sounds create a dense, brooding sort of dreamscape that builds and builds until it gives way to the second track, â“Four Winds,â” in which creamy pop hooks are set ablaze by squealing, hell-bent fiddles and Oberst's raw, quavering voice. Best track on the album, hands down.
Elsewhere, where Oberst once seemed content with stripped-down folk presentations, there's orchestral grandeur and polish, perhaps in an attempt to keep pace with the overarching themesâ"life, death, spirituality, politicsâ"Oberst wrangles in his lyrics, with hit-or-miss results. Cassadaga wants to be a tour de force, so much so that at times it forgets that honest poetry can speak louder than flailing fists, that a quiet melody can pack a meaner punch than uncensored force. Oberst's departure from the borderline whiny self-consciousness that has served as his trademark in the past is a welcome one, but the aura of awareness that has replaced it still seems somewhat young and a tad overeager. Having said that, though, Cassadaga 's moments of transcendence are worth every well-intentioned stumble it takes to reach them. â" Leslie Wylie
Rich Boy (Zone 4/Interscope)
Each song on Rich Boy's self-titled debut is an out-of-control kowtow to hedonism, a puerile fume on the importance of money. He's so decked out in diamonds and gold and Cadillacs that there's hardly any space left on the CD for good, old-fashioned womanizing. Every lyric is self-indulgent. His emotions are over the top, a ridiculous and, at times, trite collection of badboy ethos and unadulterated puffery. This record is all about Rich Boy (nÃ©e Maurece Richards). What did you expect?
Rich Boy is the new disco. Content doesn't matter, so long as it has a familiar ring to it. And with beatmaster Polow da Don on his side, brilliant hooks and thick synthwaves save Rich Boy from his own banality. The rapper becomes a prop, a Ken doll with a fierce image that's highly calculated and very expensiveâ"just look the part, man, and let the pros take care of the beats. Throw some Ds on that bitch! Sure thing. Rich Boy's lyrics aren't really poetry, so don't believe a word he says. His voice is an instrument, nothing more; the breezy staccato rhymes he spits so fluidly are only there to give the appearance of rap, but at the end of the day this is just good dance music, an absurdly muscular kind of grime. The beat's so thick and fearsome, it doesn't matter what Rich Boys says. These are club classics, no doubt. Rhyming is a skill that requires timing , he rhymes on â“And I Love You.â” You're the reason that I ride good . Better thank your producer, too. â" Kevin Crowe
If there's anybody we ought to trust with the dangerous notion of a covers record, it's Patti Smith. Thirty years ago, her manic, passionate reworking of Van Morrison's â“Gloriaâ” became her own trademark anthem and an archetype for the cover song done right.
Now, fresh off her induction into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame and the unfortunate Sammy Hagar shoulder-rubbing that entailed, Smith is diving back into other people's material with Twelve , her 11th studio album and first all-covers effort.
Those hoping for a grab bag of obscure, hipster-chic selections from the Godmother of Punk will be sorely disappointed here. Instead, just about every song on Twelve is a big hit from the classic rock pantheonâ"the Stones' â“Gimme Shelter,â” Jefferson Airplane's â“White Rabbit,â” Gregg Allman's â“Midnight Riderâ”â"the kind of tunes anybody would recognize. In many ways, this is a great thing, as the total emphasis of the album falls on Smith and her unique take on tunes that are a part of our public consciousness. When it works, it works dramatically. Smith's voice sounds as soulfully raw as '77, turning â“White Rabbitâ” and the Beatles' â“Within You Without Youâ” into two halves of a spine-tingling funeral march. Better still is a sparse but powerful six-and-a-half minute rendition of Nirvana's â“Smells Like Teen Spirit,â” in which Cobain's once unintelligible lyrics are beautifully restored like uncovered artifacts.
The record's only disappointing moments come when Smith doesn't stray enough from the original (Neil Young's â“Helplessâ”)â"minor missteps on an otherwise fine homage-athon. â" Andrew Clayman
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