Monthly Archives: February 2016

Sound ‘Round: Young Thug / Future

Leaning strong on the lean

Young Thug – I’m Up (Atlantic)

Young Thug - I'm UpA first-rate wordsmith and world-class troll, Atlanta’s Jeffery Williams reps for the Bloods, guzzles purp by the liter and loves mama in a way only southern boys appreciate. His major label debut delayed again, this newest entry in a series of crowd pleasing mixtapes doubles as a chance to irk industry suits still awaiting a return on their investment. Thugger’s fourth release in 10 months follows the blueprint of his strongest material: freewheeling hedonism, amoral rhymes, sing-song melodicism and a concise track list to limit his garrulous shortcomings. His acid-tongue delivery remains in world-beating form, matching his fleet of exotic cars and treasure chest of diamonds. I won’t begrudge a man well versed in abject poverty a lifetime of materialistic showboating, but Thug’s aim is more than superficial stereotypes. “My family depend on me / That’s who I do it for,” he says on the opening tribute to cancer-stricken amigo Boosie Badazz. Putting money where his (gold) grill is, he backs it up on the eulogy for the murdered A-town legend King Troup — wherein he pleads for everyone to “stop the killin’” — and invites his actual sisters Dora and Dolly to partake in the fun on the finale. The song is called (what else?) “Family.” GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: “Hercules” / “King TROUP” / “Family”

Future – Purple Reign (Free Bandz)

Future - Purple ReignQ: How far gone is this perpetually depressed surp addict? A: He’s probably the first rapper to namedrop and properly pronounce Promethazine. But that’s only the beginning of his self-admitted substance abuse issues. Helping cope with his highly publicized breakup from baby mama Ciara is a medicine cabinet of illicit pleasures: codeine, marijuana, Hennessey, cocaine, Xanax, Percocets and tranquilizers, to name a few. To quote the verse during “Never Forget” in which he ignores grandma’s proverb: “Just say no to drugs / Hell nah, I ain’t listen.” With that fatalistic tone and a copious amount of auto-tune, he celebrates and bemoans the pitfalls of a celebrity status he’s discretely content with. The good includes an ever-swelling bank account, a squadron of sports cars and the economic freedom to live high on life’s lower pursuits. The bad is accusing any woman in his general vicinity of being a fame-seeking succubus. Who does he think he is, Kanye West? Taken as a whole, this is another example of too much money being a bad luxury. But give him credit for taking ownership of what truly ails him on the title-track-as-closer. “I just need my girlfriend,” goes the chorus. Here’s hoping he finds the light he’s looking for. GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: “Never Forget” / “All Right” / “Purple Reign”

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Sound ‘Round: The Magnetic Fields / Pink

82 love songs for Valentine’s Day

The Magnetic Fields – 69 Love Songs (Merge, 1999)

The Magnetic Fields - 69 Love SongsAt three volumes and just under three hours, start with “The Book of Love” (disc one, track twelve). In 2 minutes and 42 seconds, Stephin Merritt drolly recites the sacred script’s table of contents: Flowers, heart-shaped boxes and instructions for dancing are listed alongside facts and figures, transcendentalism and elements that are “just really dumb.” The song is humorous in its oversimplification of a complex emotion and perfect for a chorus wherein the record’s multi-faceted theme is embodied by a lone wedding ring. But love is more than eternal on the other 68 songs. On the opener it’s manically obsessive, and by the finale it’s mistaken for consumerism. In the interim it’s sardonic but kind, in denial but hopeful, lustful yet romantic, crestfallen but resilient. No coincidence the music zigzags to match the multi-toned lyrics. Employing their usual knick-knacks — autoharp, ukulele, banjo, cello, accordion and synths — the band, including a trio of other vocalists, demonstrate post-pop flair, alt-country pizazz and show tunes know-how. The hooks are as strong as the bum tracks are scant, and Merritt’s infatuation with love is matched only by his addiction to brevity. What could have been The Great American Songbook for Generation Irony is a refreshing testament of the power of simplicity — sweet, visceral simplicity. GRADE: A+

Key Tracks: “The Book of Love” / “I Don’t Want to Get Over You” / “The Death of Ferdinand de Saussure”

Pink – The Truth About Love (RCA, 2012)

Pink - The Truth About LoveAlicia Moore has outlasted many of her Y2K peers because, regardless of her hit-or-miss career choices, the verisimilitude of the music is never in doubt. So when she claims to know the truth about love on the funny-if-misleading title track, know she’s paid dues. Smart enough to understand eternal happiness isn’t a beach resort wedding, she instead recites lyrics regarding morning breath, bedroom eyes and carpet burns. Written and recorded after couples counseling with motocross hubby Carey Hart, her best album is a song cycle centered on the many facets of her chosen subject matter. In 13 songs and 51 minutes, she proves a rocky marriage is more rewarding than the endless club-crawling lifestyle advertised by pop urchins the world over. R-o-m-a-n-c-e presents itself on “True Love” in the form of a flawed man she adores but can’t help wanting to strangle, while “Just Give Me a Reason” finds marital redemption in a faint promise that, if broken, will be the last straw. Still, this being a pop record, she beats the industry at its own game on “Slut Like You,” wherein she doesn’t shame anyone but the odious bros who hold women in control of their sexuality to a double standard. GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: “True Love” / “The Truth About Love” / “Blow Me (One Last Kiss)”

Sound ‘Round: Coldplay / U2

Stadium rock of varying degrees at the Super Bowl

Coldplay – A Rush of Blood to the Head (Capitol, 2002)

Coldplay - A Rush of Blood to the Head

Chris Martin is on the Mount Rushmore of dull pop stars alongside Barry Manilow, Paul Anka and Neil Diamond (So Good! So Good! So Good!). His persona lacks charisma and his music — predictable and plagued by lyrical platitudes — is so cleanly produced it’s sterile. But once upon a time, before selling his soul to the banal glisten of Euro-dance, Martin and his band of bummed-out blokes assembled a collection of little-anthems-that-could that are more earnest than routine. As always, Martin strives for demonstrative verses, but he isn’t emotionally invested enough to pull it off. With his bag of half-assed lyrics concerning the nameless green-eyed girl who stole his heart before Gwyneth Paltrow did, he adequately navigates the subtleties between indie pop, prog-pop, folk-pop and diminutive stadium pop. Though the world-conquering schmaltz of “Clocks” set a bad precedent for other starry-eyed losers (Hello, Ed Sheeran), Martin channels his hopeless romanticism more effectively during the back half. “Amsterdam” stands out for its tranquility in a sea of small-time bombast, but their real agenda is found on the title track which pays homage to Johnny Cash. In the end, they did what John Lennon, Mick Jagger, Johnny Rotten and Bono did before: Re-packaged American music for Americans. GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: “Green Eyes” / “Amsterdam” / “The Scientist”

U2 – All That You Can’t Leave Behind (Interscope, 2000)

U2 - All That You Can't Leave Behind

Time has exposed this supposed historical benchmark for what it is: a notable and notably flawed return to form from a band that for too long confused artistic decadence with pop accessibility. Bad news first: The homestretch might be the worst four-song sequence they’ve constructed. Beginning with the preachy “Peace on Earth” (ugh), followed by the even-preachier “When I Look at the World,” onto the pre-9/11 tribute to New York and the finale about Grace the girl and the noun, Bono stumbles over an ego the way only Bono can. Now, the good news: That leaves seven keepers remarkable for their melodic ease and the band’s realization that music for music’s sake ain’t such a bad thing after all. From the opening bars of “Beautiful Day,” they resurrect their stagnant career and reclaim the dubious title of the world’s biggest band. The Edge’s guitar work is brilliant and bold while Bono’s lyricism on the bridge is so beautiful and poetic it should kick-start his obituary. With confidence restored, they strut through gospel’s inspiration, blues’ riff library and love songs more sturdy than mawkish. Pretensions diminished and ambitions subdued, the album moves with a sense of calm satisfaction that’s all too rare with this band. GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: “Beautiful Day” / “Elevation” / “Walk On”