blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Stand tall, Rise up, Stay strong
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Judas Priest last appeared in the form of a metal fever dream: the double disc concept album "Nostradamus." While I happened to love it, some Priest fans were left shaking their heads. There were plenty of good tracks, but where was that one killer anthem? This time, they have nothing to worry about. "Redeemer Of Souls" is Judas Priest back to basics. Twin guitars, thunder drums, and Rob Halford's glorious shriek rising above it all. One of the songs may be titled "Valhalla," but for old fans, this will be nirvana.

You can tell Priest is back to business from the moment Halford sings the first stanza, "welcome to my world of steel." And while the departure of legendary guitarist K.K. Downing may have set fans on edge, his replacement, Richie Faulkner, plays off Glenn Tipton and kick mutual butt. Even so, with all the plundering of their iconic metal sound, you'll still find the soul of a bluesman as "Redeemer" comes to a conclusion. "Beginning of The End" echoes Black Sabbath (whose "13" was a comeback of a similar excellence) with the swamps of ancient mists folding around one of Halford's more subdued performances. Mix that up with the bludgeoning "Metalizer" or the creature feature "Dragonaut," and you'll have a Judas Preist disc that stands toe to toe with their best work.

The deluxe version offers five extra songs, starting with the riff heavy and lead stinging "Snake Bite" and the anthemic "Bring It On" being the best of the five, especially the lead guitar threads needling their way through "Snakebite." There's even a parting gift of "Never Forget," in which the band declare their eternal thanks to the loyal fans who've stuck with the band for 17 albums and multiple decades. They are defenders of the faith, indeed.



   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
False Advertising
3 Out Of 5 Stars

I guess I finally have to own up to it; KD Lang has been making the same album for a few releases. You're getting everything you'll love about her, that gorgeous voice, the extremely tasteful arrangements and musicianship, the immaculate production. Touches of country (love that dobro) and Lang's chanteuse's ease with a lyrical lick. But you'll also miss what you really loved. "Sing It Loud" is dominated by songs that range from mid-tempo ("Sorrow Nevermore") to downright languid ("A Sleep With No Dreaming"). The more you listen, the more it becomes obvious that Lang has given up on music that has any kind of pep in its step. When you call your band Siss Boom Bang, you'd expect a little bang, maybe? Not this time.

Lang has still got the chops to take a song and just claim the thing as her own. While it mirrors the version done by Simply Red a couple decades ago, Lang's take on the Talking Heads' "Heaven" is masterful. She also nails the title track, but the point is that you're calling the album "Sing It Loud." Is it too much to ask for a little volume, a little bit of kick? The same misrepresentation happens when you call a song "Sugar Buzz." I'm not one to bemoan that she's no longer cutting "Absolute Torch and Twang," but even "Invincible Summer" threw in a few pop thrills for a listener to grab hold of and for Lang to sink her teeth into. "Sing It Loud" is a joyless, tepid affair that you've heard too many times before.


     
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Lady Uh-Oh
3 Out Of 5 Stars

One of the brilliant things about Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" was just how varied the song styles were. It was like she took a sponge over the best of what the 80's and 90's had to offer, sopped it up, then wrung it out all over her music. A little Madonna, a little Prince, even a little Springsteen. It was an 'everything but the kitchen sink' approach and it worked to an amazing effect. Now, after riding a tidal wave of personality and more hype than just about any pop album in the last few years, we get "ArtPop." What was an amalgamation before now just comes off as rote. Her personality still compensates for a lot here, but this is not much more than a standard issue laptop dance album. After Katy Perry's disappointing "Prism," "Artpop" carries too much baggage and ultimately fails to deliver the goods.

The opener, the middle eastern tinged "Aura," does give the album a major kickstart, but even then it just ascends into electronic dance music. There's the three rappers on "Jewels and Drugs," which does not one up having Kanye West on the last album. And for friggin' sakes, a pot puffing song in "Mary Jane Holland"? If I wanted Myley Cyrus, I would've bought "Bangerz." The profanities are gratuitous, the songs sound-alikes, and the lack of variety gets painfully obvious after a couple of listens.

The saving graces come mostly from the singles. "Applause" was enough of a bell-ringer that I was prepared for a solid album. Odd that it is what closes the album. "Venus" is also fun, where the worldplay may be juvenile (Uranus, hee hee hee), but the hook inescapable. The duet with R Kelly is a big surprise as the old school crooner is a perfect match for a subdued Gaga on "Do What U Want" (even the title is a throwback, in the way the best songs on "Born This Way" were). That's only four songs that I think will interest me long enough to go back to the album for. Lady Gaga is now in danger of becoming something I was hoping she'd be able to avoid; "Artpop" reveals the artist as cookie-cutter poptart saved mainly by that larger than life character she's invented for herself.


   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Santa Brough)
Songs Of Faith and Devotion
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Coming hot on the heels of their certified metal classic, "Screaming For Vengeance," it would be easy to slag off "Defenders Of The Faith" as sub-par. That would be a fool's errand, because while "Defenders" doesn't have the song for song knockout blows of "Screaming," it still delivers a mighty powerful blow. The twin guitars of Glenn Tipton and KK Downing rip from the opening "Freewheel Burning," while adding sting to a couple of new Priest Classics, "Love Bites" and "Heads Are Gonna Roll."

This was the period in which Judas Priest were at their most aggressive, sometimes outlandishly so. The ode to rough sex, "Eat Me Alive," got the band in hot water with Tipper Gore and her Parents Musical Research Center (remember the PMRC and their obsession with dirty music overall and Prince in particular?) for its particularly graphic narrative. "I'm going to force you at gunpoint to eat me alive" can still rankle those of a sensitive nature, but this came from a band who titled one of their UK albums "Killing Machine." Between the snarling guitars, the double kick drums and Rob Halford's leather skybound howl, subtlety was not their watchword.

"Defenders Of The Faith" also marked the end of a creative run for Priest. After this, they got the jitters from the emerging new wave of metal and - oddly enough - hair bands, too. It lead to the underrated synth heavy "Turbo," an album that took the band several more albums afterwards to recover from. But when you look at the line-up of "Hell Bent For Leather," "British Steel," "Screaming For Vengeance" and then "Defenders of The Faith," it's a creative metal run matched only by the first four Black Sabbath albums.


   
blackleatherbookshelf: (Flames)
Gett Jett
3 Out Of 5 Stars

A surprisingly supple and solid album, "Unvarnished" finds a mature Joan Jett and her long time associates, The Blackhearts, addressing life and the events that follow in a grown up world. Family, politics, personal strife are all touched upon. Even so, Jett commands a rocking album this time around, much more so than 2006's "Sinner."

Jett was affected by Superstorm Sandy, which she touches on in the opener, "Any Weather." As much a rallying cry as a discussion of the events of the devastation, it deals with its subject without turning maudlin. In fact, it kicks butt. Jett also hits a tough chord when she sings about the loss of family members in both "Fragile" and "Hard To Grow Up." She still loves rock and roll, but now she sees that love from the viewpoint of an adult.

That doesn't mean Jett gives rocking the short shrift. "TMI" (too much information) and "Reality Mentality" looks at a world where stars are viewed through a paparazzi lens 24/7, and how musical reality shows invent stars that might not be worth the effort to get to know. Coming from a woman who had to shake off the slime of over-hype to make her career count, show knows from where she preaches.

"Unvarnished" is a self assured look at this modern world, even to the point where the usually obligatory cover song is passed on. Jett wants her work to stand for itself, and for the first time in many albums, "Unvarnished" maintains a standard that Jett set for herself in her lengthy career. Not bad for someone who now sees music she's created enter a fourth decade.


   
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Hell bent and heaven sent
4 Out Of 5 Stars

As each Judas Priest album became more and more successful,the band felt the need to top itself with each release. This album, "Hellbent for Leather," was a significant jump from "Stained Class." It also advance the groups image as leather clad bad boys playing the heaviest guitar rock out of England. As the title song put it the band was in a take no prisoners mode.

The album kicks off with a sexual innuendo "Delivering the Goods." Rob Halford delivers the song with grunts and a low-key growl. That doesn't mean he hasn't given up his operatic howl, evident on "Evening Star" and "Before the Dawn." "Before the Dawn" also showed the versatility of the band. Played as the acoustic set piece, it slips in the middle as a curio along with the band's cover version of Fleetwood Mac's "The Green Manalishi with the Two Pronged Crown."it joins the ranks of great Judas Priest cover songs like "Diamonds and Rust." They may have been a hard-core heavy metal, but they had visions outside the format.

"Hellbent for Leather" contains a pair of classic Priest songs. Both the title song and "Living After Midnight" preserved the image of the band not just leather clad rockers, but knowledgeable about the way with a hook. By their next album, the five-star rated "British Steel," they would have that mastered. But for the moment, "Hellbent for Leather" added to the growing mythology of this great rock band.


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There Can Be Only One!
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Queen had just come off their triumphant Live Aid appearance when they headed back into the studio to record "A Kind of Magic." The band was also approached with the plum job of writing songs for the film Highlander, giving them even more inspiration to compose material up to their high standards. This album, probably the best of the latter part of their career, was the result.

"A Kind of Magic" contained the Live Aid inspired "One Vision" (which also ended up in the cult movie "Iron Eagle"). Better known as the "fried chicken song," "One Vision" is one of Queen's great arena rockers. Both "Gimme The Prize" and "Don't Lose Your Head" rocked the "Highlander" movie, with Freddie Mercury's mighty wails atop Brian May's usual guitar pyrotechnics.

May, however, contributed one of my favorite Queen ballads to this album, the heartbreaking "Who Wants To Live Forever." Along with the delicious pop of the title track, these were both massive hits around the world (and unforgivably ignored in the USA). The video of a cartoon Queen dancing to "Magic" is also one of the most clever things that the band's ever done. John Deacon put in the beautiful "One Year Of Love," also a worldwide hit.

Next to the farewell of Innuendo, the best of the second phase of Queen's career. As an Queen album, it's on a par with Jazz and A Day At The Races. The triumph of Live Aid and the inspirational feel of this album led Queen to embark on the Live Magic tour, their last live trek before Mercury's declining health ended their 20th Century touring.



     


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Priest Coalesced
4 Out Of 5 Stars

For Judas Priest, "Stained Class" was the album where the band's sound coalesced into what became the classic priest. Glenn Tipton and KK Downing began their speed-metal roar, while Rob Halford's operatic wail began reaching new heights of aggression. From the thunderous opener of "Exciter" to the gothic morbidity of "Beyond The Realms of Death," the new wave of British Heavy Metal used this album as the eye to their mammoth hurricane. Any band who wants to claim otherwise (with the possible exception of Motorhead) can - as "Exciter" puts it - "fall to your knees and repent if you please."

There was a real sense of purpose the "Stained Class," as the band ditched any previous blues references and proggy ballads to just ram home their heavy metal vision. The music is often violent and macabre ("Savages" tales of citizens' revolts) or just anthems of rock-helmets everywhere ("White Heat, Red Hot"). There's even the song that put the band in front of a ludicrous court trial when "Better By You Better Than Me" was accused of causing a teen to commit suicide via backwards masking of a lyric telling him to "do it." Even crazier, it was one of Priest's journey into the realm of odd choices for cover songs, this one from Spooky Tooth. Like their cover of Joan Baez's "Diamonds and Rust," "Better By You" gets turned inside out and gets a bonus dose of heavy metal drama.

The real drama is "Beyond The Realms of Death," where Halford really pours on the dramatics. He cries about living in a world full of sin that he no longer wants any part of, and taunts the listener with his desire to leave. (Funny how this song wasn't the one on trial.) Tipton and Downing let loose with a Sabbath worthy riff behind Halford until the song hits its climax...and leads into "Hero's End," where Halford poses the question "Why do you have to die to be a hero?" There's a lot of power between these two songs, a formula that Priest would refine even more come "Hell Bent For Leather." But if you need to pinpoint the record where Priest reached critical mass, "Stained Class" is it.


     


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Royal Therapy
3 Out of 5 Stars

Queen was in a personal impasse at the time of The Miracle. Brian May was dealing with a tempestuous divorce and Freddie Mercury had been diagnosed with AIDS. Most bands would have found a corner to crawl into and curled up into a fetal position. Queen took it as a chance to regroup and have each others' backs while pouring their hearts into the new album.

"The one thing we're all waiting for
Is peace on Earth - an end to war
It's a miracle we need, the miracle."

Kind of giving the album a purpose, the title song was pure Freddie gold. It bogs in the end with a cacophony before rising back up with a unified and gorgeous harmony front, before tearing into a riff monster from Brian, "I Want It All" (with the single mix on the bonus disc). It's kind of a polar opposite from "The Miracle"; instead of harmony and good will towards men, "I Want It All" let it rip with guitar solos and a lyric that literally demands that you give it up, and give it up now.

There was a little of Queen's issues popping through. It's easy to interpret "Scandal" as Brian having a go at the British Press over treatment of his private life while the marriage was coming apart, and "Was It All Worth It" sounds like Freddie beginning his questioning of life with AIDS, a topic that would dominate "Innuendo" two years later. (Freddie's health also prevented the bad from touring behind this album, despite it being their most successful US album since "The Game." There was a bit of silliness courtesy of Roger Taylor's "Invisible Man," a total 80's dance track (included in a 12-inch mix on the bonus CD). Queen may have been searching for a Miracle as the 80's were drawing to a close, and this CD did a good job of proving the band still could deliver.


     


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Could this be the magic?
4 Out Of 5 Stars


Continuing their Roxy Music art dance meets Elton John Piano pop, "Magic Hour" is the Scissor Sisters at their best. As they keep searching for an American Audience and switch to the Casablanca Records banner (home to the best of 70's dance music, take that as a clue), Jake, BabyDaddy, Del and Anna are still looking for love at all the best parties.

There's plenty here to tape your feet to; from the silly bonus track "Eff Yeah!" to the pulsing "Keep Your Shoes On," the Sisters are playing to their strengths. After all, not every band could take a phone message about a crappy night on the NYC club scene and mix it into a party anthem ("Let's Have a Kiki"). They also allow the mood to be serious, as on the heartbreak story of "Inevitable" or the frothy "San Luis Obispo." There are those who might think that the band is not changing much from their other albums; I say Scissor Sisters have a sound. For me, it's well worth the continuing interest in the band.



     

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Rufus Rediscovers Pop
4 Out Of 5 Stars

This is near as perfect a match between artist and producer as 2012 has seen. Mark Ronson nudges Rufus Wainwright into Ronson's retro-world just as Rufus writes his most melodic material since his wonderful "Want One." The end result, "Back In The Game," is just as it's title states; Rufus has reined in his last couple CD's worth of extravagance into a listenable and highly enjoyable album.

He's also as unconventional as ever. "Look at you, suckers," he snorts at the newly out character on the title track, with soul-backing singers. It sounds like conventional pop-soul, but that dark streak subverts the meaning. Same with songs that are self referential ("Rashida," "Barbara"), yet the swirling ABBA synths of "Montauk" change the game completely. Rufus sings to his new daughter about her two dads, in a sly and somber hopeful song about her future, along with a bittersweet, heartfelt verse about his late mother and growing older without her. It's easily the best and most reflective song he's written since "Poses," and made me a fan of Rufus once again.

I have to admit, his last few albums had left me cold; the redo of Judy Garland, the overt arty "All Nights are Days" and I was feeling "Release The Stars" was the artist reaching past his grasp. "Back In The Game" proves me wrong. Despite all the diversions - and the way he now draws upon them for this album - Wainwright has kept his touch as a masterful singer-songwriter. That's something I wasn't expecting to say, but I'm more than happy to eat my words this time around.



   



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This is huge. He's now the first sitting President to endorse marriage equality.
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Shifting the faultlines
5 Out of 5 Stars

Say what you will about Tori Amos, her second album bent music in a new direction. Once "Little Earthquakes" opened a whole new audience of sensitive women who liked their music heavy on mystic and or religious imagery, devoid of bombast and just speaking to a crowd that was being ignored, Tori Amos found that crack and made it her very own Teutonic plate. There's good reason for that. "Little Earthquakes" sounded like little else out at the time (bear in mind, this was the year of Nirvana) and. other than Kate Bush, no other woman was bending traditional pop structures at will.

It makes Tori an anomaly. "Silent All These Years" missed the top 40, bit she's hit the top 5 albums constantly. She rarely uses electric guitars, "Crucify" starts the album with piano and drums only. Tori;s voice was often the most electrifying here, breaking from whispers and panting into tortured wails, then back again, like "Precious Things." (Which contains one of the most brutal put-downs of all-time in "So you can make me cum? That doesn't make you Jesus.") The painful alliance between womanhood and Christendom is a reoccurring theme on "Little Earthquakes," and Tori's "faeries" clung to it because they all understood where a riposte like "what's so special about really deep thoughts? You better hope I bleed real soon, how's that thought for you?" could spring from.

It's why "Little Earthquakes" meets one of my main standards of 5 star/classic albums. Tori successfully leapt from Glam/Goth Gal on "Y Kant Tori Read" to a knowing singer/songwriter the likes we hadn't seen since Carole King. She has artistically outgrown that label a long time back, but "Little Earthquakes" made young adult women realize that there was a place for them in music that didn't have to be Nine Inch Nails or Phil Collins.




   




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The Metal Gods Arise
5 Out Of 5 Stars

The Judas Priest buildup from Stained Class to Hellbent for Leather to British Steel marked a rise in the band that they'd maintain for several years to come. "British Steel" marked a couple big changes in the group; first, the songs began to utilize pop hooks, and second, Halford hit his peak as a vocalist. Thom Allom was also near his peak as a metal producer, and he brought Priest crashing into the mainstream. After all, what party wouldn't start rocking if you put on "Living After Midnight" or "Breaking The Law"?

Not that Priest were becoming The Partridge Family. "Rapid Fire" kicks in with the double bass drum pound Priest became known for, and there's no way that "Metal Gods" wasn't meant as self-fulfilling prophecy. The pop-hooks of "Midnight" are offset by the menace of "The Rage" or "United's" message of metal fan unity. Hard to believe that "British Steel" arrived before there was an MTV Headbangers Ball or the glut of Metal Showcases prevalent today, so credit must be given to Judas Priest for taking "British Steel" to a level that helped make the scene possible, and laying down a playing field for it.

A point made even more fully by the DVD bonus disc. Recorded on the 2009 tour, Priest plays the album from start to finish in its entirety, showing no signs of it's 30 years. Halford and company look like they're having the time of their lives spreading the gospel to this day of an album that took them over the brink, and the fans are lapping it up. Frankly, you can live without the DVD if you already have the 2001 Remaster, but if not, it's just a couple extra bucks and worth a spin on the telly.



   





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Sweating to The Oldies
3 Out Of 5 Stars

For a good chunk of the disco craze, especially in the gay disco world, there was a subset of artists that specialized in taking relatively current hits and then rearranging them into club items. Paul Parker may have been the best known of these men, and the biggest hit version was when Nikki French took Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse Of The Heart" to number 2 in the 90's. Colton Ford's "Under The Covers" mines that same turf, plucking out songs like "By Your Side" by Sade, "Lithium" by Nirvana or "Losing My Religion" by R.E.M. and clubbing them up. There's also a surprisingly supple rock-dance cover of Faith No More's "Ashes to Ashes."

Unfortunately, Ford and his producers decided to include a capella interludes of other songs that bobble the flow of the disc. I'm not sure why these snippets were inserted between several of the songs (they aren't used as lead ins, these are strictly stand-alone cutlets). These sap the energy of away from an otherwise enjoyable dance album. Also, the cover photo? The remix version of the dosc has a more seductive and color friendly picture than the blue-tinted current picture. Ford is a man who made his bones as an adult film star, so why the totally unattractive pic? The music is OK enough to hold its own, the cover puts the CD at a disadvantage.





   



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You had the time, you had the power
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Pulling themselves up after the commercial disappointment of "Hot Space" meant two things for Queen in America. The first was a major return to the pomp of their glory days, the second was a label change to Capitol. The band strikes a serious pose on the cover of "The Works," the the first single made them sound like they were ready to get back to business. "Radio gaga" is now notorious for two reasons: it was the last Queen US Top 40 single (prior to the reissue of "Bohemian Rhapsody" and inspired a young New Yorker to take that song's last name and claim it for herself.

There's also a question of the album's focus. The nine songs sound more of a piece than "Hot Space" did, from the aching closer "Is The The World We Created" to the worldwide hit "I Want to Break Free" (the single/video mix, which is substantially different than the original, makes one of the reissue's bonus tracks). While both "The Game" and "Hot Space" seemed consumed with dance synths, this time they hold that to the goofy "Machines/Back To Humans." Probably the smartest move of all was tossing the drum machine out the window and letting Roger Taylor back to his drum kit. As Queen's 80's discs go, "The Works" is one of the better ones.

As for the bonus discs, the real surprise is the remixed versions of "I Want to break Free" and the harder rocking version of "Hammer To Fall." There's a B-Side, "I Go Crazy" that has the laugh-inducing line "but I don't wanna go see Queen!" and finally, the Christmas single "Thank God It's Christmas," which was only available before on the lackluster third volume of greatest hits. A pair of live cuts round out the disc. Overall, a nice set of extras.



     







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The Show Must Go On
4 Out Of 5 Stars

"Innuendo" was released in February of 1991. The single "These are The Days Of Our Lives" was issued ahead of the album to little airplay, while "Headlong" fared better at rock radio. The video for "Days" was interesting in that Mercury seemed frail looking and in poor health. In November, Freddie Mercury released a press statement that he was terminally ill with AIDS, and then died within days. As is now well known, Mercury was fighting to complete this album (along with tracks that eventually would become "Made in Heaven") as his last testament.

As such, "Innuendo" is a really solid late Queen album, as good as "A Kind of Magic" and better than "A Day At The Races." Mortality was obviously weighing heavily on Mercury and his bandmates, as semi-autobiographical numbers like "I'm Going Slightly Mad," Mercury's ode to his cats "Delilah," the bittersweet "Days" and the stately "The Show Must Go On" all indicate. Brain May's guitar is hotter here than on many of their post-Game discs, on both "Bijou" and the epic title track.

Queen's pop sense also was in full swing here, with such missed opportunities for singles as "All God's Children" and "I Can't Live With You." Even though Mercury was in failing health, the band's tradition for pomp and grandeur continued with an album launch party occurring on the fabled Queen Mary liner in the US after Hollywood Records signed the band in the US. It's a considerable feat that the band decided to go out at full-throttle, with Mercury delivering some top-notch work. As the album closes, Mercury delivers what could be his finest goodbye.

"My soul is painted
like the wings of butterflies,
Fairy tales of yesterday,
will grow but never die,
I can fly, my friends!
The Show must go on!"

As far as the bonus cuts go, there are two noteworthy ones. First is the re-recorded version of "I Can't Live With You," which originally appeared on the now out of print "Queen Rocks" collection, the other a B-Side titled "Lost Opportunity." The passing of Mercury so soon after the release of "Innuendo" meant no live performances, though the Elton John rendition of "The Show Must Go On" from the Freddie Mercury Tribute shows would have been nice.



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To Go With What You Know
4 Out Of 5 Stars

I haven't had much interest in a new Erasure album since the string that started with "Other People's Songs" in 2003. They seemed to be coasting for a spell, until "Tomorrow's World." After some lackluster albums and a batch of live sets, Vince and Andy made a vital change and handed their music over to an outside producer, Frankmusik. He pulls the duo into the new century with some timely production, putting some much needed carbonation in Erasure's sound. "Tell me that you want me," Andy Bell calls out as the album opens. For a change, the answer is yes. Erasure has (since "Light At The End of The World," at least) matured into a consistency that puts them into a pocket.

There are plenty of songs here to remind you why you fell in love with Erasure back when their first album came out in 1986. "When I Start (To Break it All Down)" is the kind of questioning love song they've always specialized in, as well as dance floor pumpers. Both "Fill Us With Fire" and the auto-tuned inflected "Then I Go Twisting" are itching to get remixed, as are several other songs on the CD. Even the band knows that they're no longer the kids they used to be.

"Then I go inside, bored of this modern town
Sick of this techno, monophonic sound
Turning the lights down, modern life's so dull
More of the same stuff."

...And Andy is singing this over a popping synth groove. It's nice to listen to Erasure who are not only making good music again, but that they recognize where they (and we) are. "Tomorrow's World" is their 14th studio album, and it fits in well with many of their other albums.



   

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Queen Clone Themsleves
3 Out Of 5 Stars

It was once reported that the late, great Freddie Mercury wanted "A Day At The Races" and A Night at the Opera to have been a double album. It's too bad that they weren't, because leaving "Races" to follow the first five star classic Queen album makes it seem like a lesser vehicle. From the reverse color scheme to copping a Marx Brothers movie title, "A Day at The Races" came off sounding like a desperate attempt to copy the madly successful "A Night At The Opera."

That is selling "Races" short. While there was no stunner ala "Bohemian Rhapsody" to be found here, there was the Top 20 single "Somebody To Love" (whose liver version happens to be the best of the bonus tracks), which utilized the now trademark multi-tracked vocal style to a near Gospel effect. The album opener, "Tie Your Mother Down," played it kinky while still mimicking "Death on Two Legs" as a big concert rocker. As always, there are nods to camp and vaudeville ("Millionaire Waltz" and the Ooh La La of "Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy"). However, there's an unusually high number of filler songs (the dreadful "White Man" and the maudlin "Teo Torriatte" being the most flagrant violations). I've also always wondered how much "A Day At The Races" might have improved had the band opted not to self-produce but brought Roy Thomas Baker back to the studio.

"A Day At The Races" is more easily viewed as the bridge between "A Night At The Opera" and the second five-star Queen album, "News of the World." "Opera" pushed the band into superstar stratosphere, "News" (with "We Will Rock You/We Are The Champions" as its marching order) saw Queen proclaiming themselves rulers of the domain. Being lodged in that position leaves "A Day At The Races" looking like a mid-level Queen album, when in fact it's every bit as good as "Queen II," "Jazz" or "The Works."




   

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