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Effortless pop, Expertly delivered
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Better than the overproduced "Overexposed," "V" is Maroon 5's return to making candy-floss pop. I mean that as a compliment. As many bands that try to make this kind of music, few succeed at it quite the way Adam Levine and the boys do. Want more proof? Just think of Adam's TV stint on "The Voice," where assorted contestants vie for the opportunity to make this kind of music (with the odd country or soul belter mixed in for variety) and remind yourself that the show has yet to turn out a viable star. If it was that easy, they'd all have sales of the magnitude Maroon 5 have achieved.

For one thing, Maroon 5 know their way around a killer hook. Both "Maps" and "Animals" have hooks so big they belong in butcher shops and Adam's blue eyed soul delivery (and falsetto) make them stick to your ear canals. He also knows how to deliver one for the ladies, as the ballad "Unkiss Me" shows. The big piano ballad with Gwen Stefani, "My Heart Is Open" is a wonderful pairing, although "Moves Like Jagger" wins the duet contest by virtue of its snappiness. Yet Maroon 5 provides the fizz that pops in the 10's decade that it needs to stand above the fray.

I'll add an extra recommendation for the deluxe version of "V" in that two of the three songs are actually worthy of the couple extra bucks. There's the surprisingly bare bones version of the 90's one hit wonder Marcy Playground's "Sex And Candy." Then there's the Levine Oscar nominated solo track "Lost Stars," which Levine recorded for the movie "Begin Again" which he had an acting role in. They round out "V" and make it an album to rival Maroon 5's better entries.


   
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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.


     
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Girl Powerless
3 Out Of 5 Stars

Katy Perry had her taste of fluffy pop success with "Teenage Dream," which was an insubstantial album, but loaded with inescapable pop hooks. It was a flirty, teasing album filled with songs of coming into your own ("Firework," the title track) and goofy songs about being teenaged and irresponsible ("Last Friday Night"). There was also obvious filler ("E.T."). but enough good material to compensate. Not so "Prism." Every song is synth laden and seems to ditch the goofy fun of "Teenage Dream" for songs about empowerment and being more grown-up about life.

Someone should have warned her. The girl who danced around with fruit bowls on her head is not the lady making "Prism." Only "Roar," "Walking On Air" and the lovely "By The Grace Of God" pull this CD out from the ranks of a total dud. Perry is still a gifted enough songwriter that even the filler is catchy, but unlike "Teenage Dream," the filler is quickly forgettable. Perry is holding back here. Where is the personality? She sounds restrained, the kind of pop that plenty of other pop-tarts come up with on a regular basis, where "Teenage Dream" and her debut "One of The Boys" often came of as flirty and fiery, now she just sounds like she wants to be taken seriously. "Unconditionally" calls out for love that lasts forever, but not with any spark.

The obligatory guest shot comes from Juicy J, who doesn't have the spike of Snoop Dog on the summer anthem "California Gurls." "Dark Horse" again suffers from a lack of a sense of fun. Perry just isn't a gifted enough singer to convey the kind of emotional depth that "Prism" demands of the songs. "Roar" made for high expectations, but "Prism" just doesn't measure up. It's an average album from a woman who suggested that she may have had more to offer than platitudes and easy cliches. It just sounds like she's not trying very hard.


   
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Go go, Gordon
4 Out Of 5 Stars

When the American debut of Barenaked Ladies crossed my desk many years ago, I was not sure quite what to make of them. They were certainly crucially adept, as each song sounded musically delightful. They had a whimsical sense of humor that would pop-up baldly on many of the songs. They were vocally versatile, with multiple lead singers who could also harmonize nicely. I thought "Gordon" was one of the best debut albums I'd heard in years, much the equal of 10cc or the likes of Nick Lowe, two other artists who weren't afraid if mixing serious playing with goofy jokes.

I also wondered if American audiences would ever catch on. The humor was often blatant, like "Grade Nine," which poked fun at elementary school nerdom, right down to the Rush guitar licks. Or one of their eventual concert staples, "If I Had A Million Dollars," which was both a decent song and a poke at consumerism that ends in a punch line (and included a bacon joke. After all Barenaked ladies are Canadian). But amidst the comedic moments were some serious, thought provoking songwriting. "The Flag" with Ed Robertson and Steve Page is a serious look at the "complicated people leading complicated lives," as a relationship falls to surrender, or the lovely pair together in the jazzy "I Love You."

Either side of the Barenaked Ladies' equation worked. If you were willing to allow the sense of humor not get in the way of the musicianship and the ace singing and writing of Ed Robertson and Steve Page, "Gordon" is a rewarding album. They also got better real fast, and as "One Week" eventually proved, they had the stuff of stardom.


   
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Go go, Gordon
4 Out Of 5 Stars

When the American debut of Barenaked Ladies crossed my desk many years ago, I was not sure quite what to make of them. They were certainly crucially adept, as each song sounded musically delightful. They had a whimsical sense of humor that would pop-up baldly on many of the songs. They were vocally versatile, with multiple lead singers who could also harmonize nicely. I thought "Gordon" was one of the best debut albums I'd heard in years, much the equal of 10cc or the likes of Nick Lowe, two other artists who weren't afraid if mixing serious playing with goofy jokes.

I also wondered if American audiences would ever catch on. The humor was often blatant, like "Grade Nine," which poked fun at elementary school nerdom, right down to the Rush guitar licks. Or one of their eventual concert staples, "If I Had A Million Dollars," which was both a decent song and a poke at consumerism that ends in a punch line (and included a bacon joke. After all Barenaked ladies are Canadian). But amidst the comedic moments were some serious, thought provoking songwriting. "The Flag" with Ed Robertson and Steve Page is a serious look at the "complicated people leading complicated lives," as a relationship falls to surrender, or the lovely pair together in the jazzy "I Love You."

Either side of the Barenaked Ladies' equation worked. If you were willing to allow the sense of humor not get in the way of the musicianship and the ace singing and writing of Ed Robertson and Steve Page, "Gordon" is a rewarding album. They also got better real fast, and as "One Week" eventually proved, they had the stuff of stardom.


     

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When he's Bad, he's very, very Bad
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Michael Jackson had the inevitable and unenviable task come 1987 of releasing a follow-up to not just one of the biggest selling albums of all time, but one of the most beloved, "Thriller." "Bad" is the result, and it couldn't help but pale in comparison. That's not to say the album lacks for terrific material, in fact, punch for punch, it is very nearly "Thriller's" equal, and it certainly is better than "Off The Wall." It once again racked up multiple chart hits, with five singles hitting number one from '87 to '89. Thanks to Quincy Jones, the production is immaculate, and between Jones and Jackson, the songs not written by Jackson were cherry picked to magnify Jackson's strengths.

"Bad" also was formulaic in its pursuit of Thrillermania. The big dance number is the title track. The bad girl of "Billie Jean" is replaced by "Dirty Diana." That's also where the star rock guitar solo comes from, with Billy Idol's Steve Stevens takes the place of Eddie VanHalen. The superstar duet came from Stevie Wonder instead of Paul McCartney, on "Just Good Friends." And the happy-time dance song was "The Way You Make Me Feel" in the same vein as "Pretty Young Thing." While Jackson hinted at his personal paranoia on "Billie Jean," this time it comes out fully formed as "Leave Me Alone" (which was not on the original album but basically is considered part of it after it was released as a video).

But everyone from the 80's already knows that. The man reason to bother picking up the 25th Anniversary of "Bad" is the second disc of bonus tracks. Three of them were on an earlier reissue, "Streetwalker," "Fly Away" and a Spanish version of "I Just Can't Stop Loving You." Now we get the later in French, plus six previously unreleased demos. I'm no fan of modernized remixes, so I'll refrain from commenting on the likes of Pitbull hanging out on "Bad." Of the new tracks, the Latin feel of "Don't Be Messing Around" is the most intriguing, and shows what a perfectionist Jackson was. It sounds like a finished song, yet Micheal gave it a pass and never went back to it for future CD's. "Song Groove (Abortion Papers)" would have been controversial on many levels, yet it has a wicked groove. "Price of Fame" is another complaint about fame and even references "Billie Jean," and "Al Capone" milks the "Wanna Be Something" groove needlessly. Both are no big deal.

Bottom line, if you bought the 2001 reissue, there's not much of a reason to go after "Bad25."


   
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Going Into Shock
3 Out Of 5 Stars

The final Motels album of the 80's was also their slickest. There were still plenty of great songs and Martha Davis' amazing voice. But "Shock" is also loaded up with drum-machines and very dated sounding synths. There's very little organic sounding to the album. That doesn't mean the songs are forgettable, there are a few that rank with the band's best. The top 40 single "Shame," the dance ready title track, and "Icy Red," which could have given the late 80's Heart a run for their money. But for my money, Martha's solo album, "Policy," was a better album.

Now onto the reissue itself. Culture Factory is doing a service by getting many of these out of print albums back onto the market. But like so many of the reissues of older albums, they lift the volume well past what it needed to be. They did the same to The Romantics' debut. I don't find the volume to be anywhere near the tragedy a few of the other reviewers here have noted. If you were never able to procure a copy of this in its limited release long ago, or the BGO release, this version of "Shock" will do just fine. Get it before it goes out of print, too.


   
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A second chance at the first time?
3 Out Of 5 Stars

I can't remember a three album arc like the one taken by Boys Like Girls in recent memory. Starting life as a hooky emo-power-pop band with their gold selling debut, their second album had some more of the same, but you could feel the slickness settling in (especially when the ubiquitous Taylor Swift stopped by for a duet). Now they're up for the third album, "Crazy World." If you fell in love with the band that played "The Great Escape," that band is gone. In it's place is a slick pop band with more in common with Train or Matchbox 20, while getting up to their ankles in country pop.

"Crazy World" is plagued by some of the problems the other two albums did; the songwriting remains inconsistent but often hits a hook that you can't get away from. Heck, they even crib from the Backstreet Boys in "Life Of The party" when they announce "Boys Like Girls is back!" There's also the big love ballad, complete with strings and over-emoting, in "Hey You." It's such a formulaic piece that I can see it picked up for an episode of "Glee," and that's not necessarily a compliment.

Then there's those aforementioned forays into country-pop. If the title "Red Cup Hands Up Long Brown Hair" doesn't automatically give it away, one listen and you'll be wondering why they just didn't hand it over to Taylor Swift or Lady Antebellum and be done with it. Same with the title track, which is one banjo short of being ready for Jason Aldean. They've moved away from their roots entirely, but still deliver the guilty pleasures of a ballad like "Stuck In The Middle" or (despite my previous misgivings) the title song.

I still think Boys Like Girls have a future. They've crafted enough memorable material over three albums to have a decent best of at their disposal. They just have to decide who they want to be. "Crazy World" is like a ride on a schizophrenic train.


   
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The Love of Truth
4 Out Of 5 Stars

The new Pink album "The Truth About Love" is a funhouse of pure pop with a streak of sourness to it, Think Katy Perry's potty-mouthed sister, or maybe Joan Jett with considerably less attitude. Every song is a hookfilled manifesto that ruins its chance for mass appeal airplay without some serious re-work. Even the first single ("Blow Me One Last Kiss") had to get some substantial rerecording before it was ready for the radio. If you're adult enough to handle it, fine, but Mommy and Daddy might be disappointing if the kiddies get this version.

For the discerning pop ears, however, Pink still can't kick those pop-diva thrills. "Try" is a song of getting back up when life has you down, and the defiant "The Great Escape." The guests line up, like Lily Allen on the sarcastic "True Love" or Eminem on "Here Comes The Weekend." Best is the intimate duet with Nate Ruess of .Fun on "Just Give Me a Reason." Pink can hold her own with all the friends that came on board, but she's just as excitable on party tracks as "Slut Like You" or the deceptively perky cautionary tale "Walk Of Shame."

"The Truth About Love" is state of the art modern pop. Machine ready songwriting (on which Pink shares most of the credits) and sweet/sour disposition that reflects on modern relationships without getting too serious about it. Don't think too hard about it and you'll be rewarded. Over-think it and you'll miss the point; this is candyfloss with a sourball tucked in the middle. Let the sugar give you a buzz.



     

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Glee 2.0
3 Out Of 5 Stars

With most of the cast of Glee 'graduating' at the end of last season, it's up to a batch of newcomers to pick up the slack and help out old favorites. The new members seem to be cloning the old (Mallory is Rachel, Kitty is the new Quinn, etc), so it's a bit tough to make distinctions in the musical presentation. It helps that old hands Blaine, Artie, and yes, Rachel and Kurt are still here to add support. It's just not enough, though.

There are highlights, like the group sung version of Coldplay's "The Scientist," and Marley and Rachel's duet on "New York State of Mind." Talking David Bowie's was an adventurous choice (even more so was Sam and Britney doing "Celebrity Skin," which is not included here). Kitty and Marley do a nice job resurrecting Bonnie Tyler's "Holding Out For a Hero" (from "Footloose"). Minus points are given for "Gangnam Style," this years most annoying one hit wonder.

Missing are the songs from outside the pop spectrum. I'd have much rather had "Let's have a Kiki/Turkey Lurkey" here than a few of these songs, along with Kurt's version of "Being Alive" from the musical "Company." I miss the variety; I guess the "Glease" CD was supposed to satisfy that segment of the musical audience. Overall, "Glee: Season 4 Vol 1" is not a total dud, but the series seems close to jumping the shark.



     


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Dance With me Mika
3 Out Of 5 Stars

For his third album, Mika does an about face and lunges face first into dance pop. This is more a Pet Shop Boys departure than a George Michael, gilded electronically and laced with precision beats. His unique voice still stands head and shoulders above all the production and auto-tuning (hey he really didn't need this much of it, thanks), and the songs are still catchier than a tackle-box. Once again, Mika borrows heavily from the classic pop songbook; if you don't think of The Buggles during "Love You When I'm Drunk," you're missing the point.

But there's something missing, which the delightful "Lola" points out. When Mika isn't being dancified or vocoded half to death, he's a stunningly original artist. Great songs like the title track and "Make You Happy" are gossamered to the point where the beauty of what was so apparent on "Life In Cartoon Motion" and "The Boy Who Knew Too Much" is nearly buried. Mika is in a new phase of his career, and he still excels. Just be prepared that, if you're coming off those first two albums, "Origin Of Love" is a different animal entirely.



     


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Old News is Good News
3 Out Of 5 Stars

 
It took nine years for Huey Lewis and The News to move from "Plan B" to "Soulsville," and it's time to travel back in time. if you recall, this is The News second stroll down a full disc of memory lane. In 1994, the band issued "Four Chords and Several Years Ago," an attempt at tipping their collective hat to the band's R'n'B influences. This time they go a step further and head to the legendary Stax studios to get a little of that authentic Stax groove, horns and female singers intact. (Think Cris Isaak's trip to Sun Studios for "Beyond The Sun.")

For the most part, they pull it off by pulling at plenty of the obvious picks. Solomon Burke would have been an easy choice to pluck from, but the band goes for a more obscure single "Get You Off Of My Mind" (which was a number one R'n'B single, but barely cracked the top 40. It was easier to cover "Cry to Me," ala the Rolling Stones, or "Tonight's The Night." Same with Joe Tex's "I Want to Do Everything for You." Lewis has always been an erstwhile soul singer, even in his pop days, so the materiel suits him. In fact, the only blunder is covering "Respect Yourself," already done to death by the likes of Bruce Willis. It's like old friends together for a good night of jamming.

The only thing that bums me out is that Huey and The News have not issued a new CD for almost a decade of fresh material. Given that he hasn't done so since "Hard at Play" (1991) prior to "Plan B," it would be nice to see what kind of song-stash they've built up. C'mon Huey, we know you've got a good CD in you somewhere.


     


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Smoke and Mirrors
3 Out Of 5 Stars

The American breakout of Gotye is an interesting if slight work. The freaky breakthrough of "Somebody That I Used To Know" knocked top 40 world on a loop. Here was a song that didn't have auto-tune, manufactured beats, and you sure couldn't dance to it. (In fact, some radio stations took to adding drum tracks to try and force fit the song that was too popular to deny into the narrow confines of their station's sound.) The man had a voice that fell somewhere between Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins. By all accounts, "Making Mirrors" shouldn't be a hot number in the age of Justin Beiber and "Call Me Maybe."

Yet it was. "Making Mirrors" is now the unlikeliest hit album of the summer because of that. I just don't know how Gotye will be able to sustain his success. I keep thinking of The Dream Academy back in the 80's, when one unlikely but sublime single catapulted an album into hitdom, but doomed the followups. The songs here are not awful by any means, but the quirky, xylophone sampled "Somebody That I Used To Know" is the outstanding song among the crop. There are plenty of clever bits to be found, like the Kraftwerkian "State of The Art" while the Mowtown/Phil Collins ringer "I Feel Better" could make a decent radio tune.

I just can't find much beyond these songs to recommend the rest of the CD by. Gotye makes nice pleasing pop without the trappings of modern recording technology (minus the sample-happy construction), but he's no Kei$ha, you follow? However, the depth issue might limit his likelihood of sustaining a career, much less making a solid, better than C-grade CD.



     

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Oh How I Miss K-Tel
3 Out Of 5 Stars

I only own a few of these "Now That's What I Call Music" sets, and usually it has to have a song on it that I either refuse to buy an album for, or that there's a song you can't get anywhere else. The 43'rd disc in this series fits that bill on two counts. First, Carly Rae Jespen, who has one hit wonder written all over her, has "Call Me Maybe." The catchiest song of the summer, followed only by Goteye's "Someone That I Used To Know," is here. I doubt that I'd ever buy an album by her (or One Direction, here with "One Thing" and their by the numbers BoyBand TeenPop), so the appearance on a compilation is worth it.

The second is Maroon 5's "Payphone," which is catchy as all get out, but ruined by a useless Wiz Kalifia rap. On this set, the rap is gone as are the superfluous profanities. It's a rare case where the radio edit is better than the original, something that drives me crazy as an album buyer.

So what's left? There's the giddy punk-pop of Neon Trees' "Everybody Talks." The heard on a commercial "Midnight City" by M83. An obligatory country entry by the tolerable Luke Bryan, "Drunk On You." I also likes Ellie Goulding's "Lights" and (so shoot me) Jusitn Beiber's "BoyFriend." The rest is just poptunes state of the 10's, which means heavy on the synthed out beats (Usher), candy rap (Pitbull, with a rap from "Men In Black III") and stuff to do aerobics to. Your tastes, and therefore, results of satisfaction, will vary.


     


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Over Everything,
3 Out Of 5 Stars

The irony of titling their new album "Overexposed" must have been lost on Adam Levine and Maroon 5. The album is overproduced, over-compressed and over-just-about-everything. Like so many bands in the current pop zeitgeist, they decided that they needed to conform to current popular production memes, which means having a guest rapper-of-the-moment (Wiz Khalifa, adding bonus profanities to "Payphone"), auto-tune, writer/producers of the now (Max Martin, Ryan Tedder) and multiple other steps that rob the band of any of their previous individual qualities. Take Adam out of the equation, and this would be another generic, over-compressed/produced pop-album.

The saving grace is Adam, who's white-boy soul is on a par with Daryl Hall at this point. Given the material he has to work with, he milks every hook and croon he can. Good numbers like "Lucky Strike," "Lady Killer" and even the obscenity laced "Payphone" stick like rubber cement. I'll make a quick point to say that I'm not a prude, but for a band that seemingly prides itself on their pop craftsmanship, the swearing in "Payphone" and "Tickets" just seems more gratuitous than effective, like the band has to prove how hard they are. But when you're capable of making really good light funk that hits its groove like "Fortune Teller" and "Doin' Dirt," you don't need to prove you're anything but a great pop band.

Which is what, ultimately, Maroon 5 is. "Overexposed" hits all its marks seemingly without effort, with craftsmanship that most any other band would sell their bubblegum machines for. Adam's unique voice gives the band enough identity to cut through the generic sounding production here, and when they horn-pump Prince's slinky "Kiss" (a bonus track on the deluxe version), they demonstrate that they're above the cookie-cutter sound that plagues this album.



     

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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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Pure Pop for Moving People
3 Out Of 5 Stars

Eric Hutchinson is such a talented songwriter that I keep wondering why he doesn't get snapped up by the Jason Mraz crowd. Lilting melodies, great wordplay, more than a bit of smart-alecky tongue in cheek lyrics, but with a sense of warmth many singer-songwriters lack. In the 80's, he would have been gussied up, hitched to a Casio and produced by Nick Lowe. This is pure pop for now - circa 2012 - people. After all, you have to love a guy who sings about how cool he's not ("I'm Not Cool").

Eric as a writer often reminds me of the oft-underrated Jules Shear (but is also an immensely better singer). The best song here, "Watching You Watch Him," kept calling me back to Shear's "Whispering Your Name" as Eric deals with the girl he pines for as she follows the unattainable..."God only knows why I still wait around/Except I hate to see you cry" he moans. He's the Jonah Hill of pop.

"Moving Up Living Down" is limber, good-natured pop. Eric has the soul of a Daryl Hall and the funk-lite of Mraz. He is certainly a better songwrter than Mraz, and "Watching You" should be a smash like "Private Eyes" for its own infectious paranoia. I can also recommend "Talk Is Cheap" and the fun "Afterlife."

 

    

 

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Break Out those White Polyester Suits
4 Out Of 5 Stars

It's hard to not rate this double CD with a fifth star, as it contains some of the most sublimely perfect dance pop of the seventies. As it is, "Greatest" covers a mere five years of a career that went through four distinct phases, and this was basically phase three. Starting with Main Course and going to Spirits Having Flown, it misses out on their 80's comeback and the Beatlesque years in the 60's and early 70's.

But when you listen to these songs, they earmark a period of music. The landmark Saturday Night Fever album and the Bee Gees' three number one hits from that record breaking period are all here and have aged better than most of us who wore "Disco Sux" shirts back in the day would have ever predicted. The Miami-sound that producer Arif Mardin coaxed them into actually predates that album, with the number one "Jive Talking" and top ten "You Should Be Dancing'" being irresistible even before the white suits and gold chains.

Those white suits overshadow the brilliant vocals that the group had developed at this stage. Barry Gibb's falsetto had developed into an instrument unto itself, yet Robin and Maurice had their own leads along with extraordinary harmonizing abilities. "Children Of The World" probably best displays that interplay the brothers shared.

Originally that was the last track on the double album, but the remastered CD drops some bonus cuts. For me, the only real plus is the B-Side "Warm Ride," the rest are 12-inch remixes. Only the re-mix of "Staying Alive" on disc one is from the disco era, the others are new to this CD and superfluous. "He's A Liar" or the live Top 30 "Edge of The Universe" would have been a better pick. Maybe the upcoming 50th anniversary re-issues will have more for us. Still, "Greatest" is prime stuff.

Other Bee Gees collections:


    


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Deliciously Retro
4 Out Of 5 Stars

The Explorers Club and "Grand Hotel" are so behind the times that they've made a minor miracle in their album. It's like eating the old three level jello deserts from my childhood. There was a frothy foam on the top, a whipped creamy middle and the juicy, fruity jello bottom. The music on "Grand Hotel" is layered almost the same way. The top seems comprised of foamy Beach Boys and California harmonies, the middle a pastiche of Herb Alpert and Sergio Mendes, the juicy main portion a mixture of such iconic song masters as Jimmy Webb/Glen Campbell, The Association, a touch of Beatles, Mama's and Papa's, The Turtles, and so many other ingredients that you'll get lost in the many chambers. When you put a song called "Sweet Delights" on an album that shamelessly pays homage to The Tijuana brass, you know you're probably headed for a love/hate relationship...like seconds on your deserts.

It makes "Grand Hotel" idiosyncratic and a bit frustrating. To be able to record an album in this day and age that slavishly recreates this classic pop sound without being a punchline takes serious dedication and talent. Yet you wonder what lead singers Wally Reddington, Jason Brewer or Dave Ellis really sound like when not aping Brian Wilson, as brilliant as "Run Run Run" or "Any Little Way" sound. Or to uncover if the band's love of the sounds they've recreated are genuine or some kind of grand art project? Or, you may ask yourself, why over-analyze The Explorers Club? "Grand Hotel" is a breath of ocean breezes that'll give you good vibes...even if this is music you'll also think your mother should know.








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Beasty Besties
4 Out Of 5 Stars

Who would have thought the three snit-nosed juvenile delinquents that deployed their forced obnoxiousness onto the world in 1985's "Fight For Your Right To Party" would have ever made albums into a oeuvre of classics? "License to Ill" even sounded like a one-hit-wonder; silly frat boy posturing, misogyny, drunken loutishness from a trio that looked like nerd drop-outs trying to make AC/DC sound like Run/DMC. Boy, did they prove us wrong.

By "Paul's Boutique," they were already collaging samples in a way that would soon be de rigueur for most rap groups (even if the growth meant the "Ill" audience didn't catch on at first) and "Check Your Head" saw the trio turning into a band, picking their old instruments back up and hitting gold with "Sabotage." They'd finally managed to do what no-one else had; weld rock to rap without losing a shred of credibility on either side. It took almost another five years before the Red Hot Chili Peppers got it right on the opposite end with rock, and only Run/DMC could touch the Beasties for innovation.

You'll find that in the clever rhymes (my personal favorite is pairing 'my wok' with 'Mr Spock' on "Intergalactic") and tricky samples (Herbie Mann on "Sure Shot," The Sweet on "Hey Ladies"). In the interim, their voices and attitudes grew up (Adam Yauch became a leader in the "Free Tibet" movement) and they kept the albums coming. As a single disc, some will feel shorted, but "Solid Gold Hits" covers the turf from "Ill" to "To The 5 Boroughs," which is a pretty broad swath. As a casual collection, this and "Ill" would likely fill all your Beastly needs.






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