Coldplay, “Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends”They’ve got the commercial clout, but now they want the cred. On their fourth album, the members of Coldplay refract their gazillion-selling pop/rock through a more nuanced lens, drafting producers Brian Eno and Markus Dravs to help them craft more diverse, experimental music. Radiohead they ain’t; “42” sounds like three different songs awkwardly stitched together in ProTools, and often the layers of production seem to come at the expense of memorable melodies. Two of the best songs are instrumentals: opener “Life in Technicolor” is a propulsive heart-melter that deftly straddles the acoustic/electro divide, and the effects-drenched “Chinese Sleep Chant” finds Coldplay discovering its inner My Bloody Valentine. The rest is closer to the Coldplay we know: a competent blend of heavily orchestrated redemption songs, swirly arena rock and life-stinks-without-you ballads likely to resonate despite the new bells and whistles.
Lil Wayne, “The Carter III”He’s the self-proclaimed “best rapper alive,” has made more than 40 guest appearances since 1999 and has been the most hyped hip-hop artist in recent time. But with help from A-list guest stars (T-Pain, Robin Thicke) and producers (Kanye West, Swizz Beatz), Lil Wayne backs up the boasts on the oft-delayed “Tha Carter III.” In case you were on the fence, he reminds how “ill” his skills are on “A Milli,” and he drafts fellow Carter Jay-Z to dismiss the haters atop piano and horns on “Mr. Carter.” And while tracks like the played-out-themed “Got Money” and the elementary-sounding “La La” fall short of the mark, others, like the “E.T.”-inspired “Phone Home” and “Dr. Carter,” on which Wayne attempts to resuscitate hip-hop, further secure his spot in said genre’s pantheon.
Kate Perry, “One of the Boys”She name-checks Gwen Stefani in her press materials, and the title track here covers similar thematic territory as No Doubt’s “Just a Girl.” But Katy Perry’s true foremother is Alanis Morissette. Not since “Jagged Little Pill” has a debut album been so packed with potential hits. The 23-year-old singer-songwriter updates Morissette’s grunge-era angst with an energetic, more timeless teen-poppiness, still leveraging it with lines like “You PMS like a bitch/I would know.” The 12 tracks are split between smart-chick radio pop, sassy novelty tracks for that “She said what?” effect and big, swaying ballads that show Perry’s exciting mastery of melody.
“In the Heights,” Original Broadway cast performanceThe last thing Broadway needs is yet another revival of “Gypsy” or “Grease.” So how refreshing that “In the Heights,” nominated for 13 Tony Awards, has potential to make the Great White Way appealing to someone besides tourists. Unlike “Rent,” “Heights” isn’t begging sympathy for slacker kids; instead, it’s a vibrant cultural snapshot about a close-knit Latino community at the top of Manhattan. The double-CD soundtrack contains 23 songs written by Puerto Rican show lead Lin-Manuel Miranda, who conceived the story as a one-act in 2000 at Wesleyan University. Supporting cast members are first-rate, and while the soundtrack is more memento than stand-alone collection, it’s an exemplary, authentic spectacle of salsa, mambo and rap.
Judas Priest, “Nostradamus”The English heavy-metal act’s second album since its reunion with frontman Rob Halford is also its first concept set: a two-disc retelling of the life of Nostradamus, the 16th-century French prognosticator. If that sounds like a thrilling way to spend an hour and 40 minutes, you’ll probably love the music here, which reflects the album’s narrative ambition with a bigger, more flowery sound than on Halford’s 2005 comeback disc, Priest’s “Angel of Retribution.” If, however, that description causes your eyelids to droop, “Nostradamus” isn’t likely to surprise you — this is softcore for the hardcore.
Various Artists, “Camp Rock”As the “High School Musical” troupe troops to the big screen, Disney brings forth its next potential franchise concept — “Camp Rock,” a summer sojourn to a place where “you can feel the beat running through your feet,” as the cast tells us in the opening number, “We Rock.” This is ostensibly a vehicle for the fast-rising Jonas Brothers, but 15-year-old Miley Cyrus-like newcomer Demi Lovato is in the breakout seat as the aspiring Mitchie Torres, daughter of the camp cook. Neither Joe Jonas nor Lovato dominate the soundtrack, however, though they each have solo showcases as well as a Big Moment duet. The Jonas Brothers get to rock out on “Play My Music,” while the rest of the album is a contemporary pop smorgasbord featuring techy dance tracks, Avril-style chick rock, a touch of hip-hop and “deep” self-affirmations.
Anthony David, “Acey Deucy”This Atlanta-based singer-songwriter makes his major-label debut on India.Arie’s Soulbird Music imprint, comprising tracks from his two critically acclaimed independent releases, “Three Chords & the Truth” and “Red Clay Chronicles.” With blues as his base and guitar as his musical mate, David cultivates an engaging, mellow sound reminiscent of the fertile ’70s — but with a contemporary urban patina. His heartfelt honesty on such songs as “Cheatin’ Man,” “Cold Turkey” and “Red Clay Chronicles” evoke the rhythmic storytelling talent of Johnny “Guitar” Watson, Gil Scott-Heron and Bill Withers. Meanwhile, his husky voice paired with India.Arie (on the brand-new “Words”) and Millie Jackson’s daughter Keisha recall the magical pairings of Donny Hathaway/Roberta Flack and Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrell.
Richie McDonald, “I Turn to You”As frontman for Lonestar, Richie McDonald’s distinctive voice drove such country and adult contemporary hits as “Amazed” and “I’m Already There.” He exited the group in 2007 to pursue a solo career and fulfills a longtime goal with the release of his first inspirational project. Most country artists who’ve tapped the Christian market have recorded familiar hymns and gospel standards, but McDonald delivers a collection of new songs that Christian audiences should eagerly embrace.