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Metallica, “Death Magnetic”Metallica can’t win for losing. Many of the band’s fans still consider the gajillion-selling “Black Album” an unforgiven sellout that blazed the trail for years of Bob Seger covers and that Napster-based unpleasantness. Those fans are targeted squarely by “Death Magnetic,” the long-threatened One That Sounds Like ’80s Metallica Again. The bountiful 80 minutes are packed with titanic multipart epics that feature scary-looking song titles. They’re all marked by Lars Ulrich’s all-but-perfected stomp and the eyebrow-scorching virtuosity of James Hetfield, who roars about anger and self-flagellation, and Kirk Hammett, who conducts proton-collision experiments on tracks like “That Was Just Your Life” and the album’s best, “Broken, Beat & Scarred.” But virtuosity can be impressive without being particularly enjoyable, and it’s hard to shake the feeling that for all the potent-as-ever prowess here, “Death Magnetic” is more a stamp of authenticity than a complete record.
Ne-Yo, “Year of the Gentleman”Earlier this year, Ne-Yo told Billboard he was bored by the R&B sound of his previous albums and wanted to take a different direction on “Year of the Gentleman.” But it seems he still has a heavy — yet welcome — case of the (rhythm and) blues on the finished product. He masochistically instructs a partner to fib about her cheating ways on “Lie to Me,” while dismissing another love interest on the guitar-heavy “Back to What You Know.” The production is less dawdling elsewhere, as on “So You Can Cry,” where he offers aid to a heartbroken friend, and the pulsating “Single,” where he suggests he become a female clubgoer’s temporary boyfriend. And the pure house single “Closer” has emerged as a durable hit.
Pussycat Dolls, “Doll Domination”Pussycat Doll lead singer Nicole Scherzinger couldn’t muster the success she’d hoped for when she attempted to launch her solo career last year, but PCD’s sophomore set has all the elements (self-assuring themes, sultry lyrics and lots of skin-tight latex) to mimic the victory of its 2005 debut, “PCD.” But this time, the Dolls’ bark is as big as their bite. Scherzinger lays down the law to a deadbeat boyfriend on the Missy Elliott-assisted “Whatcha Think About That,” while threatening to “hurt” and “kick” another on “In Person.” And on “Happily Never After,” she narrates the tale of a woman who bolts a damaging relationship. For more visceral thrills, try the come-hither-in-the-club “Bottle Pop” featuring Snoop Dogg and the similarly themed “Out of This Club.”
Lindsay Buckingham, “Gift of Screws”Lindsey Buckingham once sang about “Never Going Back Again,” but he’s backtracked — sort of — on his fifth solo album. “Gift of Screws” picks up where the rock auteur left off in the early days of this decade, before he was lured back into the Fleetwood Mac fold for 2003’s “Say You Will.” Mac minions will find this electric-flavored, band-sounding album pleasing, but there’s also the avant-garde ambience that’s Buckingham’s stock in trade. So while something like “The Right Place to Fade” knocks off Fleetwood Mac’s “Second Hand News” and the title cut (one of three recorded with the Mick Fleetwood/John McVie rhythm section) is charging garage rock, “Great Day” sports the stark and primitive sonics of “Tusk” and Buckingham’s early solo albums.
Kings of Leon, “Only By the Night”Record No. 4 finds Tennessee’s most famous rock ’n’ roll Pentecostals tamping down the hillbilly stomp in favor of more measured, midtempo numbers that simmer more than scorch. “Only by the Night” requires some patience; it sounds a little like one 43-minute medium-simmer track on first listen, but on subsequent ones begins to reveal its charms, like the melancholy howl of first single “Sex on Fire,” the late-night boil on “Revelry” and the meaty rocker “Notion.” There are a few head-scratchers, chief among them the quasi-ballad “Use Somebody,” which indicates that someone has been absorbing some serious Coldplay, and a sense of bruising earnestness has replaced the band’s old red-state rock. But singer Caleb Followill has never been in better command of his beyond-his-years howl, and he’s got monster hooks and melodies yet in his bottle of tricks.
Darius Rucker, “Learn to Live”If there were any doubts about how Darius Rucker would fare in the country world, the Hootie & the Blowfish frontman puts them solidly to rest on his genre debut. A devotee of ’80s boundary-stretching country acts Dwight Yoakam, New Grass Revival and Foster & Lloyd, Rucker taps into their progressive spirit and brings it forward 20 years with the help of Brad Paisley producer Frank Rogers. Honky-tonk shuffle “All I Want” conjures the great turn-of-phrase country is known for (“All I want you to leave me is alone”), while the more modern, wistful first single, “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It,” taps into emotions that hit close to home for many. Elsewhere, “I Hope They Get to Me in Time” is a stone-cold country thriller that finds the singer trapped in a car wreck and reviewing his life.
Toninho Horta, “To Jobim With Love”Toninho Horta’s tribute to Antonio Carlos Jobim is, at best, a mixed blessing. The 13 songs on the disc oscillate between such ear-catching covers as “Agua de Beber” and “Desafinado” and Horta originals that are not appealing. Horta’s persistent use of choral arrangements throughout the album has the effect of imposing an ornamental feel on Jobim tunes that dulls their edge. And then there’s Horta’s inexplicable, 40-second version of “The Girl From Ipanema,” a futile reference to a monumental tune. Horta’s evident intent to pay tribute to Jobim is admirable, but this project, unlike Jobim’s records, does not inspire repeated listening.
Raphael Saadiq, “The Way I See It”On his third solo outing, songwriter/producer Raphael Saadiq takes the listener on a smooth carpet ride that seamlessly weaves the feel-good essence of soul music’s storied roots: Motown, Stax, Philly and Chi-Town. Lead single “Love That Girl” is a swing tune that calls to mind the Temptations’ signature brand of suave grooves, as does opener “Sure Hope You Mean It.” Saadiq then taps into a Curtis Mayfield vibe, a la the Impressions’ 1968 hit “We’re a Winner,” on “Keep Marching.” “Oh Girl” (not the Chi-Lites’ 1972 hit) evokes the ballad-crooning harmonies of the Delfonics and Stylistics. But it’s on the generation-bridging, Motown-flavored “Never Give You Up” that Saadiq brings it all home as he joins soulful forces with old school (Stevie Wonder) and new school (Baltimore newcomer C.J. Hilton).
Pablo Meneguzzi, “Musica”After releasing four albums in his native Italy, singer-songwriter Pablo Meneguzzi takes a stab at Spanish with “Musica,” which features many of his Italian hits translated into Spanish. Language notwithstanding, this is Italian pop through and through in its penchant for fine melody and dramatic lines. While Meneguzzi is fond of lush arrangements and big orchestration, he marries classic and contemporary, blending strings with acoustic guitars, beats and keyboards with layered choruses. There are uptempo dance tracks here, but Meneguzzi’s forte is modern, breathtaking romance that manages never to descend into the obvious or tacky.