Sarah McLachlin’s long-anticipated new album, the latest from Wyclef Jean, Ryan Adams and Bon Jovi are among the new releases being reviewed this week.
“Afterglow,” Sarah McLachlan
Why, Sarah, why? You have a beautiful voice, a way with a melody. So why is this album just so, well, boring?
It’s been six years since McLachlan, she of the soaring vocals and the Lilith Fair-organizing, released a studio album. “Afterglow,” her latest, wasn’t worth the wait.
There’s no denying what a lovely, clear voice she has, but one wishes McLachlan had used it on songs with better lyrics and heart-catching music. Instead, it’s a bland, 10-song collection that is nowhere near her best work.
She covers familiar ground, the emotional morass of difficult relationships. But songs such as “Stupid” and “Drifting” just don’t get under the listener’s skin the way her best efforts can. And “Push,” the lyrics of which seem to celebrate someone she can depend on, is just tepid.
In “World on Fire,” she turns her attention outward, but not to any great effect. She promises to “bring to the table, all that I am able.” There’s a compelling lyric.
It’s a sad state of affairs when listening to a new album makes you want to run back to the older ones so you can forget what you’ve just heard (Arista).
— Deepti Hajela
“The Preacher's Son,” Wyclef Jean
An undeniably talented, all-around musician, Wyclef Jean has crafted hits for acts ranging from Whitney Houston to Santana. He’s got an ear for impossibly catchy melodies and a knack for blending diverse genres.
But the former Fugees member has struggled to define himself as a solo artist, mashing his eclectic tastes into songs that often end up as, well, mush.
On “The Preacher’s Son,” Jean’s fourth album, the problems continue. In searching for a middle ground between, say, dancehall reggae and an R&B love song, Jean finds “I Am Your Doctor” — a wretched mid-tempo tune that includes the line: “Here’s the prescription, girl: two teaspoons of my friendship, a full cup of my love.”
Such weak lyrics are sometimes rescued by skillful arrangements and layered grooves. Attractive melodies lift “Take Me as I Am” and “Man With a Guitar.” Partygoers may appreciate collaborations with Redman on “Baby Daddy” and Santana on “Me and My Guitar (3 Nights in Rio).”
But most of the 15 songs are disturbingly average. “Celebrate” is uninspired, despite an appearance from Patti LaBelle; the Bob Marley-styled “Who Gave the Order” is thoughtful but bland; and an ode to the hip-hop “Industry” is a reference-heavy throwaway track.
Hope for more next time from Jean — a truly great musician without the solo album to prove it. (J Records)
— Ryan Pearson
“Rock 'N' Roll,” Ryan Adams
“Let me sing a song for you, that’s never been sung before,” Ryan Adams bawls in the opening track of his latest album.
It’s almost an ironic start to a record so dense with classic rock ’n’ roll. On the other hand, the phrase couldn’t be more apt since Adams’ fourth release cranks out the kind of great power-chord-and-feedback rock that music fans haven’t heard in too long.
“Rock N Roll” is nearly genius in its simplicity — 14 tracks designed to be played loudly from jukeboxes in grungy bars; and it secures the singer-songwriter’s place as the slacker’s Bruce Springsteen.
From the blues riffing on “Shallow” to the rollicking “1974,” the album never loses its diesel-fueled drive.
Adams’ latest songs are far less introspective than many of his previous works, but that doesn’t mean that he’s lost the ability to turn a meaningful, or humorous, phrase. And when he sings “Note to self: don’t change for anyone/ Don’t change, just lie” on “Note to Self: Don’t Die,” you can almost hear the smirk wrinkle his face (and that of the song’s co-writer and backup vocalist, actress Parker Posey).
The most intense track has to be “The Drug’s Not Working,” a rough-and-tumble ode to two of Adams’ (and rock ’n’ roll’s) favorite topics — drugs and girls. The song begins with a dirty, simmering guitar riff, builds to a sweaty crescendo and ends in an echoing keyboard-and-vocal lament to coming down that mildly evokes the Doors, but is distinctly Adams.
Fans of Adams’ earlier folk- and country-influenced music may be sad to know that there isn’t a harmonica or banjo in sight on the record, but “Rock N Roll” is just that, and it’s all right (Lost Highway).
— Angela Watercutter
“Skull Ring,” Iggy Pop
Iggy Pop’s latest album, “Skull Ring,” is an animated triumph with all-star guests from his punk rock past and present. Pop’s reunion with Stooges bandmates, guitarist Ron Asheton and drummer Scott “Rock Action” Asheton, results in the rollicking “Little Electric Chair” (with handclaps!) and a cruising “Peter Gunn”-theme type title track.
Hilariously titillating is Pop’s alignment with audacious Berlin-based Canadian sex-rapper Peaches as they remake her shock-rock anthem “Rock Show.” Taylor Savvy and Chilly Gonzales perform as Feedom on “Motor Inn,” a trashy rocker.
Pop and Green Day gallop together in “The Passenger.” The Dookies also help Pop on a most melodic “Supermarket,” which sounds like Eddie Cochran and the Clash. Pop’s addition to Sum 41 equals a radio-ready chorus in “Little Know it All.”
Rounding out raging tracks with the Trolls, Pop caps “Skull Ring” with the bone-weary acoustic country blues of “Til Wrong Feels Right.” (Virgin)
— J.W. Lim
“This Left Feels Right,” Bon Jovi
Give Bon Jovi points for trying. Most greatest hits albums are a pure rip-off, packaging songs most fans already have onto one disc, with maybe a token rejected demo thrown in.
On “This Left Feels Right,” the boys from Jersey rerecorded some of their biggest hits, stripping them down and taking them in often radically different directions, most involving acoustic guitars and keyboards. So while you’ll still get “You Give Love a Bad Name,” “Livin’ on a Prayer” and others, the versions on this album bear little resemblance to the tracks that have dominated radio for two decades.
And that’s the problem here. The original versions of these tracks were so good, they left little room for improvement. The one song that benefits from a new treatment is “Wanted Dead or Alive,” which gets a backbeat and some well-placed, totally unexpected power chords to spice up what had been a plodding cowboy ode. Much worse are the acoustic treatments given “Bad Medicine” and “You Give Love a Bad Name,” in which Jon Bon Jovi tries to evoke a smoky jazz-club vibe. Picture the Mona Lisa in a tube top and big Jersey hair. Interesting? Sure. Appealing? No. (Island/Def Jam)
— Wayne Parry