Todd Terje, It's Album Time

The whole reason I have this album is United Airlines when my wife and I were returning from Australia, got delayed landing in LAX and missed our flight to Toronto for a business conference. While we were jetlagged and grouchy in an overpriced room at the airport Hilton, waiting for the next flight at omg o'clock the next day, she put on Better Call Saul and in the midst of my sour mood was the gnarliest, funkiest caper music playing over Kim Wexler's morning movements. That was "Alfonso Muskedunder," one of several excellent singles from this DJ turned electronica producer's first album. Indeed, most of the tracks here are exactly that sophisticated with "Preben Goes To Acapulco"'s delicious slice of almost orchestral synths, the Jan Hammer-esque "Delorean Dynamite" and my personal favourite, the atmospherically pensive yet pulsating "Oh Joy" featuring sparkly arpeggios and a modern disco beat. And even though the tracklist spans several years and some previously released material it still mostly comes together as a coherent whole, even with a couple lower points such as the somewhat uninspired "Swedish Sauce," the recycled and slow to start "Inspector Norse," and the album's weakest (and only vocal) track, a limp cover of Robert Palmer's "Johnny and Mary" sung like a 50-pack-year smoking habit by Roxy Music's Bryan Ferry. Fortunately, those low points are as rare as his talent isn't and there's a lot to love with the breadth he crams into one disc. At last it's album time, and if this is his way of getting off the pot and putting out an LP I'll be certainly looking forward to the next one. By the way, we made the flight, too, in case you were wondering. (Content: no concerns.)

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Best of Brick

The most accessible means today of hearing this jazz-funk fusion band is probably this inexpensive compilation disc as many of their LPs are long out of print. All their big singles are here, notably "Dazz" (their term for disco-jazz, although the disco influence is mercifully reduced in favour of the funk), "Music Matic," "Dusic" and "All The Way," and pretty much everything's got a groove, but with their greatest commercial success coming very early in their career the tracklist almost completely dwells on the samey feel of those first few albums. Indeed, virtually nothing dates after 1980 despite the inclusion of some rather deserving non-singles and B-sides such as "Don't Ever Lose Your Love" and the irrepressible "Happy." This overreliance on early hits makes the disc an inherently poor survey of their work, but on the other hand in retrospect it's a much more approachable one as well. (Content: no concerns.)

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Tom Tom Club

Given the apparent strictures of Talking Heads' musical oeuvre, probably as much a result of personality as preference, several solo projects emerged including this perfectly adequate proto-grrrl band captained by Tina Weymouth and husband Chris Frantz. As proof, if it weren't for the people behind it, it probably wouldn't have stood out. There are some legitimate gems on this, particularly the wacky literate white girl monotone of "Wordy Rappinghood," the inexplicably entertaining "Genius Of Love" (which asks the singer that all-important question, "whatcha gonna do when you get out of jail?") and the boisterously francophile "L'Éléphant." On the other hand, however, both "Lorelei" and "As Above, So Below" are lyrically interesting but musically overstay their welcome, and the interminably stupid "Booming And Zooming"'s attempt at satire with its Kentucky Fried Sexist aviator likely set back military feminism by at least a decade. Overall this initial effort has its moments but is best described as an influential curiosity rather than a solid album in its own right. The first CD reissue adds their (rather good, admittedly) cover of "Under The Boardwalk" which replaced "Booming and Zooming" in overseas pressings, plus extended mixes of "Lorelei," "Wordy Rappinghood" and "Genius of Love." This first makes a overly long song even less tolerable, but the other two are excellent 12" mixes of the two best songs on the album. As a result, that's the version to look for; the most recent reissue has a slightly different version of "On, On, On, On..." and "Elephant," and lapses to shorter singles otherwise. (Content: no concerns.)

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David Bowie, ★ (Blackstar)

What album would you write knowing it would be your last? That, posthumously, you could rest in the grave, the recording done, your sensibilities preserved and your artistic vision unfettered? Every musician should hope God grants them a last word on their own terms, and David Bowie got one: no compromises, no concessions to the pop charts, an eccentric, eclectic self-elegy shipped under the noses of a public unaware he was even ill. And, two days after its release, we have this album yet we have not him. Eternity suffuses the unfiltered emotions in the lyrics, from a man saved from his own execution by another ("★") to Lazarus in heaven against us collective Divëses below ("Lazarus"), even as he reassures Sue — or maybe us — that the clinic called and the X-ray's fine ("Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime)"). Was he telling us all along he was "dying to[o]" ("Dollar Days")? Was he trying to? Every style he wanted he played: there's Nadsat and Polari ("Girl Loves Me"), earthy baroque ("'Tis A Pity She Was A Whore") and symphonic pop along with classic Bowie at the end with "Dollar Days" and the album's heartfelt closer "I Can't Give Everything Away" — a presumably deliberate irony as he gave us this very treasure to remember him by, its brilliance and unyielding intransigence even extending to the unreadable black on black of the liner notes. Everything about this masterpiece is sumptuous and unsullied, daring you to take him as he was and rewarding you with its sophistication when you do. Even a jerk music critic like me can't pierce the grave with my sharp wit nor effusive praise, but for an album as incredible as this one, let this summary be my attempt to try. (Content: sexual themes in "'Tis A Pity She Was A Whore," F-bombs in "Girl Loves Me," mild language in "Lazarus" and "Dollar Days.")

★★★★★

Sixpence None The Richer

This is not actually their début but one might accurately call it their crossing-over. Originating as a slight act in the Christian alternative scene, this outwardly secular third album expands their oeuvre and enlivens their style without compromising their perspective. While This Beautiful Mess was somewhat moody and overly prone to navel-gazing, Matt Slocum's songwriting has both matured and lightened to leaven the pensiveness with better beats and a little pop yet preserve the signature lyrical heft so sweetly delivered by lead Leigh Nash. Whether a meditation on emotion's fragility ("I Won't Stay Long") or just a gentle plea for romantic affirmation ("Can't Catch You"), her breathy nightingale vocals serve as the band's soul while the richer production by Steve Taylor yields a stronger body. The spiritual themes have not been abandoned ("Anything," "Moving On"), yet they ground the album without smothering it just as much as the sugary moments like "Kiss Me" don't trivialize it. It's not perfect — the Pablo Neruda-derived "Puedo Escribir" is fatally pretentious, one jarring note in a great symphony — but the fact they stay true to themselves throughout only makes this earnest, appealing album more delightful. The reissue adds "There She Goes," another airy single in the vein of "Kiss Me" and no less charming. (Content: no concerns.)

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Pearl Jam, Vitalogy

Bands that believe their own hype believe they can play what they want and this makes for interesting musical studies: sometimes you get the Beatles, and sometimes you get this. Now, for a band to have sufficient hype they have to be sufficiently good, and therefore rarely are such high-on-hype albums bad. Vitalogy generally exemplifies this principle but it's largely because of the songs that aren't so strange; the alternative ballads like "Better Man" and "Nothingman" play the best because they're not so off the wall, and there's some good bluesy rock in "Whipping," "Corduroy" and (in spite of the cheesily transparent metaphor) "Spin The Black Circle." However, their self-granted libertinitude in the studio doesn't prevent a couple by the numbers tracks ("Not For You") yet aides and abets the creation of various other musical deformities ("Pry, To" plus the sped-up musings of the mentally ill in "Hey Foxymophandlemama, That's Me" and the abusive accordions and flyswatters (!) of "Bugs"). It also birthed the impressive yet baffling deluxe nonsense of the packaging, the CD in a tightfitting sleeve and the booklet a simultaneous satire and shrine of a billion early medical condemnations of self-abuse. That's a good description of this album: they clearly enjoyed themselves while doing it, but it's not something all of us would like to observe for 55 minutes. The reissue adds three uninteresting alternate takes. (Content: adult themes and some mild-moderate language.)

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