Dig These Discs :: Cher, Elton John, Kings Of Leon, The Sadies, Icona Pop
Gay rock royalty Sir Elton John releases a collection of intense piano tunes, and mega super star Cher releases her 26th studio album! Swedish duo Icona Pop drops another collection of hits, Kings of Leon blend drama, their trademark trilling guitar and fixed snares, and Toronto band The Sadies serve up a mixed bag of tricks and treats.
"The Diving Board" (Elton John)
What’s too good for gay rock royalty? Nothing, says Sir Elton John, who at 66 years old has just released his long-awaited and long-delayed 31st album, produced by T-Bone Burnett. In the past five decades, John has gone from an over-the-top rocker with gaudy clothes and funky sunglasses to one of the best-selling artists in the world -- who still sports gaudy clothes and funky sunglasses. He has sold more than 250 albums, making him one of the best-selling music artists in the world. And he’s rewritten his single, "Candle in the Wind" to serve several different purposes. But with this new collection of 15 songs, John focuses on his piano playing, laying it out like he doesn’t care. And why should he? The Queen of England has knighted him, he’s got a good-looking husband and a cute baby and keeps his karma good via his many AIDS charities, including The Elton John AIDS Foundation. "I hung out with the old folks in the hopes that I’d get wise/ I was trying to bridge the gap between the great divide," he sings in the opening track, "Oceans Away." These carefully metered piano songs are right within John’s comfort zone -- confessional stories backed by tinkling ivories, like the sad, "Oscar Wilde Gets Out," which shares a melody with "All The Girls Love Alice." The album really seizes upon his early sound, simpler and easy to love. He reminisces over old times, when he could "eat a T-bone steak, watch a picture show for a dollar and a half" in "A Town Called Jubilee." His intro for "The Ballad of Blind Tom" sounds like an old Joni Mitchell cut, and his piano intros for "My Quicksand" and "The New Fever Waltz" come straight from the opera house. Is he thinking of his son or his lover when he sings, "I took my life on hold and took you home/ good sense shut down I placed you on a throne"? He adds rhythm and blues to his piano in the excellent song, "Can’t Stay Alone Tonight," and gets soulful in "Home Again," singing, "I’m counting on a memory to get me outta here, I’m waiting for the fog around this spooky little town to clear." The best in the bunch are "Take This Dirty Water," with its gospel choir background vocals, and "Mexican Vacation (Kids in the Candlelight)," a swinging blues track with the lyrics, "I carried you in my arms through the hotel to our room/ the night was foiled with music, those old exotic tunes." He finishes up with "Dream," a piano interlude, and his title track, "The Diving Board," sinking, "Sink or swim, I can’t recall who said that to me/ when I was 16 and full of the world and its noise/ but you beat the drum." This new album is far more ambitious than a man as accomplished as John has any business making.
"Closer to the Truth" (Cher)
Super amazing megastar singer/actress Cher releases her 26th studio solo album this month, her first since "Living Proof" 12 years ago. It has been six decades since Cher took to the stage, and this new album shows us that she just keeps getting better. She’s teamed up with Timbaland and Pink as songwriters and singers, plus the Scissor Sisters’ Jake Shears for an album that is going to make the gay blogosphere absolutely explode! This collection of 14 hits starts out with her single "Woman’s World," which debuted this June with a performance at NYC Pride, and rocketed to No. 1 on the Billboard dance chart. "Lose myself in the beat of the drum, try to forget what you’ve done, but this is a battle that you haven’t won," she sings defiantly, saying, "I’m strong enough to rise above." The album is divided fairly evenly: the first half is all dance-floor anthems, while the second half is more mid-tempo songs and slower numbers. "Take It Like A Man" is a fabulously auto-tuned track about fighting for love, the tone of which is reminiscent of "Just Like Jesse James." "Dressed to Kill" is also a dance floor anthem, and "Red" veers into dubstep effects. Cher hits high notes in "My Love," and sings her dreams out in "Lovers Forever," commanding, "Surrender to me now!" She also ramps it up in the bonus track, "I Don’t Have to Sleep to Dream." The banjo harmony line in "I Walk Alone" is interesting and endearing.
Pink wrote "Lie to Me" and "I Walk Alone." Cher sings passionately in "Sirens," and in "Favorite Scars," defiantly sings, "Climb in, risk it all/ if you ain’t living you’re surviving, tell me why you dip your toes when you could dive in." She croons sweet and slow in "I Hope You Find It," her second single, which is courtesy of America’s current bad girl, Miley Cyrus. Cher also tucks in a treat -- the original version of "You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me" from the "Burlesque" soundtrack. She serves up the bonus track "Pride," which lays down a toe-tapping bass line and a grooving rhythm that makes it hard not to love. You might have been under the mistaken presumption that Cher had hung up her feathered headdress and retired from singing. Well, snap out of it!
"This Is Icona Pop" (Icona Pop)
This Swedish girl duo has done very well for themselves since relocating to Brooklyn, and appropriating the wild sound of the early ’80s punk scene. Their hit single, "I Love It," is a mainstay on the HBO series "Girls," the video game "Need for Speed: Most Wanted" and at nightclubs across the U.S. All of their concerts are sold out, from Boston to Williamsburg, Brooklyn -- not bad for an electro house/ indie pop duo that only got together in 2009. Since that time, Stockholm’s Caroline Hjelt and Aino Jawo have had the ability to seize upon the cultural zeitgeist and ride it for all it’s worth. Now, with their new collection of 11 songs, they hope to continue the ride. They kick off their new album with "I Love It," featuring Charli XCX, aka 21-year-old Charlotte Aitchison. They dropped their first single, "Girlfriend" this summer, with a bouncy bass track and lots to say about female bonding. They followed it up with "All Night," a great electro/dubstep track with the lyrics, "we got the keys to open paradise, now let’s go walking hand in hand come on baby we can hit the lights..." They mix electro with pop in the pro-youth anthem "We Got the World," singing, "They say we’re a freak when we’re having fun, say we must be high when we’re spreading love, but we’re just living life and we never stop, we got the world." "Ready for the Weekend" opens with Gothic chants, and then segues quickly to a high-pitched remix before settling on an anthemic tone. "Got a horseshoe in my pocket and my hands are full of gold/ my hearts racing like a rocket wind it up and watch it go," they sing in "In the Stars," a homecoming song with a catchy refrain. "On a Roll" is basically a redux of "I Love It," a not-bad but not-so-original song with the funny aside, "you go and pee; your drink is so safe with me." They try their hand at a ballad in "Just Another Night," and pull it off pretty well. A mounting tension is built by the guitar opening in "Hold On," and "Light Me Up" is a passable ditty. They close the album with "Then We Kiss," the rapid-fire song that has a touch of surf rock to it. These Swiss misses are just what we needed.
(Record Company TEN/ Big Beat Records)
"Mechanical Bull" (Kings of Leon)
Brothers Caleb, Jared and Nathan Followill and their cousin Matthew Followill, aka Kings of Leon, have just dropped their sixth studio album, "Mechanical Bull," and critics are already jumping over the 180 that these boys have made from some shaky performances over the past few years. Nathan Followill told Billboard.com that the album was their "unofficial greatest hits," for the way it blends the best of their decade of music. This Grammy-winning outfit began as a troupe of gospel singers, until their dad remarried and discovered rock and roll. Their Nashville roots blended in to create an upbeat Southern rock and blues sound, embodied in their 2008 mega-hit "Sex on Fire." Angelo Petraglia produced the album, which was recorded at the band’s studio Neon Leon in Nashville. Their trademark trilling guitar over fixed snares intro their first single, "Supersoaker," and electric guitar peppers "Rock City," with the lyrics, "I’ve been several miles and plenty more and found myself face first on the floor searching for something, and never finding something, and I don’t know where I belong, just trying to find myself back home." They rock hard in "Don’t Matter," and slow things down for the rhythmic "Beautiful War" and "Wait for Me." In "Temple," the closest to pop music they get, they sing, "you rub me the right way, with childlike persuasion." Funky R&B with a snagging bass line is the stuff of "Family Tree," with the lyrics, "I know you hate me so but I ain’t gonna go I’m staying here alright/I am your family tree, I know your a to z. In "Walk a Mile," the repeating chorus of "I walked a mile in your shoes, and now I’m a while away," lends to the rustic country feel. "Tonight" is a sentimental rocker, and "Coming Back Again" is imbued with the type of deep resounding drama that Kings of Leon does best. They cap things off with "On the Chin," the wistful but stoic emo rock tune. "Mechanical Bull" is a rock-solid release, with no surprises and no apologies needed.
"Internal Sounds" (The Sadies)
The Sadies’ Dallas Good, Travis Good, Sean Dean and Mike Belitsky drop their 16th studio album this month. Formed in Toronto in 1994, the band has enjoyed a modest but steady success. Their lead single, "The First 5 Minutes," kicks off with a bang, and goes on to mirror the ideal rock song, circa 1969, with electric guitar over lyrics, "Cross your heart and hope to die." This segues into a second part, which reminds one of a darker version of Strawberry Alarm Clock’s "Incense and Peppermint." Recorded in Toronto, the album was produced by Dallas Good and mixed by Peter J. Moore. "There was a conscious effort to deliver a finished product that wouldn’t suffer from a deadline or budget," said Good. "We recorded this record over a span of a year, in session for 20-plus days. By the end, we’d spent every dime we had and used up every favor. There is usually a sense of immediacy to our records, maybe because we make a lot of them. I didn’t want that this time." "Internal Sounds" features 11 tracks, some of which can be widely divergent. After the head-banging opening, the second track "So Much Blood" is an indie-country puzzle. It’s followed by "The Very Beginning," which sounds like a jam band mélange. "Will you curse us and make the daylight darker than the moon?" they ask in "Starting All Over Again." Time is a player in this album, as the songs act as a call and response to each other. "The Very Ending" pairs with "Starting," as "Another Tomorrow Again" pairs with "Another Yesterday Again." These tunes seem to move from ambient soundscapes to gritty, CCR-inspired rockabilly tunes. "The Lesser Key" veers sharply to the melancholy while "STORY 19" sounds like an ambient clip out of a cryptic stoner tune from the Doors, with the lyrics, "I’m not afraid of all the words you say, because the words will disappear... I’m so frightened by your tears. I’ve got no love left inside me, I’ve got no love left to spend/ this book has reached its final chapter, but I just can’t write the end." They cap it off with "We Are Circling," a tribal tune that sounds exactly like the chant at the opening circle of a womyn’s gathering. If you like an eclectic blend of music, The Sadies is for you. The band kicked off a tour of the East Coast and Canada this month, moving from New York, through Canada to Portland. Catch a show and find out what they’re all about.
(Yep Roc Records)