Dig These Discs :: Sarah McLachlan, Natalie Merchant, Lykke Li, Lily Allen, Chromeo
Sarah McLachlin is back with her first new album in four years, and it sizzles! Swedish singer Lykke Li impresses with her third album of pop songs, and England’s Lily Allen looks to be the UK’s Katy Perry with her lineup of prefab radio hits. Natalie Merchant scores big with her first album of new songs in 13 years, and Chromeo releases "White Women," an album with more funk than you may be able to handle. May’s Dig These Discs is all about the ladies!
"Shine On" (Sarah McLachlan)
Listen up, young ones! Sarah McLachlan is more than just that woman whose sad songs make you cry during those awful animal abuse commercials. Back in the day, McLachlan was a one-woman Lilith Fair, the truth-teller for a generation of beleaguered women. Now, she drops "Shine On," her first full-length album in four years. "The album is about moving through the second half of my life in a more mindful and meaningful way, recognizing that every day, every moment is precious and though we all have our issues and problems, our damages, we all have the ability to continue to learn, grow from our experiences, thrive and shine on," said McLachlan. And it’s no mystery why this wily Canadian has sold 40 million albums and snagged three Grammy Awards.
She is seriously talented, and from the first track, "In Your Shoes," you’ll be forced to admit that age has only mellowed McLachlan. Her voice is stellar in light poppy ballads like this, as well as darker stuff like her rocking "Flesh and Blood," in which she sings, "Desire is no cautious creature, insatiable like raging fire/the heat is rising all around the senses so alive." The acoustic guitar in "Monsters" is compelling, and the piano in "Surrender and Certainty" is melancholy and at the same time hopeful. A similar vibe runs through "Song For My Father." McLachlan’s vocals in "Broken Heart" prove that she still has the soprano range that can literally jerk tears from your eyes. She gets a little funky in "Turn The Lights Down Low," promising, "when the world comes crashing down inside your head, I’ll be right here for you." And she goes back to her old sound in "Brink of Destruction." She sings of winds of changes through her auburn hair in "Beautiful Girl" and breaks out the ukulele for "The Sound That Love Makes." It may have taken her a while to crank it out, but "Shine On" is one album you’re sure to take a shine to.
"Natalie Merchant" (Natalie Merchant)
She is a few thousand maniacs down, but singer Natalie Merchant is back with her first collection of original songs in 13 years. Merchant rocked the ’90s with her introspective, emotional songs, and she’s back with more of the same in this, her sixth solo collection, which she says are "informed by experience and keen observation." Merchant writes about love gained and lost, regret, denial, surrender, greed, defeat and occasional triumph, backed by a fine balance of electric and acoustic. She first began singing with the 10,000 Maniacs when she was just 19, and her work with the alt-rock band elevated her into a legend. Many couldn’t understand when she left showbiz to get an education and have a family. She made a real life for herself in the Hudson Valley arts scene, becoming involved in activism and philanthropy.
In the last five years, she’s appeared as a guest solo artist with major symphonies in the U.S. Most recently, she’s teamed up with Eve Ensler’s "Shelter: A Concert Film to Benefit Victims of Domestic Violence." Between these and her July tour of the East Coast, she’ll have her hands full. The video for "Giving up Everything" premiered on NPR to rave reviews, and her first single "Ladybird" was offered as a free download.
With this album, she starts strong, showing that her voice has gotten deeper and more complex over time, but hasn’t degraded. As she sings, "spitting out the bitterness to get a little sweetness," there is none of the nasal whine that marked her sound with the Maniacs. The acoustic work on "Texas" is fine, rooting the song in the country/folk tradition. She switches it up to gospel funk in "Go Down, Moses," singing of New Orleans. "It’s been a two-year stint in no man’s land, and nobody here really gives a damn," she sings in "Seven Deadly Sins," which has the feel of an old Civil War marching tune. The brass adds fun to "Black Sheep" and the fast-paced jive of "It’s a-Coming" makes it one of the best of the bunch. Her tune "Lulu" is a sad and sobering ode to Louise Brooks, with lyrics like, "homecoming like a heroine bride, but the honeymoon was over before you arrived, and now they all cursed your name." The addition of strings adds a very melancholy air to the tune "The End," which looks at the ravages of war, inspired by 9/11. It’s a maudlin ending to the album and it doesn’t really fit, but overall, this is a fine return for Merchant.
"I Never Learn" (Lykke Li)
Swedish singer/songwriter Lykke Li drops her third album of "powdered sugar pop songs," exercising her still-girlish soprano via nine new tunes, which she has described as the final installment of a trilogy. Her music is a blend of pop, indie and electronica, and includes synth, violins, trumpets, sax and cello. She kicks things off with her title track, an intriguing and slightly eerie tune. In "No Rest for the Wicked," she sings, "there’s no hope for the weary, you let them in without a fight/ I let my true love down, I had his heart but I broke it every time."
This track scored a video, as did her single, "Love Me Like I’m Not Made of Stone, in which she starkly croons, "Even though it hurts, even though it scars, love me when it storms, love me when I fall." Where her earlier songs were about flirting and love, this album is more about her recent, devastating heartbreak -- the flip side of love. The album is more sad power ballads than upbeat pop songs, from the melancholy "Just Like a Dream" to the final track "Sleeping Alone," where she rushes to the refuge of dreams to keep alive the hope that she will one day be reunited with her love. "I’ll save you every time," she promises in "Silverline," only to turn around and admit, "I’m longing for your poison" in "Gunshot." She begs not to be left stranded alone in "Heart of Steel." Although the album isn’t going to rip through the dance club charts, it is brave in the way Li allows her vulnerability to be exposed. This tight, 32-minute album is an exercise in heartache. She is emotionally honest and a lot more mature than in her earlier albums. If you thought you knew what Lykke Li was all about, think again.
"Sheezus" (Lily Allen)
UK firebrand Lily Allen also drops her third album this week, but rather than take chances, she focuses her attention on showing us all just how hip she still is, including her album title -- a play on words of Kanye West’s recent release, "Yeezus." She opens the album with "Sheezus," giving shout-outs to Rihanna, Katy Perry and the Queen B before tossing her own hat into the ring. She starts out with the line, "Been here before, so I’m prepare/Not gonna lie though, I’m kinda scared." After the way her second album dropped with a thud, she has good reason to be. The beats on "Sheezus" are strong, but the lyrics leave a lot to be desired, especially when she proclaims things like, "It’s makes me angry, I’m serious, but then again I’m just about to get my period." This may pass for bold in the UK, but it just reads as low-class in America.
The ballad "Take My Place" has nice bass drums holding it down, but otherwise it’s whisper thin. By way of excuse or explanation, she talks about the way the industry treats female musicians in "Hard Out There," and dishes on the paparazzi and social media in "Life for Me." The tunes are all a little commercially-oriented, although the 28-year-old star does better when she serves up more personal stories. Among the best cuts is the zydeco-influenced "As Long As I Got You," with accordion, steel guitar and clap tracks. The beats are strong in "L8 CMMR" (Latecomer), with Allen singing, "under the covers, my man is a bad motherfucker." The catchy beats of "Air Balloon" give a lift, but the lyrics are so much hot air. She adds a bit of R&B vibe to "Insincerely Yours," and swings in "Close Your Eyes."
But other bands are already crying foul because of Allen’s marketing strategy of selling her new release online for a buck, saying that it’s a false way to inflate sales. It’s working; official Chart Company data shows that the album was number one on the charts as of May 8. Per Allen’s pleas in "URL Badman," we won’t hate on her, and the album is far from shite, but if you’re not already a fan of Allen and her thick English accent, this album is unlikely to make you a convert.
(Warner Bros. Records)
"White Women" (Chromeo)
Dave 1 and P-Thugg, the funk duo behind Chromeo, drop their fourth studio album "White Women," a mix of ’80s funk and smart lyrics about modern love. This album rocks right out of the gate with the track, "Jealous (I Ain’t With It)," in which a man sees his ex in the arms of other guys, wearing a jacket he bought her. Add this one to your summer playlist, post haste. Toro Y Moi chimes in on "Come Alive," the soft disco-funk groover with the great hook. "Old 45’s" is another winner, with a catchy hook. "Over Your Shoulder" is a sexy, trippy escape, and "Sexy Socialite" is a funny call-and-response reminiscent of Tigra and Bunny of L’Trimm. Solange hits it out of the park in "Lost On The Way Home;" Ezra Koeing shines in the quiet, "Ezra’s Interlude." These Canadians take you on a thrill ride through the funk sounds of yesteryear. The album ends strong, with "Frequent Flyer" and the clap-track delight, "Fall Back 2U," featuring Steely Dan’s string conductor. If you’re a fan of The Scissor Sisters -- or if you love music like they played on the dance floor of "The Love Boat" -- Chromeo’s latest cut is the thing for you!