Dig These Discs :: Ed Sheeran, Ferras, Jennifer Lopez, Claire, Deadmau5
Jennifer Lopez drops her eighth full-length album, but gets no love from the critics. German synthpop group Claire moves from being "The Voice of Germany" to being the hot new voice of electro. L.A.-based, openly gay Jordanian pop singer Ferras drops his debut as he heads on tour with Katy Perry. Canadian prog-house music producer Joel Thomas Zimmerman, aka deadmau5, releases 25 long-playing tracks. And star maker Ed Sheeran releases "x," a dozen great acoustic and hip-hop hits.
"AKA" (Jennifer Lopez)
The public's memory sure is short. Jennifer Lopez ruled the '00s with her sex-positive, booty shaking hip-hop music, getting us all too happy to run out and buy 80 million copies of her album, making her the top Latina performer of all time. We cheered for her in "The Wedding Planner," and applauded her clothing line, accessories, fragrances, production company, TV shows and charitable contributions. But now that she's in her mid-40s, we're going give the lock to old Jenny from the block? Her eighth album, "AKA," has already been described as "lewd" by critics who say that Lopez is too old to be singing about sex. The album only sold about 35,000 copies during its debut week, which is not great for Lopez. But seeing as she has an estimated net worth of $250 million, it's hardly going to leave her walking around in rags. So what's good about the album? Well, for one thing it's explicit from the get-go. "You don't know me now," she sings in her first single "A.K.A." featuring a fast-paced stream of obscenities from T.I. Her voice is as good as it ever was, as seen in her single, "First Love." She growls about her growing need in the pop ballad, "Never Satisfied," with the great lyric, "your body is heaven and it feels like home." Her single "I Luh Ya Papi" with French Montana tries to turn the table on the objectification of women by objectifying men instead, with lyrics like, "I put it down for a brother like you/ Give it to you right in that car, that's you." At the same time, she touts her own form, singing, "Got that hourglass for you, baby, look at these legs." Criticize if you will, you just know the girls in the Bronx are going to be rocking this tune all summer. The bass is sick in "Acting Like That," in which she notes that she was the original G, before warning, "don't let the tables turn, don't let the bridges burn, because everything could change in a matter of days... why you actin' like that, you gonna miss me when I'm gone." She teams up with the country's hottest new star, Iggy Azalea, as if to drive the point home. She rides up and down the vocal scales in "Emotion," and sings her heart out in "So Good." A slowed-down Spanish sound marks "Let It Be Me," and sexy Rick Ross chimes in on "Worry No More." And of course, there's that famous "Booty," about which J.Lo ex Ben Affleck said last week, "It was nice." Pit Bull raps on this dance floor track with a sense of humor. Lopez teams up with Jack Mizrahi to take on the runway in "TENS" and with Nas for "Trobeaux," featuring an excellent, old-school sample. She gets sexy with Ready Set Go in "Expertease," singing "we can do it standing up" while noting that their bodies were made for sinning. In the final song, "Same Girl," she sings, "I know I'm the same Jenny from around the way." Lopez is reportedly working on a biopic of her life, and has tapped young, pretty Selena Gomez to play her in the film. Maybe then you haters will be able to love her again.
"x" (Ed Sheeran)
English singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran has been in the business of making other artists look good for so long, it's great to finally see him get his own turn in the limelight. After being nominated for Best New Artist at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards, seeing his collection of a dozen new hits is welcome. He sings high and fine in the first track, "One," of stumbling home drunk to his lover after a fight. He keeps this theme going in "I'm a Mess," singing of wanting to fall in love. Sheeran is unusual in that he has written hit pop songs for Taylor Swift and One Direction, but his own music is largely folk and acoustic, like the hit, "The A Team" that he sang with Elton John during last year's Grammys. His new album, "x," pronounced as "multiply," was produced in L.A. with Rick Rubin, in acoustics. Sheeran has debuted the tracks "Tenerife Sea," a beautiful acoustic harmonizer, and the lead single, "Sing," with Pharrel Williams, to critical acclaim. His new album has already bumped Lana Del Rey from the top of the charts, and looks like it will spend some time there. The album deals with fame and life on the road, plus losing control around sex and drugs. Sheeran can move between hip-hop and rap to soaring melodies easily, and does so throughout the course of the tracks, adding a hip-hop number between every few acoustic tearjerkers. He drops it fast-paced, rapping, "baby bring a lemon and a bottle of gin, we'll be in between the sheets til the late a.m.," in "Don't," a tale about a hookup that turns into heartbreak when the girl goes with another guy. His track "Nina" has a good rhyme, as it tells the tale of a girl who broke his heart. The same story is told in the acoustic stunner, "Photograph," in which Sheeran things, "hurt is the only thing that I know." He sips on red wine with sin on his mind in the quick-moving ode to chemical escape, "Bloodstream," and his cut "Runaway" sounds like a move out of Rod Stewart's early playbook. He asks his lover, now busily engaged in revenge fucks, to give their relationship one more shot in "The Man," singing, "when I broke the industry that's when I broke your heart." He changes gear in the acoustic love song, "Thinking Out Loud," promising to love his woman until they're 70. He finishes up the album with "Afire Love," the acoustic/rap hybrid that perfectly sums up his talent. With his thicket of bushy red hair, Sheeran isn't much to look at, but it sure is great to see him in the spotlight.
(Asylum Records/ Warner Music)
"The Great Escape" (Claire)
German synthpop/electro group Claire, aka Matthias Hauck, Heller Nepomuk and Florian Kiermaier founded this English-language band in 2012 to participate in the reality show "The Voice of Germany," adding Josie-Claire Buerkle and drummer Firdolin Achten to the mix. Their debut album had Internet success, and they dropped this debut LP, "The Great Escape," in Germany last September. Now it's reached the U.S., and critics on this side of the pond are equally excited about the album's solid production values and lead singer Buerkle's pipes. The single "My Audacity" is the newest cut. They also include the excellent "Games" and the title track from Claire's debut EP "Broken Promise Land," an ambient, electronica-filled tune that starts out strongly with the lyrics, "We built this city with our hands and called it broken promise land." That brings the grand total for this grand debut up to 13 tracks, and it's a very lucky number for the band. The vocals on the New Wave cut "Pioneers" are fine and clear, and mesh well with the keyboards and electro samples in "You Walk in Beauty." "You took me to the roofs where we left far too soon, and there's no time for sleeping now," Buerkle sings in "Neon Love," which like "Overdrive" has a real early '80s electro vibe. They strike a very Everything But the Girl trance vibe in the bouncy track, "My Audacity" and Buerkle tries her hand at rap (in a slowed-down form), in "Hallowed Ground." By contrast, the title track is a slowed-down electro-ballad with fine keyboards, as is "In Two Minds." The vocal distortion at the start of "Roll Down Run South" goes well with the songs' clap tracks for a strong finish. They close with "The Next Ones to Come," with Buerke singing the famous Grandmaster Flash chorus, "Don't push me cause I'm close to the edge, I'm trying not to lose my head." Well done. Claire is our best new import!
(Universal Music Group)