Dig These Discs :: Mariah Carey. Hedley, Sharon Van Etten, LP, Echo And The Bunnymen
Mariah Carey finally releases her long-awaited 15th studio album, and it's all about her. Canadian quartet Hedley moves toward a more pop sound with their fifth studio album. Brooklyn beauty Sharon Van Etten sings so sweetly about sadness, you'll want to slit your wrists. Liverpool legends Echo & The Bunnymen drop their 12th studio album, and the first since 2009, "Meteorites." And LP has hit the big time!
"Me. I Am Mariah" (Mariah Carey)
Right, it’s you, girl. We get it. Strong Island singer, actress and philanthropist Mariah Carey ditches the "American Idol" gig and her hate-fest with fellow judge Nicki Minaj to record her 15th studio album, the title of which hearkens back to her first, self-titled debut way back in 1988. With Carey’s widespread media saturation, the subtitle, "The Elusive Chanteuse" doesn’t quite make sense, but that never stopped her before, and it shouldn’t deter you, either. Numerous delays kept this album under wraps since March 2013, so it’s no surprise that some of the anticipation has fizzled, along with the projected sales. But that shouldn’t keep you from enjoying these 14 tracks. Carey’s voice hasn’t suffered any over the years, and to her credit, she keeps taking chances -- apparent from the gospel treatment she gives to ballads "Cry, "One More Try" and "You Don’t Know What to Do" with Wale. Carey grooves on a Supremes, ’70s-era vibe in the ballad "Make It Look Good."
She sticks with her tried and true formula in tracks like the R&B rocker "Faded" and the hip-hop ballad, "Thirsty." Nas rhymes on "Dedicated" and and Fabolous spits in "Money ($*?...)." Miguel spits out every curse word in the book in "#Beautiful," singing, "with an ass like that and jeans so tight oh you kill me.... You’re fucking beautiful and I can’t pretend that doesn’t mean a thing to me." There are some misses; the kiddie talk on "Supernatural" is too much for anyone but a parent. But tunes like "Meteorite" and "Money ($*?...)" could find radio play. You’ve hung with her throughout all these years; there’s no reason to turn your back on her now.
(Def Jam Recordings)
"Wild Life" (Hedley)
The Canadian pop quartet Hedley, known for singles like "Cha-Ching," performed at the closing ceremony of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, is back with their fifth studio album. The album features a generous 11 tracks -- 15 on the deluxe -- but some fans are already crying foul over the band’s change of sound. The band is made up of Jacob Hoggard, David Hoggard, Thomas MacDonald and Christian Crippin, and the boys look like they’re moving more toward a commercially marketable vibe.
From the first track, the explicit pop anthem "Pause," this is apparent. But it’s not all bad. Singles for "Crazy for You" and "Anything" have done well; it didn’t hurt that Hoggard happily agreed to drop his pants in the video for the latter. The songs are split between upbeat songs like "Headphones," and slower ballads like "All the Way" and "Pocket Full of Dreams," with the refrain "but I don’t want anything but you." They sing sweetly of rocking the Bonnie & Clyde thing in "Heaven in Our Headlight," which sounds a lot like the rustic busker-type rock so popular of late.
Some of these cuts aren’t as successful as others; the too-rhymey "Wildlife" and "Parade of Rain" disappoint with clichéd lyrics. And they depart from formula at points, like the Middle Eastern strings that pervade "Mexico." But like it or not, Hedley has been around for a decade now, and their sound is inevitably going to change. Fans should stick with the band, as they appear ready to move into the big time.
"Are We There" (Sharon Van Etten)
Brooklyn beauty Sharon Van Etten has only been on the scene for about five years, but she’ already a favorite of the shoe-gazing set, who love her intimate arrangements, complex harmonies and high, lonely voice. She self-produced her fourth album, "Are We There," with producer Stewart Lerman at Electric Lady Studios. She starts slowly, but with great impact, in "Afraid of Nothing." The drums in "Taking Chances" and "Our Love" evoke a classic rock tune. "Cut my tongue so I can’t talk to you, burn my skin so I can’t feel you," she sings in the macabre "You Love Is Killing Me." The juxtaposition of this fine voice and the heartbreaking topics she sings about removes Van Etten from the category of just plain folk, and elevates her to another level. The twang in "Tarifa" is a cool effect, but the lyrics kill as she implores, "chew me out when I’m stupid." In "I Love You But I’m Lost," she sings of "tear stains on the last page." Why you so sad, girl? You can find more about the pain of love in "Break Me," or the odd balance of love in "Every Time the Sun Comes Up" as she sings, "I washed your dishes but I shit in your bathroom." J Mascis sings in "Prisoners," and the electric guitar is a welcome change in landscape from the prairies of sadness that populate this album.
But even when she’s hopeful, as singing, "Maybe something will change," it doesn’t. Evidence: the song’s title is the dour, "Nothing Will Change." Van Etten sings of desire, memory, emptiness, being lost, fear and healing. It’s a major downer, but somehow through her interpretation, it’s not. If Van Etten just keeps getting better, we can’t wait for her next album. She tours through the East Coast, ending up at Chicago’s Pitchfork Music Festival
"Meteorites" (Echo & The Bunnymen)
Liverpool legends Echo & The Bunnymen drop their 12th studio album, and the first since 2009, "Meteorites." The album features 10 songs hand-picked by Ian McCulloch and performed by him and Will Sergeant, with Gordy Goodie on guitar and Stephen Brannan on bass. "At long last, we’ve made the worthy successor to ’Crocodiles,’ ’Heaven Up Here,’ ’Porcupine’ and ’Ocean Rain," said McCulloch. " ’Meteorites’ is what Echo and the Bunnymen mean and are meant to be -- up there in heaven - untouchable, celestial, beautiful and real. It has changed my life." The band has been around for 36 years, and helped create the indie rock scene, influencing bands from Coldplay to the Flaming Lips.
In songs like "Holy Moses," with its refrain of "yeah, yeah," it’s like the ’90s never ended. "What can I take, what can I steal, what do I make to feel like you feel," McCulloch sings in the melodic "Is This a Breakdown?" But songs like the soporific "Burn It Down" and "Meteorite" are slow, somber affairs, as McCulloch sings, "hope, where is the hope you need, can it be found among all the ghosts?" This dark tone pervades "Constantinople," and the refrain of "wasted all the time" marks "Grapes Upon the Vine." A more upbeat sound, ironically, is found in the catastrophes of "Explosions." They go the distance in the nearly eight-minute "Market Town," singing, "What you gonna do, when they come for you?" In the face of impassioned slow rock dirges like "New Horizons," how can a girl keep up walls? Echo & The Bunnymen are one of those bands that represent an era so well, it’s hard to separate them from that time. But nostalgia is a strong draw, and this album will transport you back to what may be more halcyon days. The bands sets out on their European tour this May, with select dates in Paris, Antwerp, Holland, Belgium and the UK.
"Forever For Now" (LP)
I first encountered L.P., aka Laura Pergolizzi, by sheer coincidence. I was meeting some friends in a bar on the Lower East Side, and this curly mop-topped lesbian was putting on a show. Singing about topics like unemployment and ladies, L.P. absolutely killed it! I approached her after for a CD to review, knowing that with the way she sang the the way she shred the guitar, L.P. was destined for something greater. That was back in 2001. Fast forward a decade, and L.P. has relocated to L.A., is writing for artists like Rihanna and Christina Aguilera. Now she releases her third studio album, "Forever for Now," with a dozen hot hits, all for her. Her style has changed a bit, leaning more to pop, but this new album is a winner. Her "Heavenly Light" is a fast pop song with a break of the type that Katy Perry favors. Her first single, "Night Like This" is a well-paced, upbeat song with a steady drumbeat rooting it. L.P. has a knack for churning out catchy hooks, and a penchant for adding to her honeyed vocals extra frills like yodels, hand claps, whistles and much more. Instead of heavy guitars, she fills it in with ukulele, as dominates the title track. The pick work in the warbly "Your Town" is fine, as is the amazing high notes she hits.
She tones it down in the fast-moving "Free to Love," one of the album’s best. Her cut "One Last Mistake" has a kick-ass Pat Benatar sound to it, and "Tokyo Sunrise" has a folksy twang to it. L.P. sings sweet and high in "Salvation" and "Levitator." She sounds like her collaborator Isa Summers from Florence + The Machine in "Someday," and sings like an angel in "Savannah." She finishes the album with the song that hit bank for her in those Citibank ads, "Into the Wild," with the refrain, "Somebody left the gate open." L.P. continues to strike the perfect blend of grace and grit in her songs. She will continue writing for other artists; Cher Lloyd has her cut "Human" on her new record. But for now, she’ll be tooting her own horn. Catch her on tour through June with Phillip Phillips and O.A.R., starting in St. Louis.
(Warner Bros. Records)