Entertainment » Music

Dig These Discs :: Ke$ha, Icona Pop, Morgan James, Bruno Mars, Alicia Keys

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by Winnie McCroy

"Unorthodox Jukebox" (Bruno Mars)

Raised in Honolulu by a family of musicians, Peter Gene Hernandez, a.k.a. Bruno Mars, rose to the top quickly, releasing his debut album, "Doo-Wops & Hooligans" in 2010. He was nominated for seven Grammy Awards, and won Best Male Vocal Pop Performance for "Just the Way You Are." His style -- and his look -- is rooted very much in the Motown/ R&B artists Little Richard, James Brown and Michael Jackson. An arrest for cocaine possession in 2010 gave him the bad-boy tarnish that his squeaky-clean image needed. Mars kicks things off with "Young Girls," singing, "I spent all my money on a big old fancy car, for these bright-eyed honeys, ah you know who you are." The young, wild girls will be the death of me, Mars croons, but you know that will never keep him away. "Locked Out of Heaven" is a track reminiscent of The Police’s "Zenyatta Mondatta" album, with a quickstep beat fueled by drum, and a yodeling chorus. He sings about cocaine and ladies in "Gorilla," singing, "look what you’re doing, look what you’ve done, in this jungle you can’t run, but you’ll be banging on my chest, baby/ gorilla." The x-rated subtext of sex so loud the cops come banging on the door doesn’t vibe with the slow, sweet sound of the music. He taps into Prince’s sexy motherfucker vibe in "Treasure," down to the old-school electronic flourishes. Mars sings with urgency in "Moonshine," showing off skills as his voice moves up and down the scales, singing, "Take me to that special place, the place we went last time." It has the passion and sound of those reaching ballads of the early ’90s. Mars produced the album with his team The Smeezingtons (Philip Lawrence, Ari Levin) and producers Jeff Bhasker, Mark Ronson and Diplo. His heartbreaking tune, "When I Was Your Man" bemoans not buying flowers, dancing and spending time with his love when he had the chance," singing, "now my baby’s dancing, but she’s dancing with another man." His fast-moving track "Natalie" is a ’should’ve known better’ song about a "gold-digging bitch" that hearkens to his early tracks, and "Show Me" is a hot reggae-inspired track that should make its way up the charts. The heavy swagger of "Money Make Her Smile" meshes old-school themes with electronic sampling, singing of a superfreak: "music make her dance and money make her smile." He finishes up with a classic R&B/rock tune, "If I Knew," with traditional drum breaks and a 4/4 beat. Mars said he got his nickname because "a lot of girls say I’m out of this world." Count on this new album to shoot him even further into the stars than he is already. BMG CHRYSALIS

"Girl on Fire" (Alicia Keys)

Alicia Keys is back with her fifth studio album, "Girl on Fire," and her first since she married Swizz Beat and gave birth to her son, Egypt. She has said that her title track was inspired by motherhood, and recorded a three-track suite of the song, one featuring vocals from Nicki Minaj, called "Inferno." She gives props to ’80s star Billy Squier for using his drum track from "Big Beat" in the song. Keys really shows her chops here, running her voice up and down the octave as she belts out the lyrics, "She got both feet on the ground and she’s burning it down. She got her head in the clouds and she’s not backing down. This girl is on fire." She performed it for the first time at the September MTV Video Music Awards, where it went over big, with help from Minaj and Olympic athlete Gabby Douglas. Despite a few holdouts, it has been almost universally critically praised, and hit the number one spot on the Top 10 Billboard chart and sold 159,000 copies in its first week. The album features 13 new R&B tracks, and the majority of them are strong. Keys teams up with Scottish songwriter Emeli Sandé for the ballad "Brand New Me," and while the sentiment is there, the soul is lacking. Ditto for "Tears Always Win, a soulful, old-school song about the one who got away, written with Bruno Mars. And although the message of love as the greatest riches in "Not Even the King," is sweet, the song falls with a thud. Her drum-heavy "New Day" fares much better, as she works a Latin vibe, and sings, "We’ve got one life, let’s live it up." And she joins forces And Frank Ocean lends his verses to "One Thing," a beautiful R&B song about a man with "a foul mouth that never lied," who has left her to move into the house his father left him, and hasn’t invited her to join him. It’s easily among the best of the lot. Keys finds her voice best in her story songs, like the funky ballad, "Listen to Your heart," written with John Legend, and the acoustic jam, "That’s When I Knew." She makes the most of synth beats and funky drums in "When It’s All Over" produced with Jamie xx, but the song meanders too much to be a good dance track. "Limitedless" does better, with an island beat that reminds one of early Rihanna jams. The genial Maxwell lends his falsetto warbles to "Fire We Make," a slow song with clap tracks and a guitar solo by Gary Clark, Jr.. This slow jam is just the thing for when loving moves from the streets to the sheets. Keys closes with "101," a whisper of a love song that showcases her fine voice. Keys will hit the road in 2013, on tour with R&B singer Miguel, when this fire will really heat up. RCA

Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women’s news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York, where she writes about local restaurants in her food blog, http://brooklyniscookin.blogspot.com/


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