The Early Bird: Top New Releases 3-20-20 – 3-26-20 Reviewed
Three solid albums out today, each in its own world a big, big release: The Weeknd is the soul of r&b, J Balvin one of the premiere Latin Urbano guys, and Kelsea Ballerini, the cheerful country pop who didn’t go pop pop girl singer who is better than that sounds. All three albums find the artists at the top of their game and that with only two featured guest between em you’d recognize (one name is… wait for it… KENNY CHESNEY!).
The Weeknd seems incapable of fallow periods, two years ago the EP Melancholy, My Dear is that perfect blue period pop sorrow and all three singles leading up to the big reveal, including smash hit “Blinding Lights” plus the Saturday Night Live performed “Scared To Live,” his best songs “The Hills”, has promised a major release and Abel Tesfaye has provided the good news. After Hours is a pop opera of sorts, connected songs about love and romance in the club late, late, late at night. 14 songs in a little under an hour and they are relentless excellent, sometimes druggy and disconnected a la Beauty Behind The Madness, sometimes a melancholy dear sadness, and sometimes Starboy tech stuff but always connected through a vision of life and music that is quiet and distraught except when he breaks through. If these are anthems of pop restructuring, they play like musical truisms nthd (Grade: A-).
J Balvin has been going from height to height ever since Beyonce jumped on “Mi Gente” three years ago. If Coleurs isn’t as great as his Bad Bunny collaboration last year, the epic Oasis, it is better than his own Vibras. Coleurs is a highly concentrated dose of reggaeton plus beats, each song a perfect pearl of dance plus dance melody, and while it could have used a couple more as great as “Verde,” more people could use a lesson in less is more, 37 minutes of relentless pleasure (Grade: B+).
Kelsea Ballerini had never been my favorite country singer, she is no Brandi Carlile for one, and her vision of herself, tongue in cheek, semi-parodic self-portraits, can sound a little too sad. She is like a Kacey Musgraves without the social distortions. On kelsea, she only even slightly slips when she gets serious, the big hit “Homecoming Queen” is a lachrymose drag and pales in comparison to mini country operas “la,” the hysterical “hole in the bottle,” and the romantic blissed out “love me like a girl”. A breakthrough into classic country songwriting with pop leanings (Grade: B+) .
Over at singles, the Spice Girl Melanie C has a boring piece of over dramatized disco with “Who I Am” (Grade: C+). I can’t take Hayley Williams anymore, she hasn’t written a song I’ve loved since 2013 with her band Paramore (“Still Into You” in case you were wondering) , and all five songs off her upcoming solo debut has left me cold though the sixth releases, the Caroline Polachek remix of “Simmer” is a goodie (Caroline has had a good year), so should we be surprised that Hayley meets boygenius (you know: Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker, and Lucy Dacus) rests on background harmonies and is not much;I’ll give em the overall sound, the song mopes too damn much (Grade: B-). Chrissie Hynde still has that voice on The Pretenders “The Buzz” (off their upcoming Hate For Sale) and she uses it much better with the Pretenders than alone on a gorgeous new wave, ringing guitar band sound she drives through the past forty years in a Delorean of pop. After all these years John Legend is taking a serious shot at chill r&b with beats and shit on “Actions,” and it is better than usual, plus “actions speak louder than love songs” is a killer line (Grade: B). Noah Cyrus does a good job on the county-folk acoustic “I Got So High That I Saw Jesus”, a slow and smooth song that seems to update the world of the Carter Family while remaining a little shallow (in a good way, she doesn’t overplay it) (Grade: B).
Graham Gouldman, you know him right? 10cc is just one of his many triumphs (my live review from 2012 here). His first album in eight years, Modesty Forbids, works when he is mining his ELO meets 10cc (meets Graham himself) pop moves, so yes to “Standing Next To Me” and “All Around The World” and, wow, the early sixties soundalike “What Time Won’t Heal” and a resounding no to American Standard stuff “That’s Love Right There” (Grade: B). Of all the postponements so far this month, Saturday night’s cancel of Morrissey at the Apollo is a heartbreaker (he postponed the Hammerstein gig till September 17th -I’ll be at My Chemical Romance… I hope), especially since Moz, for all his grumpy, Fox News watching, bad vibes, has always been a man you miss at your own risk. I Am Not a Dog on a Chain is his third album in four years, and it is as explicitly tired of growing old as you’d expect and it is beautifully sung (plus “Bobby, Don’t You Think They Know” has better background singing than Hayley Williams newbie) and beautifully produced: a widening of his sound that never seems to be wide enough (Grade: B+). Roger Eno and his brother Brian Eno’s Mixing Colours, is an ambient snooze that I am sure ambient fans will thoroughly enjoy while the rest of us try, really really hard to not hit next (Grade: C+)
One more: after laughing myself sick at Coldplay’s decision not to tour due to global warming behind their lousy last album, who is laughing now? While everyone from Lady Gaga to Rage Against The Machine spend long days on the cell with their managers, record labels, and insurance carries, Chris sits back in his penthouse smoking cigars and crank ordering from Goop. So here is a terrible version of a terrible song “Champion Of The World – Live at NPR’s Tiny Desk” BUT, who’s laughing now? (Grade: C-).
Champion Of The World – Live at NPR’s Tiny Desk – Coldplay – C-
kelsea – Kelsea Ballerini – B+
Who I Am – Melanie C – C+
Modesty Forbids – Graham Gouldman – B+
Roses/Lotus/Violet/Iris – Hayley Williams – B-
Coleurs – J Balvin – B+
Actions – John Legend – B
I Am Not a Dog on a Chain – Morrissey – B+
I Got So High That I Saw Jesus – Noah Cyrus – B
The Buzz – Pretenders – B+
Mixing Colours – Roger Eno, Brian Eno – C+
After Hours – The Weeknd – A-