Grant James sifts through new releases each week to bring us some of the good, the bad, and the Evanonsense. These are all available at Radio-Active Records and Sweat Records. Don’t hold it against them.
Soundgarden, King Animal
Soundgarden’s first album in 16 years opens with the appropriately titled single “Been Away Too Long.” A borderline-emo Cornell sings, “I got no where to go, and it seems I came back,” followed by a conflicted “I’ve been away for too long. No I never really wanted to stay.” It’s the ultimate anti-comeback song, both musically underwhelming (and that’s being gracious) and displaying a state of mind that doesn’t bode well for a band that’s, well, trying to come back.
There are some decent tracks that showcase the band’s mature, more structured sound. “Worse Dreams” closes with a beautifully psychedelic, minute-long guitar solo, and “Black Saturday” contains a softer, more melodic Cornell. The band is able to transition deftly from soft to hard, which is one of its best features on the album.
Nevertheless, the pros don’t outnumber the cons, the largest of the latter being that on King Animal there really aren’t any standout tracks. Most are overly repetitive, with the same two or three chords, over and over. There’s no “Black Hole Sun” here. In fact, beneath the polished surface, there isn’t much of anything. 3/5 eggs
Lana Del Rey, Born to Die: Paradise Edition
The chameleon-like singer recently unveiled the video to the album’s lead single, “Ride,” in which she finds comfort in the arms of strangers, hangs with a biker gang, and even has sex on a pinball table (though not at all like Jodie Foster in The Accused). The first lines, during which Lana poutingly sings “you can be my full-time daddy,” are sure to induce slight nausea and eye rolling.
Accused of being nothing more than a manufactured pop starlet with heavy label-influence, Lana has shied a bit from her hip hop influences on Born to Die, instead putting her vocals in the spotlight for Paradise. Her cover of “Blue Velvet” by the Clovers is a high point on an album that manages to sound new and timeless. The tongue-in-cheek lyrics she’s known for are still there. On “American,” for instance, Del Rey sings “be young, be dope, be proud … like an American.” The opening lyric to “Cola” is also hilarious: “my pussy tastes like Pepsi Cola.” But amid the ludicrous showwomanship, Lana still manages to shine, her Xanax-heavy mumbles even managing to sound wonderfully sedate. At this point Del Rey manages to stay consistent with her sound and image, and the argument of whether it’s manufactured or not, seems irrelevant. 4/5 eggs
The Weeknd, Trilogy
Hip hop star The Weeknd (Abel Tesfaye) has gone from zero to 60 faster than you can say mixtape, mixtape, mixtape. In fact, it took three of those, all released the same year, for Republic Records to come knocking. Trilogy is a compilation of the three, all remastered, with three new additional tracks. Some of the originals sounded better before they were edited and remastered, and the three new ones prove the weakest of all. His choice of singles is also somewhat strange, as he opted to use the popular “Twenty Eight” instead of stronger tracks like “The Morning” or “Rolling Stone.” However it’s still a great compilation either way. The hope is, now that Tesfaye is signed to a label, there will be some direction and diversity. As beautiful as the mixtapes were on their own, listening to them back to back has exposed the somewhat formulaic quality of his music. 4/5 eggs
Christina Aguilera, Lotus
Lotus is Aguilera’s seventh studio album. Unfortunately, seven is not her lucky number. As expected, Aguilera’s voice shines through whatever muck and grime Lotus serves up, but even those pipes aren’t enough to save the album.
Aguilera has endured some serious identity crises throughout her career. She’s gone from an R&B tinged girl-next-door, to the dirty girl, to a 1920s inspired flapper, to an android on 2010′s Bionic. Lotus differs from that last one, which was risky and musically all over the place, in that throwaway pop music remains extremely safe for Aguilera. The majority of the overproduced LP leaves nothing to the imagination, most notably her single “Your Body.” It’s her worst single to date after 2010′s “Not Myself Tonight,” and her worst music video period. A guest spot from The Voice co-star CeeLo Green is wasted on the snoozy “Make the World Move” (which couldn’t move a cat out of a bath); another is wasted on the country duet “Just a Fool,” featuring a head-scratching partnership with her other Voice co-star Blake Shelton.
Lotus flowers often symbolize purity. This makes sense for Aguilera’s album. It’s clean and safe. But that still fails to work in the singer’s favor. Next. 2/5 eggs
–By Grant James