Saturday, January 15, 2011

Jukebox (VII)

album reviews

Selena Gomez & The Scene produce a surprisingly enjoyable dance record, Westlife come up with more of the same, while Weezer make a triumphant return to form

Plain White T’s
Wonders Of The Younger
Genre: Indie Pop
Best known for their song Hey There Delilah, pop rock band Plain White T’s have failed to replicate the success of their 2007 hit single. With their sixth album, Wonders of the Younger, the group sticks to the safety of inoffensive but catchy pop that is just as unexceptional as it is infectious. An ode to youth, its beauty and disillusion, the album kicks off with the faster teen-angsty Irrational Anthem but soon settles into a more mellow sound, focusing on melodic, mid-tempo power-pop. Along the way, they manage to channel Jason Mraz on the album’s standout track and first single Rhythm of Love, and Panic at the Disco on songs like Welcome to Mystery and Cirque Dans La Rue. It isn’t an attempt to create art, but an offering of listenable pop that will please youngsters but is likely to be too cheesy for adults. Even if you’ve never heard anything by Plain White T’s before, the songs will seem instantly familiar, and you'll be humming along by the second listen; while that may seem like a strength, it in effect is the album’s biggest pitfall. The sound is too generic; the songs are very safe and it’s a shame that the band has tried nothing new, because if they could have built on their pop sensibilities while exploring outside the boundaries of mainstream pop the results could have been more exciting. As it stands, the album will resonate well with fans of mid-temp pop rock, and it’ll be especially more appealing to younger listeners.
Highlights: Irrational Anthem, Rhythm of Love, Map of the World, Make It Up As You Go

Katy Perry
Teenage Dream
Genre: Pop
Some of you might think that Katy Perry has very limited vocal abilities. You would, of course, be completely correct. Fortunately for her (and countless others like her), not many people really care about vocal skills anymore. And based on the success of this album, it seems that not many people care about the quality of the music either. Mainstream pop has continued on its descent from bad to worse in the last few years; it's not about lyrics or meaning anymore (although some would argue that it never was); it's about a catchy hook enveloped in something suitably obnoxious to draw attention. In that regard, Katy Perry’s latest album Teenage Dream fits the bill perfectly. Tailor made for kids, yet precisely the kind of thing kids should not be listening to, the album offers what appear to be the musings of a sex-crazed teenager, incapable of nuance and fond of immature innuendos (Peacock, Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)), with occasional splattering of contrived reflections (Firework). Everything about the record is forced; her delivery is mechanical, the production makes everything seem robotic and artificial, and vocal chops are lacking. Some of these songs could actually have been better in the hands of someone with more vocal ability who could’ve been able to instil some sense of fun in the routine. In it’s current form, Teenage Dream is a collection of one of the most desperately obnoxious sets of songs, and exemplifies what is wrong with mainstream music; what’s even more depressing is how much such stuff sells anyway.

Take That
Genre: Pop
Nearly ten years after splitting up, a four-membered Take That got back together to release two highly successful albums – Beautiful World (2006) and The Circus (2008) – that featured some brilliant pop music. Nearly fifteen years after parting ways with the band, Robbie Williams has now returned to the group taking the member count back to five. Now back to their original line-up, Take That have released their new album Progress, which has broken sales records in the UK and has received rave reviews; some, however, are far from impressed. The shift in direction is huge – the pop balladry has been replaced by a glossy electro sheen. There are still competent pop songs in the mix, most prominently the lead single The Flood which is the closest thing to the last two albums that can be found on Progress. Unfortunately, instead of a Take That album, Progress seems more like a Robbie album with Take That hired as a backing band; whether you like it or not will come down to personal preference, although if nothing else, the band at least deserves props for going in a different direction instead of sticking with the safer sound that has helped make them one of the biggest pop bands of UK.
Highlights: The Flood, Happy Now

Selena Gomez & The Scene
A Year Without Rain
Genre: Dance Pop
The second album by one of Disney’s best-known starlets, the 18-year-old Wizards of Waverly Place actress Selena Gomez, and her backing band The Scene, A Year Without Rain is a collection of catchy dance pop songs that aren’t nearly as bad as your would expect. Sure they are overproduced and yes her actual vocals have almost been auto-tuned into oblivion, but the choice of techno/synth laden dance oriented pop seems wise and helps the singer get away with it. And with big names such as Kevin Rudolf, Fefe Dobson, Toby Gad, and Katy Perry sharing the songwriting credits, the tracks fit in well with the current mainstream pop scene. A shift in direction from their more pop-rock debut album Kiss & Tell, this succinct set of ten uptempo electro-pop ditties embraces its dance/electro sensibilities and produces an inoffensive (albeit overproduced) record that is very listenable if you fall in the singer’s target teen demographic.
Highlights: Rock God, Ghost of You, Sick Of You

Genre: Pop
What is the point of recording a cover of Hoobastank’s insanely overplayed The Reason that sounds exactly like the original, when it has only been a few years since the original took over the charts? Why ruin Athlete’s perfectly nice Chances by doing a lazy cover that takes away all of the original song’s credibility? Why make the same brand of boy-band turned man-band mid-tempo pop over and over and over again for a decade even after the concept has started to sound dated and banal? Oh right, because it still sells by the bucket load. There is nothing that makes Westlife’s uninspiring eleventh album, Gravity, interesting in any way, and there is hardly any song that stands out in this set comprised mostly of mid-tempo ballads. While their songs aren’t exactly incompetent, they suffer from a lack of originality and variety. It is hard to see how this album will appeal to anyone but the band’s diehard fans; for everyone else it will be hard to tell most of the tracks apart, and even harder to stay awake through the 12-song snooze-fest. Recommended if you’re either a Westlife fan or have insomnia and are looking for a possible remedy.
Highlights: I Will Reach You

Genre: Pop Punk
A marked improvement on last year’s Raditude, Weezer’s eighth album takes them back to the territory of absurdly catchy power pop. Probably their best work in almost a decade, Hurley (named after the Lost character portrayed by Jorge Garcia, whose picture also appears on the album’s cover) sees a return of the corny yet charming Weezer of old, as they churn out a set of pleasant tunes powered by offbeat lyrics. The standout track, Ruling Me, harks back to the songs the band made in its prime, and the amusingly silly Where’s My Sex – a song about, umm, sox (socks) – would have been at home on the band’s 1996 opus Pinkerton. For the most part, Hurley is fun, nerdy, catchy, or in other words, textbook Weezer! In short, it’s simply a good power-pop album; there’s just no way around that. The deluxe edition of Hurley also features four extra songs, including a very competent version of Coldplay’s brilliant Viva La Vida, and a very listenable Rocked Out Mix of Represent (the "unofficial anthem" for the United States men's national soccer team).
Highlights: Ruling Me, Hang On

- By Sameen Amer

Ink Magazine - Jan-Mar, 2011

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