Beyoncé, Dangerously in Love (Columbia)
A few years ago, the R&B girl band Destiny's Child reached monumental success thanks in part to some very catchy lines "I'm a survivor" or, better yet, "bootylicious" and some very flashy clothes. Now, following fellow Destiny's Child member Kelly Rowland down the solo path, the band's high-profile member, Beyoncé Knowles, has released her (inevitable) debut album.
Could Beyoncé be the new Diana Ross? Vocally, the soulstress is rather flexible. Her sensational voice can travel through any musical decade without missing a beat. Dangerously in Love resurrects '70s soul music with that millennial, digital touch, not to mention that magic Jay-Z touch the album's "other" star. Jay-Z is fittingly present on "Crazy in Love," the opening track and first single. Upbeat and grabbing, there is enough sensual tension to justify the title of the song. But the real star of the track is the Chi-Lite horn sample, adding its fair share of unrelenting energy.
Full of abundant hooks and fat bass lines, the album also features energetic guitars.
Perhaps the most surprising sonic effects are the Middle Eastern sounds on "Naughty Girl" embellished with samples from Donna Summer's "I Love to Love" and guest-starring Outkast's Big Boi and Sleepy Brown and the Hindu-meets-ragga vibe of "Baby Boy," featuring hip hop's other Sean, the very unpuffy Sean Paul. The ubiquitous Missy Elliot makes an appearance on "Signs." But don't expect to hear Missy's famous rap style, except a holler or two; this is a laid-back, soul-drenched song.
Dangerously is a mix of vibes and, considering that nearly every other song features someone from her network of famous friends, the album is varied. But alas, that is not enough. The energy gradually falters as the album progresses, where the BPMs lose speed and she begins stepping on a minefield of musical clichés; you begin wishing for another uptempo "Crazy" track. This is where you're reminded that this is not a Destiny's album, but that of a young singer acting all grown up. It's also an unconscious desire to demonstrate her "serious" side, as if upbeat tracks don't do justice to her vocal ability. Yet they do, and more so.
She may have a great voice, yet Beyoncé is sometimes trying too hard to sound like a diva, as "The Closer I Get to You," her duet with the veteran of soul Luther Vandross demonstrates. Her ardent spirit may have rhythm, but it lacks the body and soul of Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston, the natural experts in the ballad domain. It takes time to obtain the coveted diva status, Beyoncé.
Mondo Generator, A Drug Problem That Never Existed (Ipecac)
"Now I'm going to rip you a new one," says a woman's voice in the middle of a schizo phone call on "Meth, I Hear You Callin'." She ain't joking. This earfuck scream-scape opens Mondo Generator's A Drug Problem That Never Existed. The album's excessive yet fractured hardcore punk psychosis feels like a public flogging. Funny that the song is constructed in a similar fashion to the opening track on Queens of the Stone Age's Songs for the Deaf. Not all that surprising considering that Mondo's lead man, Nick Oliveri is QOTSA's bassist. Also not surprising since parts of Mondo's debut Cocaine Rodeo morphed and reappeared on QOTSA's R. Sharing is caring. And Oliveri shares it all.
Drug Problem is the diary of a madman on display like an open sore under white-hot lights. Oliveri has the skinned bark of an outpatient who rode the Tilt A Whirl while eating crack. "Do the Headright" is a jaunty track, one suitable for moshing with cavemen. "F.Y.I'm Free" (as in "fuck you, I'm free") brandishes guitars that sound like power tools. A drill. Maybe a sander. Erratic shifts in style mirror human mood swings, but even acoustic tracks like the bleary "Day I Die" and agitated "All I Can Do" have espresso in their blood. The hard pop punk of "Jr. High Love," and toe-tapping "Detroit" skew Drug Problem for the better. Mark Lanegan lends his vocals to the dark standout track "Four Corners," the end of this exhaustive trip. But from the ballistic energy put forth, it's clear that the only time Oliveri is gonna get any rest is when the Grim Reaper comes for him.
Jane's Addiction, Strays (Capitol)
Jane's Addiction provided us with two things: Lollapalooza and, short of inventing it, an alternative to rock. And now, after a few years' hiatus, both have returned.
Some wise person (can't remember whom) once said, "You can't make a comeback if you haven't been anywhere." Thankfully, instead of calling the album something corny and predictable like Comeback, the band has called their unexpected new album Strays. And fittingly so. They strayed beyond any defined rock genre, thereby giving it a wider sense, but they also strayed from one another, and from reality (think illicit powdery substances). Performing so-called reunion shows between their new projects namely Porno For Pyros (singer Perry Farrell and drummer Stephen Perkins) and Deconstruction (bassist Eric Avery and guitarist Dave Navarro) the band's chemistry never dissolved nor did the visceral energy falter. The real reunion (minus founding member Avery, who has been replaced by Chris Chaney) has happened at last, in a studio this time, 13 years after Ritual de lo Habitual.
On Strays, melodies embrace a palette of fine acoustics, fuzzy guitar riffs, thumping bass lines and writhing, polyrhythmic drums. The album is colored with psychedelic sounds and roller-coaster grooves. It's aggressive yet grabbing, eclectic yet ethereal, fast and faster. The songs break speed limits, then pace down (somewhat), as "Hypersonic" points out: "We are flying/Hypersonic."
Navarro's funky guitar, an import from his short stint as a Red Hot Chili Pepper, grinds away, devouring the chords, eating the notes alive and throwing them back out against a metal backdrop. Sometimes keyboards step in, enlarging the sonic palette. But they remain faithful to the metal components of their original sound, as the first single "Just Because" and "True Nature" demonstrate.
"From where you are/You'll see our mark/Signing our name/All across the colored sky," off "To Match the Sun," says it all.
If we have to wait another 13 years for another album of this caliber, then so be it. And in the meantime, we'll keep listening to Strays to feed our addiction.
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