Wednesday, October 4, 2006
With the sole exception of 2002's achy-breaky "Sea Change" -- Beck's gorgeously bummed-out kiss-off to an old girlfriend -- indie rock's erstwhile "Loser" has been a musical prankster. He's a pastiche artist with a knack for stitching hip-hop beats, Dylanesque wordplay, and various rock hybrids (funk-, folk- and punk-) into tracks that sink only occasionally under the weight of their own cleverness.
That trend continues with Beck's latest, "The Information," but this time out, the medium is the message: From the album art -- blue-lined graph paper with a set of stickers for do-it-yourself creativity -- on down to the loose, riff-based arrangements of head-swaying keepers such as "Elevator Music," "Nausea" and "We Dance Alone," Beck basically dares listeners to rip his new tunes and use 'em as fresh loops in their own musicmaking programs.
In keeping with the collage aesthetic, Beck the record-collecting music geek pastes in a few choice cuts, too. "Think I'm in Love" borrows a title from Eddie Money, a bass line from Stereolab and a string section that sounds left over from the sessions for "Eleanor Rigby." Elsewhere, the piano arpeggios that power "Strange Apparition" could be wafting in from a car radio playing the Stones' "Exile on Main Street" at neighbor-waking volume, and "Cellphone's Dead" -- the disc's finest four minutes and change -- draws inspiration from Rick James, Jay-Z and Kraftwerk.
Reflexively eclectic? You bet. "The Information" is never less than the sum of its parts, though. And at its best, it's a whole lot more.
-- Shannon Zimmerman
With his oversize shades and gleaming dome, Sleepy Brown casts himself as the embodiment of cool, black male sexuality -- an Isaac Hayes for the MySpace generation. He's good at impersonating other singers, sounding like a competent Curtis Mayfield and putting a clever twist on Lisa Lisa ("Come Dance With Me"), but his debut demonstrates that he has yet to develop his own distinct voice.
Brown is essentially a great hook singer. His flawless falsetto completed last year's "The Way You Move," an OutKast "Speakerboxx" hit.
And he's one-third of Organized Noize, a production team that helped define Atlanta's unique Boho hip-hop sound since the mid-'90s. But Brown lacks the artistic vision and emotional range to carry a solo effort. Most of the music is anemic and tinny, trying to reference Motownesque horns and strings, which never quite mesh with the preprogrammed drum track feel.
Brown's better songs rely on other people's star power, such as the festive bongo-driven "Margarita" with Pharrell and Big Boi. And Andre 3000's verse on "I Can't Wait" gives color and wit to a silky Sleepy Brown refrain: "Ascots to match the socks / What's in your Speakerboxx? / Pink and blue / You're lollygagging / You're slowpoking."
Too cool to push up his shirtsleeves and plumb his emotional depths, Brown is a prisoner of his own sexiness, hoping to get by on a series of forgettable baby-makin' album cuts and an endless medley of erotic "oohs" and "aahs." But his heroes, like Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder, understood that complexity, and maybe some sorrow, was the secret behind the sexual tension.
-- Serena Kim
THE OPEN DOOR
It was tough to resist sneaking Evanescence into your iPod when the group materialized with the first sign of tolerable nu-metal. Here was a band out of Arkansas, of all places, fronted by a Goth girl-next-door who played piano and rocked the pit with plaintive yet grandiose singing. Evanescence won two Grammys, sold 15 million albums worldwide and, naturally, flirted with self-destruction.
Remember what happened to Limp Bizkit's music when that monkey-faced guitar player bailed? No? It was so abominable that you created a mental block. Evanescence faces a similar hurdle: Guitarist Ben Moody -- writing partner of operatic singer Amy Lee -- exited mid-tour in 2003. Mouth breather or not, dude is missed. This CD has no equivalent to Evanescence's smash, "Bring Me to Life." The first single, "Call Me When You're Sober" -- Lee's shot at ex-boyfriend Shaun Morgan of Seether -- would be more fun as a Gretchen Wilson stomp.
Yet most Evanescence fans will pierce their eyebrows in approval. The same slick guitars chug beneath these 13 tracks. Majestic strings and piano embalm Lee's study-hall scribblings. She's still mired in martyrdom, surviving broken hearts at Buffy the Vampire Slayer's high school. She's just a little less vulnerable now. Notice the satisfied snicker at the end of "Sober"? During "Sweet Sacrifice" Lee warns, "One day I'm gonna forget your name, and one sweet day, you're gonna drown in my lost pain."
And one fine day, our drama queen will wind up alone in her enchanted castle. But at present, there are still enough potential ex-boyfriends working the register at Hot Topic to keep Evanescence in business for eternity.
-- Michael Deeds