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Quick Spins: Music Reviews

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

LOVE VS. MONEY

The-Dream

Terius Youngdell Nash, a.k.a. The-Dream, is the singer with the pocket-size voice and the golden pen whose co-writing credits include behemoth hits for Rihanna ("Umbrella"), Britney Spears ("Me Against the Music") and Beyoncé ("Single Ladies").

His sophomore disc, "Love vs. Money," is an occasionally nifty, occasionally uninspired R&B disc that cribs heavily from vintage R. Kelly in the same way its predecessor, Nash's 2007 debut, "Love Hate," borrowed from "Purple Rain"-era Prince.

Nash and his production partner (and "Umbrella" co-conspirator) Christopher "Tricky" Stewart attempt to trick out an entire disc with the same sort of stutters and tics that made "Umbrella" such an idiosyncratic hit, as if hoping enough stop-start beats and electro-voiced distortion effects will work the same magic here.

The pair labors mightily to make sure "Love" isn't the standard collection of bangers and slow jams, but Nash lacks the wide-screen presence necessary to make these songs pop. Kanye West and Mariah Carey (who contribute the sublime, loopy "Walkin' on the Moon" and the textbook-but-still-pretty-great finger-snappy ballad "My Love," respectively) briefly enliven the proceedings, but "Love vs. Money" is otherwise high-concept, middlebrow R&B with a charisma deficit.

Several of its tracks are bedroom jams from the R. Kelly school of ridiculously protracted foreplay: "Sweat It Out" starts with a preparatory trip to the hairdresser and devolves from there; and the laborious "Kelly's 12 Play," in which Nash and his lady get busy to the Kelly classic, may be the least sexy thing here.

-- Allison Stewart

DOWNLOAD THESE: "Walkin' on the Moon," "My Love," "Love vs. Money: Part 2"

LA LUZ DE RITMO

Los Fabulosos Cadillacs

After a six-year hiatus, this is supposed to be Argentine superstars Los Fabulosos Cadillacs' soaring return, a showcase of musical muscle illustrating the vitality of their past contributions and the continued relevance of their talents. After all, since their 1986 debut, these guys have been one of Latin rock's most enduring and influential bands. But the new album is something of a head scratcher. Just consider the song roster: Only five -- fewer than half -- are new compositions. Six are re-workings from prior albums. And two are covers.

Of the new songs, perhaps only "El Fin del Amor" really shines -- with its sad, strained vocal over a twangy guitar and some bright brass. Certainly some of the recast songs are curious: "Mal Bicho," one of the group's biggest hits, has nearly every Latin music element stripped from it in favor of a new light funk arrangement. It's fine but, er, why?

And what of all the original angst of "Basta de Llamarme Asi," sucked right out in favor of a boppy little ska beat? Ditto "Muy, Muy Temprano." The only old song that gathers strength and depth here is "Condenaditos," now a spare dirge, rendered utterly haunting. And while the Fab Cads' version of the Clash's "Should I Stay or Should I Go" is perfectly serviceable, it's Ian Dury's "Wake Up and Make Love With Me" that stands out among the covers. Song by song however, this album feels a lot less than the sum of its parts.

-- Achy Obejas

DOWNLOAD THESE: "El Fin del Amor," "El Genio del Dub," "Condenaditos," "Wake Up and Make Love With Me"

SCREAM

Chris Cornell

The photo on the cover of Chris Cornell's latest solo album shows the gifted rock wailer forcefully smashing his electric guitar. This ax execution is not in the spirit of, say, Pete Townshend. Cornell simply didn't need a guitar to create this Timbaland-produced, computer-generated dance-floor disaster.

Fans of Cornell's former bands, Soundgarden and Audioslave, knew this experiment could be sketchy. It's worse than that. These synth-driven tracks will send you into convulsions at best, make you choke yourself with your iPod earbuds at worst. Cornell's sky-scraping power scream has been neutered by technology, urban beats and face-numbing "soundscape" production. What is that vocal effect? Vocoder? Auto-Tune? Cylon? It makes Cornell sound like he's been assimilated by the Borg and transported to the most boring disco in the universe. Songs such as "Take Me Alive" will have grunge-era listeners whimpering, "Kill . . . me . . . now" -- and not just because Justin Timberlake adds backing vocals.

It's natural for a 44-year-old man to crave experimentation. Cornell's first solo album, 1999's "Euphoria Morning," was an innocuous-enough outlet. Even his cover of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" on 2007's "Carry On" was tolerable. But for a guy with Cornell's pipes, "Scream" is a bizarre waste. With guidance and songwriting help, Cornell still has time to quickly become, like, a 21st-century Billy Squier! Instead, we get him as Bill Nye the Science Guy, pouring robot-boy vocals and glow-stick grooves into a musical beaker that doesn't even fizz.

Cornell plays the 9:30 club April 5.

-- Michael Deeds

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