Quick Spins: Reviews of Albums by Amerie, Weezer and Julian Casablancas

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Tuesday, November 3, 2009



Amerie is just one of the many singers touched by the magic of Rich Harrison, the D.C. producer who made Beyoncé's solo career with "Crazy in Love," revived Jennifer Lopez (post-Ben Affleck), and resuscitated Toni Braxton (post-bankruptcy). But Harrison has collaborated with Amerie more than anyone else: He produced her first two albums and created "1 Thing," the go-go-meets-the-Meters single that she'll spend the rest of her life trying to duplicate.

Amerie's fourth studio album, "In Love & War," contains neither Harrison nor a hit of "1 Thing" magnitude, but it shows she can put together a solid collection of dance tracks all by herself -- with the help of a few good producers (such as Teddy Riley and Sean Garrett), of course.

Part of the album's strength lies in songs built around ultra recognizable samples -- give the people a melody or beat they already know and they're halfway to the dance floor, right? The Buchanans-produced lead single "Why R U" borrows heavily from the Ultramagnetic MCs' "Ego Trippin," and on "More Than Love," Amerie and Fabolous spar over a track that rips the Roy Ayers remix of Kool & the Gang's "Summer Madness." "Pretty Brown," a duet with Trey Songz, is crafted from the bones of the old Mint Condition song "Breakin' My Heart (Pretty Brown Eyes)."

Unfortunately, the second half of "In Love & War" is mostly dreary ballads: Piano and synth engage in a depressive battle on "The Flowers," and "Dear John," a piece more sparse than what Amerie usually sings over, reveals an occasionally thin voice and explains why she sounds best on tracks fleshed out with plenty of cowbells and whistles.

-- Sarah Godfrey



"Raditude" will forever be known as the album on which Weezer went pop. Not the sharp, endearing power pop the group perfected during its "Buddy Holly" halcyon days: This is eighth-grade shopping mall pop of such terrifying blandness it's unclear whether the band is paying homage to its legacy, or setting fire to it.

In any case, "Raditude" is a career changer, an alt-rock Rubicon-crosser. It baffles: Is it a mindlessly catchy pop album by a group that has given up any pretense of credibility? Or is it a hipster band's ironic commentary on mindlessly catchy pop albums?

If the songs were better, it wouldn't matter. But "Raditude" has one charmer, the breakneck "(If You're Wondering If I Want You to) I Want You To," and too many lesser, generic sound-alikes to count. Frontman Rivers Cuomo delivers these mostly pedestrian tracks as if he were auditioning to be the fourth Jonas Brother. On the rap/rock hybrid "Can't Stop Partying," a collaboration with Jermaine Dupri and a desultory Lil Wayne, Cuomo sings about Patron and VIP rooms and gives a shout-out to his posse.

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