Baby-faced teenager JoJo's first single, "Leave (Get Out)," may have teen heads nodding along to beach-blanket boom boxes everywhere, but the generation a little too young for Monica and Ashanti will appreciate that JoJo's self-titled debut album offers 12 other tracks that could just as easily achieve summer-jam ubiquity.
There's no doubt the girl can sing, and the producers make sure her voice is heard. JoJo's billowy soul sound gets a workout somewhat less strenuous than Mariah Carey's and somewhat more professional than Jennifer Lopez's. The beats bump along pleasantly in the mid-tempo range -- even ballads like "Not That Kinda Girl" occupy a space somewhere between the bathtub and the dance floor. And the everybody-dance numbers like "City Lights" are more booty-swaying than booty-shaking. It's all solid, dependable pop, put over with genuine respect for the melted edges of R&B; JoJo even handles SWV's lovely "Weak," one voice doing the work of the original three.
Whatever JoJo's artistic vision, it's not in evidence here, but that's the point. "JoJo" is more of a corporate rock resume than a record album. The debut describes the singer's strengths and provides a dash of harmless exaggeration. The job she's up for is Not Just Another Pop Tart, a career with a future, which the strong R&B melisma and tough-but-tender round-the-way girl persona insist upon even when she gets screechy or acquires (on "Breezy") an inexplicable lisp. She could become head of the Brandy Division in no time.
-- Arion Berger
On the group's new, self-titled CD, veteran British goth-poppers the Cure accomplish a pair of firsts.
For starters, band leader Robert Smith -- he of the cherubic face and the fright-wig hair -- enlisted the services of an outside producer. Ross Robinson, a lifelong Cure fan and knob-twiddler of choice for such whiny metalheads as Korn and Slipknot, got the nod, and under his tutelage, the band -- surprise, surprise -- gets self-indulgent in a hurry.
The album's first track, "Lost," finds Smith in full primal-scream mode, belting out lyrics that should have stayed locked in his therapist's filing cabinet, while the band bashes away dutifully behind him. On "Before Three," Smith waxes pathetic about a childhood memory over music that's alternately mournful and menacing, and elsewhere, the titles of such percussive bellyachers as "The End of the World," "alt.end," and "Us or Them" give much of Smith's thematic game plan away: These tracks aren't songs, exactly. They're harangues.
Which leads to the album's other first: For all the band's funereal affectation and lovelorn lyrics, mope rock has never been its forte. Smith at his best is an ace pop songwriter, and "The Cure" is the first record he's made that doesn't include at least one memorable toe-tapper.
There's no "The Lovecats" here, and certainly no "In Between Days," the hook-happy classic that enlivened an earlier effort at arty difficult listening, 1985's "The Head on the Door."
The closest Smith comes to that former glory is "Labyrinth," a beguiling raga-rocker that threads a serpentine riff through a litany of gloomy mantras. "Everything has to have changed," Smith offers during the track's seething coda. "Or it's me."
On the evidence of "The Cure," you're safe to assume it's the latter.
-- Shannon Zimmerman
SEVENTY TWO & SUNNY
From mulleted Detroit DJ to suburban-redneck rapper to classic-rockin' cowboy, Uncle Kracker has mimicked Motor City pal Kid Rock's city-to-country career path step for step. These days, both dirty white boys seem content indulging their inner Skynyrd, but while Bob Ritchie (that's Kid) keeps the kegger kicking with rowdy odes to tallboys and little ladies, Matt Shafer (that's Kracker) makes music for the bleary mornings after.
On the pleasantly dopey "Seventy Two & Sunny" (think the year, not the temp), Kracker ditches all traces of hip-hop beats in lieu of guitars, handclaps and tambourines. It's a gamble for an artist who got his start as Kid Rock's turntablist, but Kracker's voice -- marinated in Old Grand-Dad and then dragged through an ashtray -- is ideally suited for chronicling the regrets that nag a shaggy, hung-over head.
Although his influence-cluttered mind muddles the disc's middle -- for some reason, he honors Motown's Berry Gordy via the honky-tonk stinker "A Place at My Table" -- most of "Seventy Two" is as cozy as a fake-wood-paneled den. With its "ooh-oohs" and fuzzy guitar, "This Time" is southern-fried Steve Miller Band. "Rescue" plays like a doo-wop number recorded in the Hotel California. And "Freebird"-wannabe "Further Down the Road" -- "Half a mile outside Biloxi / Did I come or did I go?" -- will have truckers drivin' and cryin' all night.
Earlier this year, Kracker lent his warble to Kenny Chesney's beach-bum hit "When the Sun Goes Down." Chesney returns the favor on the pedal-steel-woozy "Last Night Again," a chummy last-call duet that should play big down by the ocean. With the two now headlining a tiki-themed summer tour that has already sold out its July 10 stop at Merriweather Post Pavilion, maybe Kracker's next move will be ditching the Kid Rock route and beelining for Margaritaville.
-- Sean Daly
On the Cure's new self-titled album, goth-rock moves into the harangue mode. Music for the hung over: Uncle Kracker (Matt Shafer) adopts a '70s sound with no trace of hip-hop.