DON'T BELIEVE THE TRUTH
Meet the new Oasis, same as the old Oasis.
For seven albums now, the brothers Gallagher (lead singer Liam and guitarist Noel) have been racking up royalties with an unswerving dedication to Beatles-esque melody-making and a rock-'em-sock-'em sibling rivalry lifted straight from the Kinks.
So when the boys and their band kick off "Don't Believe the Truth" with a sure-shot soccer-hooligan anthem ("Turn Up the Sun") that encourages everyone to "love one another," you don't need a video to tell which way the wind blows: These guys are winking and nodding all the way to the bank.
On the rest of the disc, the Gallaghers -- who recently enlisted Ringo's son Zak Starkey to play drums -- play it relatively straight. "Guess God Thinks I'm Abel" camps out in the Norwegian woods, with Noel's acoustic guitar providing the perfect foil for his brother's Lennonlike warble. Noel steps to the mike for "The Importance of Being Idle," a track that finds Oasis's chief songwriter selling his "soul for the second time" over a tightly crafted tune that's half Tin Pan Alley, half "Strawberry Fields Forever."
Meanwhile, on "Mucky Fingers," the band borrows the bashing beat and chord progression of the Velvet Underground's junk-rock classic "I'm Waiting for the Man" -- the catchiest little song about heroin addiction ever -- and uses them to similarly intoxicating effect.
Progress? Not exactly. But when a formula works, why mess with success? Hook-happy and tuneful, Oasis's latest lives up to the promise of the band's name.
-- Shannon Zimmerman
Black Eyed Peas
It's only fitting that music fans got their first taste of the Black Eyed Peas' new album through a Best Buy commercial. After all, the genre-sampling hip-hop act owes much of its success to the NBA ad campaign that took the not-ready-for-airtime "Let's Get Retarded" -- the best song from the band's last release, "Elephunk" -- and turned it into the monster hit "Let's Get It Started."
This time out, it's "Pump It" that gets the Madison Avenue treatment. Kicking off "Monkey Business" with a blast of surf guitars, the pseudo-jingle begins to shift in catchy chorus after catchy chorus from strings to a plaintive punctuation of mariachi horns. As an opener, it's a clear signal of the wide-ranging musical influences to come. As for what it says about the album's quality, though, it's hardly a testament to truth in advertising: The quality falls off significantly after the first song.
The catchy "Don't Phunk With My Heart" that follows might promise to be the summer's second big dance around the expletive (see also Stevie Wonder's "What the Fuss"), but the rest of the catch-all collection of musical styles is just a mishmash of unfulfilled potential that not even the requisite guest artists can save. The painfully repetitive "My Style" wastes the talents of Justin Timberlake, and the Godfather of Soul only helps rip himself off on "They Don't Want Music." Throw in the Jack Johnson samples on "Gone Going," Sting's stylings on the album-closing "Union" and the band's only-average work alone, and the Peas merely add to the confusion.
A follow-up might be a long time coming -- especially considering rampant rumors of a breakup and a series of impending side projects and solo discs -- but perhaps the band should pare down the influences next time out and instead line up a few more ideas.
-- Chris Hopfensperger
Jim Elkington sings with a sneer. But on "Dimmer," the second record from the Zincs, it never seems he's sneering at the listener. Instead, Elkington fancies looking down on "Beautiful Lawyers," "Bad Shepherds" and "Passengers," and, his favorite subject of scorn, himself.
Possessing a baritone that has drawn comparisons to gloomy crooners Lloyd Cole and Scott Walker, Elkington would probably sound snobby singing the transit schedules of his adopted home town of Chicago. And he and co-producer Mark Greenberg ride those smoky pipes to dominate this unusual, shape-shifting album. What keeps "Dimmer" from being merely a series of cranky, low-register complaints are the varied musical settings the Zincs conjure. Elkington sings each phrase (example: "What doesn't kill me only makes my life longer") so that it matches the thrust of the lyric. "Sunday Night" is plinky chamber music. "Stay in Your Homes" lurks and stabs behind a trembling organ. "Moment Is Now!" soars semi-optimistically on folk-pop wings. What the record really resembles -- and repeated playings reveal these finely accented touches -- are the songs of Richard Davies, the Australian transplant whose work with Eric Matthews in Cardinal helped spark the orch-pop movement. And like Davies, Elkington's Zincs are mining delicate and moody terrain, places where sneers sub for smiles and the self-absorbed jokes are arid.
-- Patrick Foster
A RIVER AIN'T TOO MUCH TO LOVE
Since the late 1980s, Bill Callahan has performed and recorded under the alias Smog, offsetting his notoriously lo-fi music with an over-serious baritone and intensely personal lyrics. At times his vocals sound less like singing than a spoken poetry reading. Smog's latest, "A River Ain't Too Much to Love," continues his tradition of lyrical expression, capturing even in its title the immeasurable and the intangible, much like his own nebulous moniker.
Callahan recorded "A River" at Willie Nelson's Pedernales Studio in Spicewood, Tex., rather than his home town of Chicago, and this migration southward seems natural for someone whose stoic deadpan is closer to a drawl than a growl. But the southern influence ends there. "A River" is far from twang. Instead, Callahan's slow, repetitive guitar tones give a comforting warmth to the lullaby-like "Running the Loping." Callahan maintains the sharp attention to detail that such minimalistic arrangements require, from the faint whistling during "In the Pines" to the sharp rum-pa-pum-pum percussion fills added by the Dirty Three's Jim White on "Say Valley Maker."
"A River" reaches a high point with "Rock Bottom Riser," in which Callahan infuses seemingly cheesy lyrics ("I bought this guitar / to pledge my love / to pledge my love to you") with such melancholy it sounds as though he hasn't smiled in years. Coupled with the subtle piano playing of folkster Joanna Newsom, Callahan's openly honest lyrics, his simple but sharp arrangements and his dryly intense vocals fuse in this under-the-radar songwriter's most cohesive album to date.
-- Catherine P. Lewis