Daughters, hide your mothers: Teen heartthrob rapper Bow Wow is finally legal. And in recognition of his milestone March birthday, Mr. 106th and Park has released "Wanted," an obvious effort to establish himself as a mature artist. But even though the former Lil' Bow Wow can now vote and enjoy an alcoholic beverage in certain foreign countries, his artistic growth spurt still hasn't kicked in.
Bow Wow's voice has achieved a pleasant, deep tone with age, but his lyrics have a ways to go to catch up with his timbre. "Wanted" has Bow Wow taking a stab at subjects that only seem adult in the minds of youngsters -- older women, cars and cash.
Executive Producer Jermaine Dupri indulges Bow Wow's attempts at sophistication with complex grownup beats, but neither the rock guitar and mezzo-soprano vocals of "Do You" nor the orchestral strings and drum machine fits of "Mo Money" obscure Bow Weezy's often graceless timing and simplistic word choices.
Luckily for him, little girls aren't papering their bedrooms with his posters because of his mastery of hip-hop meter.
Squishy puppy love jams such as "Let Me Hold You," which features Omarion and uses a sleek Luther Vandross sample, and "Is That You (P.Y.T.)," will send tweens swooning. But when Bow Wow and his girlfriend, crunk princess Ciara, declare that "we gon' always be together" on the vibrating double-time duet "Like You," young fans will stop kissing their pillowcases and start crying into them.
-- Sarah Godfrey
THE WORLD AND EVERYTHING IN IT
The Oranges Band
Roman Kuebler's voice -- a gentlemanly thing that carries a hint of the '40s and '50s -- is what separates the Baltimore-based Oranges Band from the indie-rock competition. While the frontmen of bands such as Spoon, the Shins and the New Pornographers operate with a certain air of self-awareness, Kuebler is far more nonchalant.
It's not exactly the sound of innocence, though. The 11 songs on the Oranges Band's new disc, "The World and Everything in It," all seem like refugees from a long-forgotten new wave summer -- they're a little scruffy and a little sunburned, but their intelligence and dignity haven't been compromised.
The obvious hit -- i.e., the song most likely to make the soundtrack of "The O.C." -- is "Ride the Nuclear Wave," which sounds like a condensation of all the guitar-pop goodness made famous by MTV's defunct "120 Minutes" show.
The song's lyrics are key, though: "So when you swim in the reef / And the sharks speak / Look past the rows of teeth / There's truth and they cannot hide / Listen to the fish inside," Kuebler sings, proving that Morrissey-like metaphors are not dead.
That song is sandwiched between two keepers: "White Ride," a bright and buzzy road-trip song with a touch of delirium, and the taut title track, which is the disc's darkest, most otherworldly point.
The other songs are stocked with little pleasures that sometimes bear the influence of Spoon -- Kuebler toured with that band before forming the Oranges -- but ultimately this foursome constructs its own brand of nice-guy rock-and-roll, one well-studied hook at a time.
-- Joe Warminsky
Daniel Lanois's 2003 release "Shine" featured Emmylou Harris, Bono -- and actual songs. With "Belladonna," the Canadian musician-producer perhaps best known for helming "The Joshua Tree" has chosen to evoke the beginning of his career, his work with Brian Eno.
Not that the all-instrumental "Belladonna" offers ambient music, exactly; some of its tracks are structured almost like songs, and it's sometimes relentlessly programmatic, as on the ersatz-Mexican "Agave," which boasts falsetto warbling, mission bells and trumpets that are too close to Herb Alpert for comfort. Lanois reveals a fondness for a machinery-like hum on his opening track, "Two Worlds"; later, the romantic soundtrack piano and guitar of "Telco" are hassled by what sounds like power tools. Lanois returns to the buzzy stuff on the album's conclusion, "Todos Santos," which features a close-your-windows roar of planes, wasps, or something else you don't want to let in. (At least Lanois can never be accused of making easy-listening fare.) But "Belladonna" improves as it goes along -- or maybe as the listener succumbs to its world.
"Frozen" may be the album's most compelling track, if only because of its unexpectedness: As Lanois's eloquent pedal steel skates all over the landscape, the bass and drums persist in their own reggae party. The portentous -- not pretentious -- "Panorama," with disorienting channel shifts that might be downright nauseating for a headphone listener, glides gently into the brooding guitar-based melody of "Flametop Green," set amid a hospital-room stillness.
It's not for folks who like Lanois because of his work with U2, but there are plenty of moments on "Belladonna" for listeners who prize the transformative quality of a simple chord change.
-- Pamela Murray Winters