Five Minute Record Reviews: Smashing Pumpkins, Men Without Hats, Sophie B. Hawkins, Walk The Moon and MORE!

Smashing Pumpkins - Oceania

It's hard to put a finger on when the Pumpkins stopped being relevant, but that hasn't kept Billy Corgan from railing against all attempts by outside forced to marginalize this once-iconic alt. rock juggernaut.  While he remains the only remaining original member (thus drawing obvious comparisons to Axl Rose), their new album, Oceania, delivers all the trademark distorto-guitar and snarled hooks that the band is known for, which would be great if it was still 1994.

Album openers "Quasar" and "Panopticon" share similar sonic qualities, making this listener fear that the album will fall into a same-sounding rut, but that is quickly aided by two symphonic rock numbers "The Celestials" and "Violet Rays".  The latter is a stunning track that would put the Pumpkins back on the map if radio played anything at all musically challenging.

"One Diamond, One Heart" is an ethereal rocker that wears its eighties influences on its sleeve.  At this point, we reach the "overly ambitious" part of the record, where Corgan and Co. dive headlong into extended musical excursions that prove to be a little long-winded for mass consumption, but might just floor hardcore fans.  "Pinwheels" is a lilting, hypnotic number that threatens to burst forth, but never quite takes off.  The title cut, on the other hand, is a nine-minute opus that keeps the listener entranced through every msucial twist and turn.

If you're not a Smashing Pumpkins fan already, I doubt there's enough here to change your mind, but those who still consider themselves fans of the band won't be at all disappointed.

Justin Bieber - Believe

Well, it was inevitable that J-Beeb would put out another album.  The thing is, there are so many featured guests and Pro Tool bells and whistles that I'm half convinced that he never spent more than five minutes in the studio.

This isn't so much an album as a collection of the most simplistic hooks repeated ad nauseum, w3ith different effects added to keep them "fresh".  While listening to this record, your IQ will literally drop by ten points with each song, so don't listen to this record the day before a final exam or you'll be repeating tenth grade AGAIN!

Walk The Moon - Walk The Moon

Cincinnati's Walk The Moon are nothing if not a product of their influences, so if you like the first Killers album, Snow Patrol, Fitz & The Tantrums, fun., The Decemberists, and Coldplay, this album will help you consolidate all of those bands down to one concise concoction.

Seriously, the more this album continues, the more you'll be led to believe it isn't so much the work of one band but a compilation of various artists, including those named above.  Whether you love the album or not will ultimately depend on whether you like your bands to have anything original to offer.  If this were high school, these guys may have gotten straight A's, but chances are they were copying off of those around them all along.

Neneh Cherry & The Thing - The Cherry Thing

This project is a collaboration between Neneh Cherry (best known for 1989 hit "Buffalo Stance") and jazz band The Thing (who took their name from a song by her father, jazz legend Don Cherry) and, for those ambitious enough to dive into some jazzy fare, this is a transendent listen full of delightful musical surprises.

Sadly, Neneh seems a little out of her depth at times, but her commitment to trying to hang with the band's virtuosity is admirable and infectious.  "Cashback" marries sultry and sassy vocals to an oft-dissonant musical workout that will leave you spent, but delightfully so.  Put this platter on at your next lounge party and watch the room full of hipster lose their fucking minds.

Men Without Hats - Love In The Age of War

If you wanna feel like the last thirty years never happened, you need only listen to the new album by Men Without Hats, which seems to have just been released from a vaopr-locked '80's time capsule.  Where other bands (Human League, I'm looking at you) try much to hard to sound current by embracing the cheesiest modern production tricks and unnecessarily drenching their vocals in Autotune, the Hats stick to basics and let the quality of the songs shine through.

Produced by Dave Ogilvie (Skinny Puppy, Marilyn Manson), this album is insanely catchy, consistent, and might go far in changing the way a lot of people think about Men Without Hats.  If anybody else hears this album, that is.

Sophie B. Hawkins - The Crossing

Not until I listened to this album did I realize just how much I had missed Sophie B. Hawkins' worldly-wise voice in this age of pre-fab and scantilly-clad female artists.  Best known for hits "Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover" and "As I Lay Me Down".

The sparse instrumentation and unobtrusive production allows Hawkins' vocals to shine clearly on each song.  "Missing" is a wonderful slow jam that beautifully showcases Hawkins' engagingly idiosyncratic vocal talents.  While you won't find the melisma and caterwauling that is so prominent amongst the American Idol/Jennifer Hudson/Aguilera crowd, it's the smoky confidence and deceptively catchy melodies that will hook you before you know it.

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