Five-Minute Record Reviews: Muse, Beth Orton, Cher Lloyd and Matt & Kim!

Muse - The 2nd Law

With any new Muse album, you pretty much know you're gonna get a liberal dose of bombast, a dash of Queen-era flambouyance, and hooks large enough to fill an arena, which is no doubt what Muse will be doing themselves this spring and summer as they hit the road. The only thing to determine is if the band succeeds in meeting the expectations created by powerhouse albums The Resistance and Black Holes And Revelations.

Album opener supremacy brings the bombast, but the middle section bottoms out and meanders a little too lonmg, making this five-minute track seem even longer. "Madness" begins with a throbbing kick drum and bass synth figure over which Matthew Bellamy's understated (for once) vocals dance effortlessly, a plaintive guitar line creeps in - stolen almost directly from Queen's "I Want To Break Free" - and, before you know it, you find yourself hooked on a song that is no doubt Muse's attempt at creating a midtempo classic a la U2's "One". The Queen fix continues with a casual lift of the "Another One Bites The Dust" bass line on "Panic Station". "Animals" continues the rather subdued vibe of this record, which seems to be Muse's version of a come-down record to be played for those still high from the pomp and bombast of "The Resistance".

Beth Orton - Sugaring Season

It's hard to believe that it's been 16 years since Orton shook the world awake with her heady mix of acoustic/trip-hop on 1996's Trailer Park album. Since then, the British songstress has continued to mine that path with mixed results and her popularity has remained very much within the confines of the NPR crowd, which is a shame because her vocal talents are on-par with the likes of Natalie Merchant and Sinead O'Connor, two gals who enjoyed household name status.

On Sugaring Season, gone are the electronic elements that made her acoustic musings more palatable to the hipster kids and the result is an album that rests entirely on whether the vocals are strong enough to carry the songs. Thankfully, the answer to that song is yes and you will not hear another album this year that so confidently unfolds in such beautiful, tiny steps with each listen. A must-hear!

Cher Lloyd - Sticks & Stones

It really doesn't matter who the artist is on this record, as the materal is identical to that found on the latest records by any number of ladies (Nicki Minaj and Rihanna, for example) whose persona and inability to keep their clothes on outkicks their actual talent. By the album's midway point, Lloyd's determination to differentiate herself begisn to grate on the listener, as on the head-scratchingly lame "Swagger Jagger". It's heartbreaking that a song like this is what passes for a #1 hit these days.

Matt & Kim - Lightning

On this, their fourth album, the duo of create an album that, to our ears at least, sounds like Brooklyn. The weird thing is we thought that before we reminded ourselves that Brooklyn is, in fact, this duo's hometown. Whereas "Sidewalks" was seemingly spit-polished to a pure-pop sheen, this record sounds grittier and almost demo-quality (in a good sense). What makes this record essential, though, are the songs, which benefit from a greater variance in tempo and instrumentation. "Tonight" is the power jam, though; a song that seems tailor-made for the next Chevy Sonic commercial.

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