New Release Round-Up: Weezer. Johnny Marr, Shakey Graves, and Prince!



Weezer - Everything Will Be Alright In The End

On Weezer's ninth studio album (quick, name FIVE of them), we see Rivers Cuomo and company rejoin forces with producer Ric Ocasek, he of Cars fame and the man who produced the almighty Blue Album...and Green album.

Speaking of company, Cuomo enlists song doctors of varying pedigrees on over half the album, which seems kind of odd for a man driven to "get back to his roots".  After all, this is the man who singlehandedly wrote "Buddy Holly", "Undone (The Sweater Song)", "Say It Ain't So", and "Only In Dreams", not to mention ALL of Pinkerton and the Green Album.  Does he really need to work with the likes of Jacob Kasher from Dr. Luke's stable to "get back to his roots"?

Of course, if Cuomo would like to continue writing with Justin Hawkins from The Darkness, who co-penned the masterful "I've Had It Up To Here", by all means do so.  It's this sort of vim and vinegar that the album needs more of, truth be told.

Additionally, is it just us or does all music sound so riduculously compressed these days?  Seeing as how Ocasek comes from the old school of rock production, we were hoping that this would not be the case, but all faders appear to be sla,mming the red throughout the album, giving this listener a bad case of ear fatigue by the midway point.

Where is Ocasek's secret weapon, recording engineer Chris Shaw when we need him?  Shaw, of course, was the main engineer behind the desk for the Blue Album, but has not worked with the band since, choosing instead to embark on his own production career.

If Rivers is truly looking to "get back to his roots", Shaw is the one he should be calling, not Ocasek.



Shakey Graves - And The War Came

If you haven't yet jumped on the Shakey Graves bandwagon, trust me, you will.  Alejandro Rose-Garcia, aka "Shakey Graves" is an old soul trapped in the body of a twenty-something Austin, TX actor (you may have seen him in a recurring role in "Friday Night Lights") who also happens to work up a decent head of steam as a one-man blues rock juggernaut.

And The War Came is his first release for the esteemed Dualtone label and comes three years after his self-released debut joint, Roll The Bones.  Part blues hobo, part folk troubadour, what truly sets Rose-Garcia apart from the Black Keys and Jack Whites of the roots rock world is his intricate pop sensibilities.  Whereas a Jeff Tweedy seems to go out of his way to not write the Great American Pop Song, Rose-Garcia has not met a sublime melody he does not wish to share with the world.

The main difference here - and this has been my main argument about what makes one musician a genius and, say, Kanye West NOT a genius - is that Rose-Garcia's artistry can weather a blackout whereas Mr. West has to cancel a show if his video rig breaks down.

This is an album we'll be talking about when it comes time to draft those Year-End Best-Of lists.  If there is any justice in the world, we'll still be talking about this one ten or twenty years from now.



Johnny Marr - Playland

So there I was in Starbucks listening to their usual in-store granola pop playlist when something a little left-of-center reared its head, sounding like something from the mid-90s UK guitar rock movement...but who could it be?

A quick trip to the counter to ask "hey, who is this?" revealed it to be none other than former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr.  Over the course of the next hour, I was treated to more selections from Marr's latest solo effort, Playland.

Now, I'm a big fan of Marr's guitar work and will normally check out any album that he plays on, but, even so, I will freely admit to being puzzled by Marr's career choices since leaving the Smiths.  This includes his brief stints in the Pretenders, Electronic, and Modest Mouse.

Even so, anytime someone like Marr makes a solo album, my concern is that their vocal limitations might hinder my enjoyment of said solo work, much like Bernard Butler, whom I adore as a guitarist.
Marr's vocals are a pleasant surprise, perfectly palatable for the material, if a tad unremarkable.  Still, I'd put him on-par with a Bobby Gillespie, but not so much a Richard Ashcroft.

Over the course of Playland's eleven cuts, Marr paints with a varied musical palette, from subtle textural nuances on "Candidate" to big stadium rock strokes on the Muse-like first single "Easy Money".



Prince - Art Official Age

After over three decades of toying with his audience and eschewing the major label system, Prince is again willing to play ball with Warner Brothers, giving them his first cohesive big league pop record since '91's Diamonds And Pearls.

The old Prince - the one who once scrawled "slave" across his cheek in revbellion against WB's contractual restrictions - surfaces on the slyly named album-opener "Art Official Cage".  If he needs to feel he's bucking the system even as he embraces it once again, so be it.  Hopefully the musical results will be worth exploring.

Of course, to determine whether a new Prince album is up-to-snuff, one must inevitably compare it to those songs for which "The Artist Formerly Known As A Squiggle" is best-known: you know, "1999", "Little red Corvette", "When You Were Mine," "Purple Rain", and so on.

"Clouds" wouldn't have stood a chance on Purple Rain, but it wouldn't sound out of place on Prince's debut, which was a huge funk hit, but lacked the big breakout smash that wouldn't come until 1999's title cut.

"Breakdown", on the other hand, is an old-school ballad that makes superb use of Prince's emotive falsetto and is the album's best hope for the sort of smash to help Prince reach a whole new generation of admirers.

"The Gold Standard" melds "Kiss" with Cameo's "Word Up" for the sole purpose of putting the booties on the dancefloor where they belong.

The album's other highlight comes in the form of yet another ballad; the playful slow-burner "This Could Be Us".  Makes you wish there was still a radio format that played this kinda thing...even if it does bear a slight resemblance to everybody's favorite Flight Of The Conchords tune.

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