“God Forgives, I Don't"
Def Jam Recordings
Without challenging Bruce Springsteen's stature, it's apt to call Rick Ross “the Boss." The rapper and Maybach Music mogul is a self-proclaimed chieftain who's got several singles announcing his top-tier managerial role, and the guy certainly has the goods to back up his boast. “God Forgives" entered the Nielsen SoundScan charts at No. 1, his fourth album to do so.
Ross' deep growl wraps itself around the dark, stark realities of “Hold Me Back," and warms up for the play-it-cool romanticism of his Usher duet “Touch 'N You." Ross takes to Drambuie-smooth grooves and slippery OutKast-ish funk (with Andre 3000 on “Sixteen") with equal aplomb.
Yet there's an urgency at work here. “Ashamed" would wallow in tearful self-loathing if Ross didn't come out victorious at its operatic finale. And it seems as though every hard beat, every choice of rap partner — save for the dull misstep of “3 Kings" with Jay-Z and Dr. Dre — is all part of his plan.
— A.D. Amorosi, The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Just Tell Me That You Want Me: A Tribute to Fleetwood Mac"
It's rare that you pick up a tribute album with no idea what you're going to get.
But this celebration of Fleetwood's Mac's music uses many alternative bands (Washed Out, Tame Impala, Gardens & Villa), and they've ventured into the remoter regions of Mac's catalog — the collection closes with, of all things, a Bob Welch song covered by MGMT — so it's all pretty revelatory. Highlights include Antony's tremulous, votive take on “Landslide," the Kills' merciless deconstruction of “Dreams," and the New Pornographers' fizzy, fuzzy do-over of Christine McVie's “Think About Me." A tribute? It's more of a transformation, with moments both strange and wonderful.
— David Hiltbrand, The Philadelphia Inquirer
“The Midsummer Station"
Universal Republic Records
Adam Young, aka Mr. Owl City, makes it sound easy.
The streamlined dance pop that fills his fifth album, “The Midsummer Station," is so deceptively simple he even seems to reference it in his current irresistible smash with Carly Rae Jepsen, “Good Time." “We don't even have to try," they practically giggle in harmony. “It's always a good time."
Ah, but that straightforward and carefree feeling — which also drove Owl City's breakthrough smash, “Fireflies" — takes work. Young is a master at stripping away unnecessary layers to make sure his catchy, lighter-than-air melodies take flight and stay aloft.
Sure, he uses big beats to drive parts of “The Midsummer Station," giving the gloriously glitchy “Speed of Love" and the rock-leaning “Dementia," featuring blink-182's Mark Hoppus, some dynamic lift.
He also keeps his sense of humor, making a fun police siren sound that becomes the focus of the swooping “I'm Coming After You."
However, Young really is at his best when he is quietest, delivering uncertain bedroom confessions in his most vulnerable voice. And despite the trappings of its timely production, the lovely piano ballad “Silhouette" feels timeless, perhaps as memorable in the long run as “Good Time."
Of course, for now, we'll all just enjoy the good time.
— Glenn Gamboa, Newsday
The poles of modern R&B are, roughly, R. Kelly and Usher, who have sex in common but little else. Kelly, despite his constitutional lasciviousness, is a direct inheritor of the church's inspired shouts, a channeler of outrageously deep sentiment and in easy command of his gift. By contrast, Usher is studiously anodyne, using his limber voice to sketch feelings without ever filling them in.
For years, Trey Songz has been squeezing into Kelly's shadow, not a surprise for a man who, on his fifth album, “Chapter V," spells interlude “interlewd." Trey Songz has never been as powerful a singer as Kelly, but he huffs and puffs convincingly, and his commitment to intimate detail mirrors Kelly's; both men are happy to draw blueprints, giving big voice to small, sometimes odd details.
There are limits, though, to the R. Kelly model, and Trey Songz, a reliable hitmaker but not a true star, has been pushing up against them for the last couple of years. On “Chapter V," one of his most consistently strong albums, he begins to explore life on the other side. That's clear from the moist single, “Dive In," in which he deploys a light and lovely falsetto that's reminiscent of Usher, even though the quaver in his voice elsewhere on the song is pure R. Kelly.
There's a similar back and forth on “Panty Wetter," which has R. Kelly intensity but which includes a possible wink: “I just wanna go nice and slow," he sings, suggesting the Usher hit.
Usher has one thing on Kelly: He's a true pop star, largely because he filters some of the church intensity out of R&B — not just in his recent dance-soul period, but even before then. On “Chapter V" it's easy to hear Trey Songz toggling between these two extremes, bending his voice in different ways as the mood, and the mold, demands.
Undeniably, this is a conundrum, but this flexible singer may have sensed a way out of this hamster wheel.
— Jon Caramanica, The New York Times
Kele Okereke, the lead singer of Bloc Party, transmits at a steady frequency, making few distinctions between the mundane and the epic. The songs on “Four," the band's new jolt of stylized catharsis, attempt to engage with issues both personal and sociopolitical, and Okereke does his part to level the field, inflating some and cutting others to size.
Bloc Party, which hails from London, is well accustomed to these strategies. The band has managed to outlast the postpunk-revival boomlet from which it emerged, diversifying its sound (up to a point) and broadening its focus (likewise). “Four," produced by Alex Newport, still has the vertiginous pulse and snarling riffs that have been Bloc Party trademarks since the band's breakout 2005 debut. At times, as on “Octopus," this album's hyper-caffeinated lead single, it's the surface details that seem to matter most.
Then again, “Four" opens with “So He Begins to Lie," a reflection on the fraudulent undertow of celebrity. It closes with “We Are Not Good People," a Faustian appeal to a potentially corruptible young man. About halfway in comes “Kettling," with lyrics that evoke a groundswell of populist protest in an unspecified locale. And on “Coliseum," Okereke yelps some kind of declaration — “The empire never ended!"
Because Okereke rarely modulates his level of urgency, these flare-ups of topicality feel less convincing than his moments of vitriol (“Team A") or reassurance (“The Healing") or romantic avowal (“Truth"). On “V.A.L.I.S.," apparently inspired by the philosophically minded Philip K. Dick novel of the same name, Okereke imagines a dystopian future version of himself. “You gotta show me the way," he implores, over a crisply propulsive new-wave beat.
— Nate Chinen, The New York Times