Carly Rae Jepsen
Rarely is a pop cycle so concentrated. Impossibly friendly sugar shot “Call Me Maybe" slowly wins over even the pop-phobic because the awkward sentiment is too universal. It ascends uncontrollably to this year’s “Beat It" or “Losing My Religion" status.
Needing only to prove that unfailing bubbliness isn’t a one-hit jinx, “Kiss" never strays from major-key four on the floor, with lyrics so remarkably banal they attract two unfortunate collaborators, Justin Bieber and Owl City.
But the sheer constancy quickly becomes its own wonder; with only two songs that pass as ballads, the Owl City duet a surprise highlight, and several classics (“Hurt So Good," “More Than a Memory") you’d swear are ripped off, this is the fluff pinnacle Wilson Phillips didn’t have the humility to make.
Band of Horses
As if to dispel memories of their last album, 2010’s Grammy-nominated “Infinite Arms," Band of Horses open “Mirage Rock" with “Knock Knock," a ripping one-chord rock song that blasts out of the gate with a joyful howl.
Instead of “Arms’" cosmic country harmonies, “Mirage Rock" puts the emphasis on the Rock, and producer Glyn Johns, who worked with the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin, reins in the band’s penchant for endless reverb.
Helmed by Ben Bridwell, (the band) hasn’t forsaken acoustic ballads, but this time around the anchors are loud rockers such as “Feud." Often, though, the album plays like a series of homages: “Electric Music," to the Stones; “Slow Cruel Hands of Time," to the Byrds; “Dumpster World," to America (the band); “Long Vowels," to recent tour mates My Morning Jacket.
Maybe that’s the mirage part.
Warner Bros. Records
As mid-career transformations go, Green Day’s graduation from smart-aleck “Dookie" punks to chroniclers of the “American Idiot" turn of the century may be the grandest ever.
The question — after the Grammy-winning and, later, Tony-winning rock anthems of “American Idiot" and its equally heady follow-up, “21st Century Breakdown" — became whether they could keep it up. “ĦUno!," the first installment in an ambitious garage-rock trilogy to be released over the next four months, answers with a defiant sneer and sarcastic single-finger salute.
While “ĦUno!" isn’t overtly political, it’s certainly disgruntled, even when Billie Joe Armstrong is singing his sunniest power-pop melodies and bassist Mike Dirnt and drummer Tre Cool do their best to make you pogo and pump your fist.
The gorgeous “Sweet 16" is a love song set in abandoned warehouses and sleeping on the floor on cardboard. “Fell for You" is a garage-rock marvel, filled with sweet harmonies. “Troublemaker" gets you to start chanting the chorus, “Wanna be a troublemaker," almost immediately.
The sharpness of Armstrong’s lyrics, combined with Rob Cavallo’s slick, modern production, keeps “ĦUno!" moving forward, even as the band looks back to ’60s power pop, ’70s punk and early ’80s new wave for inspiration.
What makes “ĦUno!" even more special is its biggest anthems, the rousing “Let Yourself Go" and stomping “Oh Love," could have arrived at any point in the past 40 years and sounded great. They’ll sound pretty great in the next 40, too.
Mumford & Sons
Mumford & Sons seem to have figured out that there is more than one way to put together a song. This tweaking of their songwriting technique gives this album a decent flow — and makes it a much smoother listen than “Sigh No More."
While there are some real gems here, occasionally the songs tend to fade into generic background folk music. This happens near the album’s end in particular.
The band still takes the “all hands on deck" approach too often, pulling out the horn section and background electric guitars to make a huge clamor.
Still, the band has made small but significant strides since their first album. “Babel" isn’t a great album, but it’s a good one.
“PUSH AND SHOVE"
Gwen Stefani poses some big questions on “Push and Shove," the first album from her SoCal ska-pop band in 11 years.
“What happened to us?" she wonders in the shimmering, neo-new wave “Undercover," while the bass-heavy “Sparkle" finds her asking, “Do you remember how it was?"
In context, each of these queries is addressed to a lover (or a warmly remembered ex). There’s no denying, though, that for a group whose last studio disc came out in 2001 — before Lady Gaga, before Katy Perry, and before the huge solo success of Stefani herself — all that romantic curiosity serves as a rephrasing of another question, one the singer boils to its essence not long into “Push and Shove": “Do you think I’m looking hot?"
Yes, it’s been a virtual lifetime in pop since we last heard new music from No Doubt, which rocketed out of Orange County with 1995’s gazillion-selling “Tragic Kingdom" and went on to become one of that decade’s most important acts. And though the band’s influence is clear in the glossy, vividly omnivorous work of fresh-faced stars like fun. and Carly Rae Jepsen, Stefani and her bandmates sound fully aware of the precarious position they’re in now, at a moment when the Top 40 is crammed with newcomers and long-term brand loyalty has all but evaporated among young listeners.
“We’re so lucky, still holding on," she sings in “Gravity."
In fact, they’re doing more than that: At its best, “Push and Shove" channels some of the infectiously restless energy of “Rock Steady," the band’s pre-hiatus farewell. And it further polishes a bold mix-and-match aesthetic that feels familiar today in part because of records such as “Tragic Kingdom."
So to answer Stefani’s question: Sure, No Doubt is still looking hot. But these alt-pop survivors are acknowledging their age, too, emphasizing what they can do.