Kylie Minogue, ‘The Abbey Road Sessions’
It’s practically an unspoken rule that being gay means you have to adore Kylie Minogue. We take her seriously. But non-queers? They only know who she is when the wedding DJ plays “Locomotion.” It’s a sad fact that Minogue’s wholesome dance act – admittedly, I’m a fan – hasn’t translated to the American masses outside of a minor hit here and there (her catalog, then, is recycled more than the stuff in your bin). “The Abbey Road Sessions” isn’t designed to catapult Kylie to Madonna heights, but it serves as a great gateway to another dimension of an underrated artist who has spent her career in the shimmer of a disco ball. Let’s call this one Kylie’s “serious album”: refined, sophisticated and intimate. She still sounds magical – though her limitations as a capable-but-unremarkable vocalist are clearer in this stripped-down undertaking – on these 16 revamped tracks, including the new “Flower.” But notably missing are the thuds and synths. In their place are orchestral sweeps, lounge vibes that sound more piano-bar than nightclub, and even ventures into good ol’ big band. “Never Too Late” takes a minimalistic piano approach, sounding nothing like the bubblegum burst of the original, while early ’90s single “Finer Feelings,” with its rising string section, sounds ready to accompany the most dramatic scene in a big-budget romance. If the gays had their way, it would.
Tristan Prettyman, ‘Cedar + Gold’
Breaking up is hard to do, but it works wonders on careers – especially if your name is Adele. The same successes are owed to Tristan Prettyman, whose third album comes after she and Jason Mraz broke off their engagement. Prettyman’s reflections on her relationship with the hippie pop star – from first kisses to the end, when he broke her heart – are honest, vulnerable and just plain sad as hell. “Just so you know, I never thought you’d let me go,” a line from the devastating “I Was Gonna Marry You,” makes it easy to blame Mraz, as the song suggests he left and she had no idea why. It’s a painful letting-go, one filled with confusion and hurt and some pretty revealing words directed toward her ex-fiance, but at least she got an addictive hook out of the deal. The song, with her voice moving so beautifully in swoops over the melody, easily ranks among the best of the year. Prettyman’s impressive lyricism is especially captivating on “Say Anything”; in just a couple simple lines, it expresses how love makes you feel on top of the world – and the distress it causes when it all comes crashing down. It’s a wrenching contrast. So what does she do? She gets laid. “The Rebound” is a cheeky guitar-chomp about a grocery store hookup. But just because she’s not crying herself to sleep doesn’t mean you won’t.
Green Day, ‘!Uno!’
Something happened to the guys of Green Day post-millennium – they started seeing more Broadway shows. How else do you explain their transition from grunge-pop to rock-opera? There’s a reason 2004’s “American Idiot” became a musical: It was, for better, their most flamboyant album. They reel in the theatrics for their latest, a straight-up rock record that’s a nostalgic companion to their 1994 staple “Dookie.” It’s got edge, hooks and fireball anthems like “Loss of Control” and “Kill the DJ” that speak to all those rebellious teens who hate the world.
Mumford & Sons, ‘Babel’
Despite the wistfulness of their sophomore album, Mumford & Sons can’t be feeling all that bad right now: “Babel” is the biggest debut so far this year, selling 600,000 copies in the first week. Does it live up to the hype? Kind of. The songs muddle together, but even the snobbiest music critic can’t deny that “Whispers in the Dark” is a folk-rock marvel. Others, like “I Will Wait,” desperately try for “Sigh No More” success. Giving the fiddle a rest on “Ghosts That We Knew,” an emotional plea for hope, turns out to be a wise choice. So, not a total sham.