Andy Bell, ‘Non-Stop’
The new-wave band Andy Bell was born from, Erasure, had a knack for bundling heavy issues in breezy, head-hogging synth-pop. On Bell’s second solo outing, his approach is both celebratory and world-weary, but lost in a monochromatic mix that distills its colors over time. It’s a disco-glam frenzy of drum machines and electro madness, but several of the 10 songs instantly snap: “Running Out” is a robotic, laser-laden listen and “Will You Be There,” a heart-to-heart woop. One of a couple ballads, “Subject/Object,” never ignites, rhythmically flatlining unlike its much better mate, the hypnotic soul of “Slow Release.” There, his voice ripens to its 46-year-old age, and, in fact, rarely ever reaches for that famous falsetto throughout the set’s entire 37 minutes. Bell and producer Pascal Gabriel – who has Kylie Minogue and Little Boots cred – certainly play to their club-hungry queers. “Non-Stop” is a druggie’s dream come true, pure blitz that’s as euphoric as they come. After that, he goes even gayer: “DHDQ” is an ueber-campy tribute to drag queens who try to outdo Debbie Harry and, with Jane’s Addiction frontman Perry Farrell, “Honey If You Love Him” summons something as nauseatingly dizzying as drinking while dancing … non-stop. (Available June 8) Grade: B-
Chely Wright, ‘Lifted Off the Ground’
Country got a queer recently – at least publicly – and now everyone’s questioning the timing of Chely Wright’s “I’m a lesbian” announcement and the release of this, her seventh album. However you feel, as someone born and bred in a conservative platform, it was a bold move. Stepping toward it is what’s gleaned this collection of heart-on-sleeve songs that drift from her country upbringing and into folkie territory, but barely comes off as audacious as her big reveal. Not a bad thing, necessarily: Wright’s musings on doubt, relationships and freedom don’t shout her lesbianism from the rooftop (pronouns are nil), instead shooting for a mysterious haze that allows for open interpretation. One of the album’s few insta-melodic moments, “Heavenly Days” feels like more than it should because of her outing with lines like, “Dare to be different, dare to be true.” “Wish Me Away,” a lovelorn weepie that sounds like a lullaby, is also sublime. But otherwise, “Lifted Off the Ground” is mostly standard singer-songwriter turf: the sagging production isn’t often piquing and her lyrics aren’t exactly as cutting as probably intended, both of which fault the clumsy “Object of Your Rejection.” But, as Wright said, this feels like her first album; she’s just been lifted. Wait till you see her fly. Grade: C+
Hanson, ‘Shout it Out’
Boy band, whaaat? Even if this trio of “MMMBop” brothers carries that limiting label on their eighth album (!?), they’re breaking out the blues for some big-people pop that’s about as sunny as cruising the SoCal coast. It doesn’t get much more fun than “Thinking ‘Bout Somethin’,” a getting-over-you groove that’s infused with a summertime sweetness, or the piano pop of “Make it Out Alive.” Clouds roll in on “Me, Myself and I,” a mature breakup song with a big (broken) heart, beautiful harmonies and the proof that Hanson is so much more than naysayers thought. (Available June 8)
Court Yard Hounds, ‘Court Yard Hounds’
Even if Natalie Maines sat this one out as the Dixie Chicks sisters – Emily Robison and Martie Maguire – returned to music with this side project, the spitfire’s voice on “Ain’t No Son,” about a father rejecting his gay kid, is there in spirit. Otherwise, this is like a Sheryl Crow sound-alike, rich in affection and melody, especially on “The Coast,” a breezy road-trippy tune, and the life-isn’t-what-it-seems “Fairytale.” Some is coffeehouse forgettable, but that last song, “Fear of Wasted Time,” really hits you hard.
‘Glee: The Music, Vol. 3 – Showstoppers’
How gay can “Glee” go? Way over the rainbow, apparently: More Kristin Chenoweth, two Lady Gaga covers (“Poker Face,” acoustic; a by-the-numbers “Bad Romance”), Neil Patrick Harris doing “Dream On” and the Olivia Newton-John/Sue Sylvester “Physical” pairing. That ’80s camp classic hits the ‘mo mark, but the vocodored remake … showstopping? Hell no. These, however, are: “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” “Beautiful” and a version of “I Dreamed a Dream” that shows Susan Boyle who’s boss.