R.E.M., ‘Collapse Into Now’
R.E.M.’s first album since 2008’s “Accelerate,” a return to form for the misstepping rock icons, is as obvious as lead singer Michael Stipe’s coming out – and that’s fine. After adventurous detours into hard rock and hipster pop, the trio’s 15th LP reaches back in time to their glory days with a lively post-punk revival and backtracking balladry. There’s the pretty “ÜBerlin,” a free-spirited galvanizer that’s every bit classic R.E.M.; even the one-two punch of “Discoverer” and “All the Best” bristle with ’80s drive, though Jacknife Lee’s pump-the-sound production doesn’t equal energy… it equals headache. The album is basically split into two categories: loud and quiet, and the latter prevails. Stipe expresses a refreshing vulnerability on “Oh My Heart,” but it’s “Walk It Back” that really gets you with his almost-broken voice suggesting regret and that, well, everybody hurts. The most joyous moment is also one of their most embarrassing, as “It Happened Today” ridiculously works in “hip, hip, hooray” to rhyme with the song’s name. It’s no mistake, too, that it sounds like an Eddie Vedder track; he’s on it. A wasted collaboration with Peaches on the head-rushy “Alligator Aviator Autopilot Antimatter” is almost just as lame. But tucked within these blunders is some of R.E.M.’s best work in years, a return to their prime that seems to say you can lose your religion, but you can also get it back. Grade: B
Avril Lavigne, ‘Goodbye Lullaby’
We like our bratty babes – how else is Ke$ha’s clock still tick-tocking? But Avril Lavigne, who had it out for a rivaling “Girlfriend” on her last album, 2007’s “The Best Damn Thing,” was the resident whippersnapper before she got bumped. She’s not exactly up for a throw-down with Ke$ha on her fourth CD, moving in a no-nonsense direction that befits the life of a 26-year-old divorcee – meaning there are lots of pop-rock relationship rants, and bad words. Aww, our sk8r girl’s all grown up. But that doesn’t mean things aren’t – like her big hit from 2002 – complicated. What could be deemed as notes-to-self songs, “Darlin” and “Everybody Hurts” (not that one) might as well be the voices in her head, telling her everything’s gonna be all right. But on “Goodbye Lullaby” everything’s not, especially when Lavigne’s left to the songwriting – and that’s far too often, as her self-introspection comes off as serious… if you’re Taylor Swift. A lack of depth, however, can’t stop her savvy production team – including hit-maker Max Martin – from giving her word deficiency a workout. There’s a cuteness to the feel-good groove of “Stop Standing There” and “Smile” that can’t be denied, and she puts her party-pooper aside for the catchy “What the Hell” – which would probably disgust Kelly “I Do Not Hook Up” Clarkson, another pop star who let growing up get in the way of good music. Lavigne just got luckier. Grade: B-
Ellie Goulding, ‘Lights’
That the best tracks are footnotes on the British import’s debut album, the transcendent “Salt Skin” and an affecting cover of “Your Song,” is both promising and disappointing. It leaves the folk-meets-pop formations (think dancier Dido) before it in the dark – though some of them, the disco-tinged “Animal” and anthemic “Starry Eyed,” aren’t half bad – but offers hope for a follow-up. Looking forward to it, Ellie.
Linda Eder, ‘Now’
It’s not hard to listen to Linda Eder’s new album and hear Barbra Streisand. There’s always been an elegancy to Eder’s tone, and the force of those high notes could pull down the stars – both do the Broadway powerhouse big favors while interpreting 12 Frank Wildhorn compositions. Even with same-y production throughout, Eder’s voice ultimately sets the songs apart. It’s “Glee” for grown-ups.
Sky Ferreira, ‘As If!’
“Just don’t be a closet freak,” the 18-year-old pop tart dryly intones on the teaser’s best track “Haters Anonymous,” an Auto-Tune attack. The rest of her so-’90s-named five-song EP has her proclaiming that “Sex Rules” over an electro ’80s charge, and trying on a ballad with “Traces” – and failing big time. But nothing sucks more than the silly “108,” a song about dating a centenarian. As if!