Erasure, ‘Tomorrow’s World’
Over 25 years ago, when Erasure came together, Vince Clarke and Andy Bell were on the cutting-edge of the synth-pop music scene. Their songs were, well, today’s world. Again, with their 14th album, they’re looking ahead, bringing electro-music mastermind Frankmusik’s trademark prog-pop (fun fact: the producer was born the same year, 1985, Erasure formed) into the fold of their bittersweet meditations on love, loss and healing. Set opener “Be With You” is a slick charmer, but it’s not the only one: “Then I Go Twisting” is a glitchy piece of divine dance that’s fantastically liberating, and “Fill Us With Fire” opens with one of Bell’s most affecting vocals before bursting into a joyous rush of disco delight. The music itself is inviting, inventive and contemporary, a work that – with Frank’s keen sense of synths and modern-day sounds – shows Erasure can keep up with the kids they once inspired. But some things never change, and Bell’s heartfelt bellow is, wisely, pulled front and center, singing the hell out of the hook on “When I Start To (Break It All Down).” “A Whole Lotta Love Run Riot,” intriguingly taking on a troubled starlet (“We’ve had it up to here with your strange behavior”), is also ear candy, featuring some French intones and stuttery vocals. Nine songs go by fast, but even briefly, Erasure proves an indelible force decades later. Here’s to 25 more years. Grade: B+
Tori Amos, ‘Night of Hunters’
Big ideas, like a troupe of multiple personalities (“American Doll Posse”) or a post-9/11 thesis (“Scarlet’s Walk”), have always attracted Tori Amos. But “Night of Hunters” might just be the songstress’ most ambitious, taking a conceptual narrative about a woman whose lover leaves her and stretching it over a classically influenced song cycle. The follow-up to her seasonal “Midwinter Graces,” Amos’ latest could be an extension of it – woodwinds, strings and some of her best piano playing in years are the foundation for the songs, and again her precocious daughter, 10 at the time of recording, offers her enchanting voice. Two of those duets especially stick with you: “SnowBlind,” a lilting beauty with a mesmerizing back-and-forth between mother and daughter, and “Job’s Coffin,” the closest she comes to pop. Fourteen of them, at over 70 minutes of similar-sounding tempos, is overdoing it, considering how “Hunters” is meant to work as a linear account. But this, taken as a whole or in parts, trumps much of the musician’s output over the last decade – with spotty releases like “Abnormally Attracted to Sin” – because of its genuine beauty, instantly feeling like classic Tori. Striking in its intensity, “Shattering Sea” opens with snaggy strings that rip through a frantic piano line, reminiscent of an Amos fan favorite, “Yes, Anastasia.” And songs like “Your Ghost” and “Carry,” with their lovely purity, conjure up “Winter” and “Baker Baker.” It’s good to hear Tori back to her old self again. Grade: B
Tony Bennett, ‘Duets II’
For all the great pairings on the crooner’s queer affair – just look at the guest list – one especially stands out: the late Amy Winehouse on “Body and Soul,” leaving her unmistakable drawl on a lovely track that’s a bittersweet send-off. But it isn’t the only one worth hearing. Lady Gaga, of course, is spectacularly playful on “The Lady is a Tramp,” a refreshing alternative to the pop megastar’s dance heavy-hitters. “Blue Velvet” gets lesbian-friendly with k.d. lang’s caressing vocals. Mariah Carey soulfully closes out the album with “When Do the Bells Ring for Me” with a lush coo that’s one of her most easy-going performances in years. And then, of course, there’s Tony himself, who hasn’t lost that magic in his voice – even at 85 years old.
Lady Antebellum, ‘Own the Night’
One of the most overrated bands in music, Lady Antebellum lucked out by having the only decent song on their last album, “Need You Now,” catapult them into pop-country megastars. Maybe, like said song, you have to be drunk to realize how much you love it, because hardly a thing about the band’s third album is even the least bit interesting, heartfelt or worthy of the praise they’ve been given. Songs on “Own the Night” are so annoyingly cloying they belong on a “For My Brokenheart” mix tape, but that’s not even the worst of it: The production is blandly vanilla, though the Celtic outro on “Cold as Stone” is a nice touch, and they have less to say about love than Taylor Swift. Next time Lady Antebellum wants to “Own the Night,” perhaps they should start with an hour.