Kylie Minogue, ‘The Best of Kylie Minogue’
After two decades of niche fame, Kylie Minogue’s camp isn’t giving up on demonstrating to the non-gay public the awesomeness of the Aussie, recycling her hits into remixes, live releases and past hit collections. The strategy? Drop a new album, and then get those hits on another album – any album – stat. “The Best of Kylie Minogue” makes its case: The underrated diva’s catalog is a bank of irresistible dance-music goodies, from her classic ’80s-released fame-maker “The Loco-Motion” to 2002’s crossover hit “Love at First Sight.” Those, of course, show up here (the former as the 7″ mix), as do 19 other tracks, and their music videos on an accompanying DVD, from the last 25 years: “I Should Be So Lucky,” a bubblegum standout from her 1988 debut that begs you to get out the boom box, and disco-influenced gems like “Spinning Around” and “Can’t Get You Out of My Head.” The latest additions, “All the Lovers” and “Get Outta My Way,” come from Minogue’s reinvigorating “Aphrodite,” but that hardly warrants another cobbled LP after 2004’s two-disc set, “Ultimate Kylie” – even if this is her 25th year since making the shift from soap star to dance queen. “Timebomb,” her new single commemorating this milestone, would’ve been a nice incentive on an album that’s a hard-to-justify buy. At least there’s the cool cover art. Kylie buttons from different eras? Oh hell yeah. Grade: B-
‘Rock of Ages’ soundtrack
Naysayers who thought it was risky business having Tom Cruise take on the hair-metal classics of the rock era might be surprised at the gusto he gives in “Rock of Ages,” the big-screen adaptation of the big-timing Broadway musical. As any good actor will tell you, losing yourself in the role is key – and Cruise, as Stacee Jaxx, does exactly that with his numbers on the jukebox soundtrack. “Pour Some Sugar on Me” is probably too clean-cut for the Gen Xers who can’t see Jerry Maguire blasting testosterone into a Def Leppard sex song, but Cruise is convincing – and completely unrecognizable – as a grunge-rocker that can, yes, sing. Even better, vocally, is the way he reaches for some high notes on “Paradise City” like someone kicked him in the balls. Catherine Zeta-Jones has a darn good time doing her best Pat Benatar on “Hit Me With Your Best Shot,” and her energy is infectious. Less appealing is Julianne Hough on … just about all her songs. Hough’s not a bad singer, but she’s no Lea Michele – no matter how hard she tries. So when Mary J. Blige drops in halfway through “Harden My Heart” like a drama-defeating Jesus to a down-and-out Hough – Hail Mary, full of grace! – she’s saving more than she knows: With her soulful “Shadows of the Night” and sassy “Any Way You Want It,” she shows everyone how it’s done. Grade: B
Vicci Martinez, ‘Vicci’
Before Vicci Martinez was the last standing on Team Cee Lo during “The Voice,” the out lesbian was an independent recording artist, releasing her first album all the way back in 2000. Now on a major label, Universal Republic, she’s getting the platform she deserves. Alternating between power pop and bluesy rock, she resembles Joss Stone on “I Want Your Kiss,” and “Stop Pretending” could easily be a Kelly Clarkson hit. When she scales back on “Let Go,” an introspective piano ballad, Martinez proves her glory on “The Voice” was no accident.
Usher, ‘Looking 4 Myself’
Despite his lost-boy album title, finding Usher shouldn’t be hard. He’s always somewhere between horny and heartfelt. That’s the case again with the hottie’s seventh album, his best since 2004’s “Confessions.” Forget about the first single, “Scream,” a radio recyclable. Mid-tempos “Climax” and “Say the Words” (via the Deluxe Edition), with its old-school MJ feel, cast us under his falsetto spell. As good as they are, it’s the genius tracks produced by Klas Ahlund (aka the Robyn dynamo) – “Numb” and “Euphoria,” both suiting the Euro-synth sounds – that really give Usher the edge he hasn’t had in years.
John Mayer, ‘Born and Raised’
His douche days are over, and now John Mayer’s ready for redemption. He does that not just by asking for it on his latest rootsy release, but with the music itself – though not his deepest, it’s by far some of his most genuine work, heart running off sleeve. He admits to having a “rough start” on “Shadow Days,” and “If I Ever Get Around to Living” is an endearing letter to himself. His guitar playing, as always, is smooth and drenched in his current-career bluesiness, offering strong sentiments on walking the walk (“Love is a Verb”) and living carefree (“The Age of Worry”). You’re forgiven, John.