‘Kinky Boots’ (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
“The world seemed brighter six inches off the ground.” So goes the drag-inspired fabulousness of the British indie-turned-Broadway hit “Kinky Boots,” a love letter to anyone who’s ever felt different, rejected and like they’d look hawt in a pair of stilettos; it’s self-discovery set to music. Who knows a thing or two about true colors shining through? About following your heart? Cyndi Lauper, of course. The pop icon takes the music-writing reins in this passion project, the culmination of a career that’s not only positioned her as a chart-topper but as Mama Bear to her queer cubs. The heartbreaking honesty of “Not My Father’s Son,” then, is something Lauper can empathize with – and that Billy Porter sings with gut-wrenching pathos and a bravo finish. “Hold Me in Your Heart,” the other slow-building centerpiece, is another showstopper; as Lola, Porter shows that song who’s boss with a very “And I Am Telling You …” moment of climatic vocal heat. Other highlights on a recording full of them: “Sex is in the Heel,” with its Scissor Sisters likeness; the other lead, Charlie (Stark Sands), on “Take What You Got”; and the finale, “Raise You Up/Just Be,” an empowerment pick-me-up echoing Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up.” Even without live drag queens strutting in sequins and glitter, the “Kinky Boots” music alone sparkles. Grade: B+
The National, ‘Trouble Will Find Me’
It’s still early in the year, but hold a spot for The National on your best-of list. “Trouble Will Find Me” is a gloriously rich, life-changing listen that knows how to elicit emotion (see: sadness, more sadness) without overblown superfluity. The Ohio indie-rockers’ sixth release knows that subtly can be just as, if not more, powerful – especially when heard alone in a dark room, these mellow slow-burners washing over you in peaceful solitude. With pensiveness that gets you in the gut (“I don’t know why we had to lose the ones who took so little space”) and the gentle ambiance of glistening guitars, “Hard to Find” is the perfect outro. The same quiet beauty is captured on the wistful standout “I Need My Girl,” an utterly gorgeous bass rumble carrying the track into a sublime state of shifting splendor as frontman Matt Berninger laments regret and being “a 45 percenter then”; “Pink Rabbits,” too, carries an emotional heaviness despite its feather-weight melody. It’s the case with a lot of this perfectly rendered work – more delicately produced than the band’s esteemed “Boxer,” or even 2010’s “High Violet” (though Berninger’s baritone still packs an aching punch), but no less affecting as it hangs over you long after the coda disappears into the horizon. Grade: A-
Daft Punk, ‘Random Access Memories’
This probably isn’t the Daft Punk disc that anyone was expecting – a sonic bed of mostly non-dance electro reverie for the mellowing after-party – because it’s better than that. France’s music-making mystery men, as ambitious as ever, dole out a sound-doc on a techno legend (“Giorgio by Moroder”), a galvanizing space odyssey (“Contact”) that morphs into a frantic spellbinder and synth-rock stunner “Instant Crush” with The Strokes’ Julian Casablancas taking vocal lead. “Doin’ It Right” is inspiring robot music (that’s a good thing), and the retro-chic shakeout “Get Lucky” should get feet on the floor. “Random Access Memories,” though, doesn’t dance the night away; it’s moving in a way you don’t expect.
Charli XCX, ‘True Romance’
Who knows when Robyn’s gonna let her body talk again, so till then we have British pop newcomer Charlotte Aitchison (aka Charli XCX) to tide us over. That’s not to say Charli’s on Robyn’s level talent-wise – this chick’s only 20, so she has time to get there – but she has some of the Swede’s swag. Charli also sounds as deliciously pop as Robyn with “You’re the One,” and no wonder: The track’s producer, Patrik Berger, assisted “Dancing on My Own.” “Stay Away,” the blog hit that helped launch her into stardom, pulsates with synth fuzz and sass. “Lock You Up” is dreamy greatness. These are hooky, defiant pop tracks with gumption. More, please.