Hear Me Out
Coldplay, “Viva La Vida or Death and All His Friends”
“Wanna know how I know you’re gay? You like Coldplay.”
Sure, we can’t possibly ignore legions of swooning female fans and “straight” guy listeners, but that zinger from “40-Year-Old Virgin” couldn’t be truer than true. And with orchestral flourishes, melancholy muses on love, war and peace – and lest we forget Chris Martin’s goose-bump-igniting falsetto – the quartet’s latest wordy-titled album doesn’t seem hard-pressed to gay-down their rock.
Which means more of the same, but with a fresh, edgy sonic twist. Gone are many of the familiarities that turned their last hit-or-miss disc “X&Y” into a recycled effort; here they become sound surgeons (think bombastic Arcade Fire), lining “Lost!” in a drum-circle/handclap/organ groove. Martin’s Slinky-ish voice strays from that orgasmic upper-register, relying on a lower, tad-unfamiliar style.
Though “Viva La Vida,” their fourth album, is built on weighty statements – most glaringly on the genius set-closer “Death and All His Friends,” which swells to a killer crescendo – the band momentarily returns to the famed romanticism of “Yellow.” “Strawberry Swing” is a sweet-as-sugar break that practically bleeds the ambrosial summer fragrance: “It’s such a perfect day … I wouldn’t want to change a thing.”
We’d pretty much have to agree. A-
Jewel, “Perfectly Clear”
Jewel’s more unclear than a sexually-conflicted teen – at least when deciding the direction of her next capricious project. Cross-pollinating genres and morphing from a coffeehouse folkie to a pop princess to a dance-hall diva to a Southern belle, the Interlochen grad’s sixth album culls a gentle country style, built on feather-light twang. She leans farthest Down Home when laying down her breathy sweetness on “Anyone but You,” a traditional country downer, and, unlike her foray into Madonna-lite territory with difficult-to-digest disc “0304,” this meander isn’t totally jarring.
Considering dashes of country adorned previous discs – and that she’s romancing a rodeo rider and hosting TV series “Nashville Star” – her inner cowgirl just needed a reason to escape: Nothing else since earthy-pop album “Spirit” was working too well. And not everything on “Perfectly Clear” does, either. With generic lyrics like “I wanna breathe you in,” “Two Become One,” haplessly recycled from “0304,” doesn’t fare much better than the Spice Girls’ same-named song.
Luckily, “Everything Reminds Me of You” and the title track (which is not a Proactiv plug) is sweetly affecting – and with Jewel’s trademark-concert yodeling, “Loved by You (Cowboy Waltz)” is a pure, longtime-coming delight.
But, like most of the album, stripped of fiddle, banjo and steel guitar, Southern Jewel is still Signature Jewel. B-
Jason Mraz, “We Sing. We Dance. We Steal Things”
Call him the King of Cute (and Wet Dreams), because when it comes to folk-pop governed by the Chill Dude Trifecta (John Mayer, Jack Johnson and Jason Mraz), Mraz is a master at amping-up the aw-factor.
The San Diegan’s scatter-shot material (evidence: “Mr. A-Z”), though, hasn’t always suited his smooth cords – an instrument that befits the shimmery, summery vibe of a chunk of his third studio album. Hyperactive “The Dynamo of Volition” razzle-dazzles with his trademark scatting, dashes of neo-soul kiss horn-lined “Make it Mine” and breezy single “I’m Yours” is swoon-worthy. Cutting the fun factor are songs like “Love for a Child,” a kid-eye view of divorce, and “Details in the Fabric,” an everything’s-all-right mantra that doesn’t totally ignore his knack for wackiness (a static-y voice message hilariously punctuates the latter track: “You’re an island of reality in an ocean of diarrhea.”). His word play is still 100-percent out-there, with fish-stick similes and a supposed come-on on “Butterfly” that only Mraz could get away with it: “You make my slacks a little tight.” With tunes this irrefutably sexy, we second that. B+
No matter what, it’s hard to ignore that this Welsh wooer sounds like an Amy Winehouse clone. Comparisons, we realize, are trivial – but, here, they’re also inevitable, especially since Aimee Duffy’s “Mercy” is practically a shining sequel to Winehouse’s ubiquitous “Rehab” – save for a “yeah, yeah, yeah” instead of a “no, no, no.” Written (or co-written) by Duffy, the 24-year-old’s tiptop debut is teeming with relationship-revolving riffs drenched in the sounds of decades-gone Detroit, which her husky-sweet voice suits perfectly: An entity that’ll enchant, up until the epic ending.
Jay Brannan, “goddamned”
You know that film with a guy who spooges on his own face, an orgy the size of Texas – and a gay threesome where one dude sings the National Anthem into another dude’s ass-crack? That’s Jay! Now, two years after John Cameron Mitchell’s film “Shortbus,” he’s doing the singing (not into any butts) with his debut. Already establishing himself as sonically deft (he recorded a kick-butt song for “Shortbus”), with a formidable knack for authoring clever lines (see lucid imagery in string-flecked ballad “Home”), the out musician is a more-than-welcome addition to the boiling-over singer-songwriter genre.
Emmylou Harris, “All I Intended to Be”
Shades of Emmylou Harris’ rich soprano speak in a language of its own – and the funereal arrangements on her earthy latest orate so much sadness you’ll be forced to pop some Paxil. With Patty Griffin and Tracy Chapman covers this beautifully-nuanced – and bittersweet originals like “Not Enough,” “Take that Ride” and “Gold,” featuring Dolly Parton – that’s hardly a dis. Reuniting with her organic country-folk ’70s sound, and ex-hubby producer Brian Ahern, the country legend’s first solo album in five years oozes more life – even if several of the songs deal with death – than a puppy.