JC Chasez – Schizophrenic (Jive)
Although he’s no Justin Timberlake, JC Chasez proves with “Schizophrenic” that N’Sync was not a one-man operation. “Schizophrenic” is all over the place, paying tribute to pop music in all its Regan-era glory. Chasez borrows heavily from “Off The Wall” era Michael Jackson and 80’s new wave (especially in the fun, if lyrically dumb, “All Day Long I Dream About Sex” and the Eurythmics-esque “Come To Me”). On “Some Girls (Dance With Women)” Chasez delves into the lesbian-chic club world. Club giants Basement Jaxx lend a hand on the funky “Shake It.” This solo debut isn’t ground breaking lyrically or musically, but it sounds like an album that was a hell of a lot fun to make and that makes it a hell of a lot of fun to listen to.
Justin Tranter – Tear Me Together (3rd Verse Records)
Justin Tranter is like a punk rock Rufus Wainwright. This is especially true on tracks like “In Our Science” and “Good Luck With Your Armageddon.” Unbridled and dramatic, with soaring vocals and plenty of flair, Tranter has created quite the buzz on the East Coast. When he’s not rocking out and angsty, Tranter delivers moving piano-driven tunes like the gorgeous “Ultimatum.” Some songs work better than others, but as a whole Tranter’s sophomore effort is promising. The album could be the soundtrack to a gay punk opera. “We’ve listened to bad pop songs and we’ve listened to real songs, too,” he sings on “Pop Songs.” On “Tear Me Together” you get some of both, but even the bad songs aren’t really bad (“Kill Me Close”) and all of the songs are undeniably real. Listen for yourself at www.justintranter.com.
Simply Red – Home (Simplyred)
Simply Red really hasn’t changed much since the 1980s. They seem forever perched between pop music and smooth jazz. When it works, it works well and they have the lasting hits to prove it (“If You Don’t Know Me by Now” and “Holding Back the Years”). When it doesn’t work, Simply Red produces Simply Cheese. “Home Loan Blues” is an example of this. Although it tackles a common ill, songs about mortgages are pretty hard to pull off. “Home” has got some strong offerings, too. “Fake” has a gorgeous horn section and is bound to brighten your mood. Simply Red are tailor made for LITE-FM. Pipe this album into any office or K-Mart store and it will feel right at “Home.” But it’s this same innocuous nature that makes Simply Red so likable. Like a good friend who sometimes embarrasses you with her earnestness but who you can always count on, “Home” reminds us that Simply Red is nothing if not dependable.
Alicia Keys – The Diary of Alicia Keys (J Records)
Although 2001’s “Songs in A Minor” caused a Grammy-orgy, I personally think people have jumped the gun on Alicia Keys. She is, no doubt, talented and “The Diary of Alicia Keys” is a strong CD. But it’s also indicative of a young woman just coming into her prime. This record has some amazing songs (“Harlem’s Nocturne” is my personal favorite followed by the sultry “Diary”), but it also has some amazing mis-steps. The album’s first single, “You Don’t Know My Name” is a great song, and had the potential to be a classic. I say “had” because, for reasons I cannot understand, in the middle of this gorgeous and powerful song, Keys breaks into a spoken-word phone conversation that has all the subtlety and finesse of a sixth grader calling a crush. Keys deserves acclaim, but she also deserves time to develop into the great artist she is capable of being.
Courtney Love – America’s Sweetheart (Virgin)
“Hey God you owe me one more song,” Courtney Love sings on “Mono,” the first single from “America’s Sweetheart.” Given Love’s recent battles with “All the Drugs,” it looks like God has actually given her 12 more songs. And if “Sweetheart” is any indication, God has a thing for hair-metal. Although no-frills rock ala The White Stripes and Jet is all the rage right now, Love sidesteps it all, opting instead for a sound more like 1990s era Motley Crue and Faster Pussycat. Album highlights include “Hold Onto Me” and “Never Going to Be the Same,” ringers for the said era’s hair metal power ballads. But for Love, toeing the line between trashy and sexy (and usually falling over into the former), it works perfectly. Her lyrics are biting, her voice is raw, and her delivery is unbridled. “Sweetheart” captures a woman who is pissed off and in pain.
Indigo Girls – All That We Let In (Epic)
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. This seems to be the approach Amy Ray and Emily Saliers have taken during most of their 20 year career. “All That We Let In” is no exception. For fans who fear a repeat of 1999’s “Come On Now Social,” fear not. Although “Let In” is a tad over-produced (especially “Heartache For Everyone”), it’s classic Indigo Girls. The two-part harmonies, the acoustic guitars, the save-the-world lyrics (“You can bury the past, but it’s a mausoleum,” Ray sings in “Tether”), and the tender odes to love (“Love is just like breathing when it’s true, and I’m free in you,” Saliers sings in “Free In You”). Album highlights include “All That We Let In,” a song that will remind you of holding your first girlfriend’s hand and “Dairy Queen,” a song of lost love, hold the regret.