Pet Shop Boys, ‘Yes’
The electropop sound the Pet Shop Boys helped revolutionize in the ’80s has more than come back – it’s turned Lady Gaga into a hyped record-breaking brand. The English duo couldn’t have timed this better. Re-claiming Gaga’s glory is nearly impossible, but lightening-up after 2004’s politics-heavy “Fundamental” and re-embracing mindless heyday pep should help the “West End Girls” hit-makers on their 10th LP. The gay-culture mainstays, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe, wax on the candy-coated flamboyancy for “Love etc.” and “Pandemonium” – the former love-over-looks mantra featuring their eye for sly lyricism, and the be-bopping latter so on-ecstasy you’ll want whatever they’re on. And it doesn’t get deliciously weirder – or gayer – than “All Over the World,” where a Tchaikovsky sample spills over fuzzed-out synths. Their lazy failings aren’t totally indigestible, either – the “Vulnerable” refrain recycles more than a tree hugger, and “Beautiful People” works ’70s TV-show theme nostalgia to a cheeseball effect. But the disc’s embarrassing coda, “Legacy,” contradicts its title, becoming insufferably unmemorable with a meandering six-plus minutes of nothingness. So when Tennant asks on “Pandemonium,” “Is this a riot or are you just pleased to see me?”, the answer is mostly.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs, ‘It’s Blitz!’
R.I.P. Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Karen O and Co.’s alt-rock sound has died – but the bohemian Big Apple-based band’s survived by disco-strobed synths in a techy 2.0 sound that’ll leave naysayers’ eyes rolling, and the rest of us? Feet shuffling and heart murmuring. YYY’s third-album metamorphosis is a whiplash jerk, but it puts a caterpillar to shame with a transformation so beautifully memorizing it’s whore-easy to get enveloped in the electroclash swooshes and O’s expressive, best-to-date singing. “Zero,” the first single, is aurally orgasmic, an electro-charged sonic mish-mash kicked up with a pulsating synths-on-steroids chorus and O’s high-flying yowl. Glitter sheen slides into “Heads Will Roll,” pleasuring with an irresistible pop hook, but it’s the futuristic free-verse balladry that shows the grunge-rock group’s finesse and maturation: melancholy Celtic-lined “Skeleton,” which builds to a heart-stopping chorus, and euphoric lullaby “Little Shadow” (both of which are performed acoustically at the disc’s end). Call this switcheroo a conformist move, but the YYYs sell it like they own it.
Keith Urban, ‘Defying Gravity’
“Wicked” didn’t influence the making of Mr. Nicole Kidman’s fifth album, but he sure knows how to melt us with his lovey-dovey lyrics. Being hot helps, but it doesn’t cushion a relatively neutered LP that could’ve used more Oz sparkle. His post-rehab set – practically strapped with a big ol’ smile (which will win over the hardest of hearts on “Thank You”) – nabs some pop-country radio-bait, but also struggles getting off the ground. Come in, flying broom.
Cassandra Wilson, ‘Closer to You: The Pop Side’
The passion behind Cassandra Wilson’s distinctively mellow alto is enough to squeeze the emotion out of the array of pop artists she covers on this collection. Van Morrison’s “Tupelo Honey” is a silky, magical re-do, but Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” is a tender bluesy number that lacks its quirky master’s charm. The similar tempos don’t help much either – unless it’s naptime.
Original cast, ‘Shrek: The Musical’
There’s no harm in a little ogre sing-along fun. And, heck, even if you’re years past puberty, you’ll dig the wit, pep and “tranny-mess” talk on the soundtrack to the filmed-turned-musical, which opened to critics’ thumbs-up in December. With silliness like “Donkey Pot Pie,” a fair amount of ear-sticky songs and plenty of PG-13 innuendo, “Avenue Q” diehards should eat this up quicker than Shrek can finish off a plate of grubs.
Empire of the Sun, ‘Walking on a Dream’
Like a bad dream, you’ll wish you could wake up from parts of this flamboyant Aussie duo’s debut album. But, alas, even though half of their disc is a nightmare – like “Delta Bay,” electro-crap guaranteed to give a migraine, and every other cut in the last half – there’s a solid EP somewhere in there. And, marked with a crazy-good falsetto hook, first single “Walking on a Dream” is a different kind of dream: A wet one.