Queer As Folk: Fourth Season Soundtrack (Tommy Boy)
Though the first three “Queer As Folk” soundtracks were a little heavy on club anthems and synth-pop, the Fourth Season soundtrack is a diverse mix of techno, pop, alternative, and indie rock. It’s perfect for fans of the show, but you don’t need to remember the scenes they went with to enjoy the songs. It feels like a mix tape from that friend whose CD collection you covet. Though there are some lackluster tracks, nothing on this disc is terrible by any means. Burnside Project’s “Cue the Pulse to Begin” is fun and it gets your ass shaking, but it’s smarter and more original than the traditional dance club anthem. One of the soundtrack’s best songs is “Scream” from virtual unknowns Ima Robot, a band making 1980’s New Wave (think Devo meets Duran Duran) music today. “Black” evokes Roxy Music with “Wonderful Life,” a track that grows on you if it doesn’t get you the first time you hear it. Kodo gets you moving with a contemporary take on traditional Japanese drum music. TV on the Radio’s “Satellite” is another album highlight, with its juxtaposition of beats and sound textures.
Twentysomething by Jamie Cullum (Verve)
At only 24 years of age, Londoner Jamie Cullum is making jazz music cool again. Okay, so jazz music was never uncool, but for the uninitiated jazz can be a pretty intimidating genre. Jamie Cullum has bridged the distance between jazz and pop with “Twentysomething,” one of the best albums I’ve heard this year. It’s a fine collection of contemporary jazz spanning decades of music. Cullum reinvents standards like “Singing In the Rain” and covers contemporary artists like Radiohead (“High and Dry”) and The Neptunes’ (“Frontin”) . He writes his own songs, too, and those are some of the best on the album. The title track is a driving tongue-in-cheek look at “quarter-life crisis” while “All At Sea” is a wistful ode to self-imposed solitude. Cullum even manages to put his own fresh spin on “I Get A Kick Out of You,” a great song that’s been overdone, by not taking himself too seriously (Cullum’s coke snorting sounds are a unique touch). If you have the opportunity to see him live, take it. He puts on one hell of a show. Whether he’s on top of the piano stomping out a percussive beat or jumping around the stage improvising a vocal riff, the kid can’t sit still. His genuine excitement about the music he’s making is contagious and refreshing.
So-Called Chaos by Alanis Morissette (Maverick)
In 1996, as a high school senior, I saw Alanis Morissette live. I was with my girlfriend and I was happy. If I was still that 17-year-old, I’d probably like “So-Called Chaos” very much. I’m not. However, I can’t really knock it, because there’s some kid out there, somewhere, who feels like I felt back then about Morissette’s music. “Chaos” doesn’t suck but it doesn’t break any new ground. If you like what she’s done before, you’ll still like it now. Abandoning the anger of “Jagged Little Pill,” this new record continues Morissette’s journey to a more positive plane. Though she tends to lean toward the cliche and precious (songs like “Doth I Protest Too Much” and “Knees Of My Bees”), she can still kick out a hell of a catchy rock song like “Eight Easy Steps,” one of the album’s best. “Everything,” the record’s first single is a tribute to unconditional love – how the folks that really love us take the bad, even when it’s really bad, and the good, getting the best of who we are and what we have to give. “What I resist persists and speaks louder than I know. What I resist you love no matter how low or high I go,” she sings, which could easily be a message to her fans.
Classified by Bond (Decca)
Every once in a while a group comes along with the idea that classical music must be made “sexy” and “hip” in order to save the genre from extinction. Too many people, sadly, think classical music is boring (for the record: it isn’t, though many people who say they hate it are). The goal is to make classical music more like pop music, because pop is what the kids today like. What’s missing here is an important distinction: classical music ISN’T pop music, that’s why it’s classical (I know, “classical” is a catch-all term for what is really many different genres, but it’s what I’ve got to work with here). Bond is what you’d get if you crossed a string quartet with the women in the Victoria’s Secret catalog – electric violins and short skirts. The item from their press kit that sums them up best is a full-color, eight-page commercial for Herbal Essences shampoo. “Their music is intense, just like their hair,” it says about these four classically-trained “twenty-something” musicians. They are, by the way, the best-selling string-quartet in the world, which doesn’t say much for the world’s taste. For proof check out “Fly Robin Fly,” modern disco at its, er, finest, and the bastardized “Pachelbel’s Canon” that is “Lullaby.”
Borrowed Heaven by The Corrs (Atlantic)
There’s nothing wrong with “Borrowed Heaven,” the new record from family-affair Irish pop quartet The Corrs, but that certainly doesn’t mean that everything is right. I was eager to hear “Borrowed Heaven” because of the song “Time Enough For Tears,” the powerful theme song written by Bono, Gavin Friday, and Maurice Seezer and done by a solo Andrea Corr for the Jim Sheridan film “In America.” Unfortunately, the rest of the songs on this album, all penned by the band, aren’t nearly as good, which makes me wonder if Andrea, who has a perfectly lovely voice, isn’t limited by The Corrs as a group. Don’t get me wrong, the Corrs make perfect radio-friendly pop songs with an occasional Irish flair thrown in for good measure. “Summer Sunshine,” the album’s first single, is so made-for-radio it’s shameless. What the album lacks, however, is passion. The songs are sometimes pretty, almost always catchy, but lacking substance. It’s the kind of music you might hear and kind of like while shopping at American Eagle, but would quickly start to hate if you worked there. For those looking solely for “Time Enough For Tears,” I suggest you check out the “In America” soundtrack composed by Gavin Friday. Leave The Corrs for the mall.
The Ultimate Deborah Cox by Deborah Cox (BMG Heritage)
Calling what is essentially a greatest hits collection “The Ultimate Deborah Cox” is setting yourself up for criticism. This disc might better be called “An Introduction to Deborah Cox.” This Canadian songstress moves easily through traditional R&B ballads and screaming diva club mixes. There’s no doubt: Deborah Cox can sing. Although her voice rivals that of better known R&B diva Whitney Houston on their duet “Same Script, Different Cast,” she doesn’t have the name recognition. It’s possible that Cox isn’t a household name for several reasons, the main one being her name (“Houston” conjures up a city in Texas, while “Cox,” well, doesn’t), but the second reason might be the songs themselves. Though her voice is a marvel, the traditional R&B songs on this disc just don’t stick with you. Where Cox shines is on the remix tracks. A glaring error on “Ultimate” is the lame “Slow-To-Fast” version of Cox’s biggest hit “Nobody’s Supposed to Be Here.” Originally done as an R&B ballad, “Nobody’s” became a big club hit when remixed and though both versions are good, the mix outshines. It’s the number one be-a-diva-singing-in-your-car song of all time, but the version on “Ultimate” is an unfortunate conjoined-twin of the two versions. For those who dig the remixes, skip “Ultimate” and pick up 2003’s “Remixed.”
Franz Ferdinand by Franz Ferdinand (Sony)
Any band named after the assassinated archduke of Austria is destined for stardom. Or not. An online bio for the historical figure the band took its name from says: “He lacked the two key elements for success in this social scene: charm and elegance.” Franz Ferdinand the band, however, are teeming with both charm and elegance. Already burning up the charts in the UK with singles “Darts of Pleasure” and “Take Me Out,” Franz Ferdinand have burst onto the US music scene with loads of critical acclaim (pieces on them have appeared in Time, Entertainment Weekly, and Rolling Stone, to name only a few). Franz Ferdinand makes guitar rock you can dance to. Think Hot Hot Heat, only well-dressed, and The Strokes, only fun. Is it rock, pop, disco, or punk? Yes. And it’s addicting. Check out the yearning, homoerotic, so-close-yet-so-far-away “Michael” (“This is what I am, I am a man, come dance with me Michael”) and the infectious “Come On Home.” And I guarantee the chorus of “Jacqueline” will stick in your head for life: “It’s always better on holiday, so much better on holiday. That’s why we only work when we need the money.” So, shall we Franz? Yes, yes we shall.
Cherie by Cherie (Lava)
Attention K-Mart shoppers and Celine Dion fans: Do you wish there was a younger, sexier version of Canada’s ice queen chanteuse? Well wish no more. Meet Cherie, the French-born songstress I like to call une petite Madame Dion. Watch out, adult contemporary radio and romantic comedy soundtracks aimed at middle-aged heterosexuals. Jim Ryan, VP of Clear Channel’s Adult Contemporary Programming, gives Cherie props on the cover of the promo record. And we all know how much Clear Channel has done to promote quality music by diversifying the airwaves. Cherie is hopelessly comfortable, fitting into the pop sprawl landscape with mindless ease. When you hear her song “I’m Ready” (featured in the Disney movie “Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen”), you’ll wonder if it isn’t the new Shania Twain or Kelly Clarkson single. “Betcha never thought we’d get this far. Betcha never thought you’d touch my heart. Betcha never thought that I’d surrender,” she sings in “Betcha Never,” with its faux-Middle Eastern flair. She’s got a pretty voice and a pretty face, but who cares? Call the suck police. Cherie is under arrest.