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Listening Room: Simple Plan, British Sea Power and more...
Simple Plan, “Simple Plan” (Lava/Atlantic) **1/2
Just three albums into the group’s recording career, Montreal’s Simple Plan is hardly an old dog, but new tricks abound on the quintet’s latest release. After riding the pop-punk path on its first two albums — 2002’s “No Pads, No Helmets ... Just Balls” and 2004’s “Still Not Getting Any” — and selling 7 million combined copies in the process, the group surprises by hooking up with Timbaland associate Nate “Danjahands” Hill, who brings a wealth of new sonic flavors (beats, synthesizers) to the party and vaults Simple Plan deeper into the mainstream pop world than it’s been to this point. The band gets on that horse from the get-go, starting “Simple Plan” with the loping synth pattern of “When I’m Gone,” which ascends into big, guitar-fueled rock choruses. “The End” and “Generation” (which was co-produced by Backstreet Boys/Britney Spears svengali Max Martin) follow a similar pattern, while “Love is a Lie” follows the dynamic build of Green Day’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and “I Can Wait Forever” is a flat-out power ballad that will get fans’ cell phones aloft at the group’s concerts this year. There’s more polished pop in “Save You,” but Simple Plan still brings the noise, too, on the propulsive anthems “Take My Hand” and “Time to Say Goodbye,” the U2-like stomper “Holding On” and the closing track “What If,” which explodes out of an introductory bed of strings. “Simple Plan” is a risky venture that certainly repositions the band more toward the pop center, though some diehards might find it a bit less potent than its predecessors.
British Sea Power, “Do You Like Rock Music?” (Rough Trade) ***
The title is rhetorical; of course we like rock music, especially the way this quartet from Brighton, England, delivers it. On its third voyage the quartet retains the melancholy melodicism that’s earned comparisons to Joy Division and the Cure, but the arrangements are a bit more direct and rockers such as “Lights Out for Darker Skies,” “No Lucifer, “Down on the Ground” and “A Trip Out” drive with a taut, sinewy energy similar to U2. “Open the Door” recalls the Beatles’ “Nowhere Man” in spots, while “No Need to Cry” boasts a bit of Radiohead mood. It all congeals into a strong package that will maintain anyone’s allegiance to good rock music.
NEW AND NOTEWORTHY
Blue Highway, “Through the Window of a Train” (Rounder) — The influential bluegrass band delivers its eighth album.
The Clark Sisters, “Encore: The Best of the Word Records Years” (Rhino) — The Detroit gospel group reprises its biggest hits from its ’80s tenure with the Word label.
Deaf Pedestrians, “... And Other Distractions” (Virgin) — The Dallas rock quartet has already caused a stir for its new album with the single “Hail to the Greek.”
The Dirtbombs, “We Have You Surrounded” (In the Red): The Detroit garage latest started life as a five-song EP but was expanded into a full-length album.
The Heavy Circles, “The Heavy Circles” (Dynamite Child) — Paul Simon’s wife, Edie Brickell, and oldest son, Harper collaborate on an album that also features friends such as Sean Lennon and Lucy Wainwright.
Missy Higgins, “On a Clear Night” (Warner Bros.) — Australian singer-songwriter Higgins’ second album features songs that have appeared in episodes of “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Smallville.”
Idiot Pilot, “Wolves” (Reprise) — The second album from the electronic rock duo from Washington State.
Michael Jackson, “Thriller (25th Anniversary Edition)” (Epic/ Legacy) — The actual anniversary was in December, but the durable quality of the songs and new versions featuring guest appearances by Kanye West, will.i.am, Akon and Fergie will make it worth the wait — and weight — for some.
Dave Koz, “Double Feature” (Blue Note) — The saxophonist’s “At the Movies” album is expanded with a DVD featuring performances from the original set.
Mahjongg, “Kontpab Out” (K) — The sophomore outing by the eclectic “art punks” from Chicago.
Carrie Newcomer, “Geography of Light” (Philo) — The veteran singer-songwriter incorporates Appalachian and classical influences on her 11th album.
The Puppini Sisters, “The Rise & Fall of Ruby Woo” (Verve) — The Italian sister trio does its Andrews Sisters best on a variety of classic and contemporary cover songs.
Sworn Enemy, “Maniacal”
(Century Media) — New members and a new label invigorate the New York headbangers on their latest album.
Taint, “Secrets and Lies” (Candlelight) — The hardcore Welsh trio lets loose on its second full-length album.
Widespread Panic, “Free Some How” (Widespread) — The 10th studio album from the Georgia jam rockers marks their first recording with guitarist Jimmy Herring.
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