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CD Reviews:
The Listening Room: Kanye West, My Chemical Romance and more...
 

By GARY GRAFF
of the Oakland Press

» See more SOUND CHECK

RAP

Kanye West

“My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”

(Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam)

*** 1/2

On “Gorgeous,” the second track on his fifth album, as the guitar line from the Byrds’ “You Showed Me” snakes through the tune, Kanye West declares that “I need a happy ending — and a new beginning!” This guest-laden 13-track, nearly 70-minute aural amusement park provides just that, a return to West’s audaciously indulgent sonic ways after 2008’s Spartan electro experiment “808s & heartbreak” and a declaration that the mea culpas for the Taylorgate incident at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards are over. In fact, he’d rather think about marrying a porn star, as he posits on “Hell of a Life.” For “...Fantasy,” West is back to the anything-goes ambitions of 2005’s “Late Registration,” with imagination running joyously, and unapologetically, amuck like the hip-hop Phil Spector he is. West has already released and leaked a number of these songs, but taken together they form a masterful work that fuses cocky street-cred and eggheaded prog rock pretension, with all manner of rap, R&B and pop touchstones in between. “Power” brings in bits of King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man” and sweet vocalizations from Detroit’s Dwele, while “All of the Lights” is a brassy and majestic ghetto anthem with Elton John on piano and chorale vocals that include Rihanna, Alicia Keys, Drake, The-Dream, John Legend and others. “Devil in a New Dress” juxtaposes Smokey Robinson’s falsetto version of the Carole King/Gerry Goffin classic “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” against Rick Ross’ rough-hewn raps, “Monster” and “So Appalled” bring in Jay-Z for some muscle, “Hell of a Life” references an unlikely combination of Black Sabbath, Tony Joe White and the Mojo Men, and after smacking himself around a little more “Blame Game” (with Legend and Chris Rock), West looks outward on the tribal “Lost in the World” (with Bon Iver) and the Gil Scott-Heron-sampling “Who Will Survive in America.” And even though the self-flagellating “Runaway,” expanded to nine minutes from its debut at this year’s VMAs, is undone by its too-long closing coda of piano and vocoder, it still leaves you smiling at how far West is willing to go — and happy to hear him doing it again.

ROCK

My Chemical Romance, “Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys” (Reprise) ***

The last time we saw My Chemical Romance, the group was sporting military outfits and posing as alter egos “The Black Parade.” Four years later it’s going for high concept again, but with an entirely different sound — an over-the-top, glam-rock approach that amps up the energy in a manner that mitigates the storyline about futuristic rebel outlaws fighting oppressive, corporate society. Fortunately the 15 tracks hold up on their own musical merits, from rockers such as “Na Na Na...,” “Vampire Money” and “Save Yourself, I’ll Hold Them Back” to the electro-flavored “Planetary (Go!),” the anthemic “Sing” and melodic near-ballads like “Summertime” and “The Only Hope For Me is You” — plus a nod to late-period, psychedelic Beatles on “S/C/A/R/E/C/R/O/W.” It’s big fun, a marked change from it’s more sober-minded predecessor.

New & Noteworthy

Akon, “Atomic” (Konvict Muzik/Universal): The fourth album from the multi-faceted Senegalese-American hitmaker is being overshadowed somewhat by his just-released posthumous duet with Michael Jackson.

Lloyd Banks, “H.F.M.2 (Hunger For More 2)” (G-Unit/EMI): Kanye West, Lloyd, Raekwon, Swizz Beatz, Tony Yayo and others help 50 Cent’s G-Unit pal on the sequel to his 2004 solo debut.

Bell’Aria, “Little Italy” (EMI/Manhattan): The Italian vocal group specializes in favorites from its homeland but has fun mashing together Dusty Springfield’s “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” with “Io Che Non Vivo (Senza Te).”

Justin Bieber, “My Worlds Acoustic” (teenisland/Raymond Braun/Island): Since 16 is about middle-aged in the pop world these days, it’s apparently an appropriate time for this Canadian heartthrob to get “deep” and strip down those hits from his “My World” releases.

Calle 13, “Entren Los Que Quieran” (Sony U.S. Latin): The fourth album from the Puerto Rican hip-hop troupe features a guest appearances by the Mars Volta’s Omar Rodriguez-Lopez.

Curren$y, “Pilot Talk II” (BluRoc/DD172/Def Jam): The second album this year from the New Orleans rapper teams him with Erykah Badu, Raekwon and Camp Lo, among others.

Kevin Eubanks, “Zen Food” (Mack Avenue): The former “Tonight Show” bandleader resumes his recording career inked to the Detroit-based Mack Avenue label.

Ke$ha, “Cannibal” (RCA): The singer and scenester takes to the dance floor on this nine-song follow-up EP to her debut album “Animal.”

Killing Joke, “Absolute Dissent” (Spinefarm/Universal): The first set of all-new material in 28 years from the original lineup of the influential British hard/industrial rock group.

Nicki Minaj, “Pink Friday” (Young Money/Cash Money/Universal Motown): The singer/rapper gets payback on her debut album for her many guest appearances with featured spots by Eminem, Rihanna, Drake, Black Eyed Peas’ will.i.am, Kanye West and Natasha Bedingfield.

Yngwie Malmsteen, “Relentless” (Rising Force/Koch): The Swedish guitar hero’s 18th solo album is his second collaborating with former Judas Priest singer Tim “Ripper” Owens.

Ne-Yo, “Libra Scale” (Def Jam): The R&B singer and writer’s fourth album is a thematic piece about the struggle between fame, power and love, told through a trio of garbage men asked to protect their city from an impending threat. Go ahead and asborb that again; we’ll wait...

The Nuns..., “Voice — Chant From Avignon” (Decca): We’ve had priests and monks; now come the Nuns of the Abbaye de Notre Dame. Sisters are doing it for themselves...

Marie Osmond, “I Can Do This” (RED): Osmond is donating proceeds from this multi-genre inspirational album to Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.

Robyn, “Body Talk” (Cherrytree/Interscope): The Swedish dance diva’s third “Body Talk” set features five tracks from each of its two predecessors along with five brand new tracks for a more complete experience.

Smashing Pumpkins, “Teargarden By Kaleidyscope Vol. II: The Solstice Bare” (Martha’s Music/Rocket Science): Another EP from Billy Corgan and company features five new songs, including the single “Freak.”

Soundtrack, “Burlesque” (RCA): Cher and Christina Aguilera, who star in the film, split the 10 tracks on this companion album.

Regina Spektor, “Live in London” (Sire/Warner Bros.): The Russian-born songstress dedicated this concert CD/DVD set to her band leader and cellist Daniel Cho, who passed away during the summer.

Sting, “Live in Berlin...” (Deutsche Grammophon/CherryTree): A CD/DVD document of Sting’s orchestral tour, filled with Police hits and solo favorites.

Yelawolf, “Trunk Muzik 0 — 60” (Ghet-O-Vision/DGC/Interscope): The rapper from Alabama combines six tracks from his “Trunk Muzik” mix tape with six new songs as an appetizer to his full-length 2011 debut.

From The Vaults: The Doors, “Live in Vancouver 1970” (Bright Midnight/Rhino); Five Finger Death Punch, “Way of the Fist — Iron Fist Edition” (Spinefarm); Alan Jackson, “34 Number Ones” (Sony Nashville/Arista); King Crimson, “In the Wake of Poseidon” and “Islands: 40th Anniversary Series” (Discipline); nine inch nails, “Pretty Hate Machine: 2010 Remaster” (Null Corporation); the Rolling Stones, “1964-1969: Limited Edition Remastered Vinyl Box Set” (ABKCO); Shinedown, “The Sound of Madness (Deluxe Edition)” (Atlantic); The Stooges, “Have Some Fun” (Rhino Handmade); Jay-Z, “The Hits Collection, Vol. 1” (Def Jam)

New Holiday Albums: Jessica Simpson, “Happy Christmas” (Primary Wave); REO Speedwagon, “Not So Silent Night... (Expanded)” (Sony Music/Legacy)

New Music DVDs: Michael Jackson, “Michael Jackson’s Vision” (MJJ/Epic/Legacy)



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