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CD Reviews:
The Listening Room: Britney Spears, Wiz Khalifa and more...
 

By GARY GRAFF
of the Oakland Press

» See more SOUND CHECK

POP

Britney Spears

“Femme Fatale”

(Jive)

★★ 1/2

Prince once urged us to party like it’s 1999, so amidst horrific natural disasters and worldwide revolutions, why shouldn’t another pop star advise us to “keep on dancin’ till the end of the world?” That’s Britney Spears’ take on things on “Femme Fatale,” her seventh and most consistent studio album — and also her most adventurous, although there are, of course, limits to how far afield Spears can credibly go. The 12-song set (16 on the deluxe version) is Spears’ techno/dance club move, but one that plays it a lot safer than, say, Madonna’s “Ray of Light.” Spears’ chief architects here are longtime cohort Max Martin, who dates all the way back to “...Baby One More Time” in 1998, and Top 40 guru Dr. Luke, who combine for seven tracks steeped in glossy Euro flavors, but with plenty of familiarity and not too much edge. And if the single “Till the World Ends” hints rather boldly of Ke$ha’s “Blow,” consider that she was one of its co-writers. Elsewhere, Benny Blanco brings a phatter pump and rap segment to “(Drop Dead) Beautiful,” and Bloodshy pushes the eclectro edge on “How I Roll” and works a cut-up, synthy ambience on “Trip to Your Heart.” And the Black Eyed Peas’ will.i.am offers some moments, including his own rap, on “Big Fat Bass,” but they’re ultimately undermined by the song’s messy arrangement. Amidst all this technology, however, there are organic moments that stand out: the guitar-driven “Gasoline;” the acoustic guitars and flute effects of “Criminal;” and the rocking drive of the deluxe edition’s “Don’t Keep Me Waiting,” produced by Rodney Jerkins with blink-182’s Travis Barker’s playing live drums that make all the difference in the world. “Femme Fatale’s” uniformly weak lyrics tell us that Spears hasn’t a care in the world besides booty, but it’s still an album that will keep us dancing ‘til the end of the night, if not the world.



RAP

Wiz Khalifa, “Rolling Papers” (Rostrum/Atlantic) ★★ 1/2

The Pittsburgh Steelers may have lost in this year’s Super Bowl, but Steeltown rapper Wiz Khalifa has been a big winner with “Black and Yellow,” a double-platinum introduction to the pop mainstream after two independent studio albums and eight mixtapes. So Khalifa is no rookie, and it shows on the tight rhymes and melodic explorations of his solidly executed but unfocused major label debut. The “Black and Gold” production team StarGate helps Khalifa with a couple other smooth pop pieces, “Roll Up” and “Cameras,” while “Fly Solo” with the Transplants is as cheerful a diss track as you’ll ever here — and certainly friendlier than the break-up overture “Get Your S***.” Too $hort helps out on the laid-back party ode “On My Level” and Curren$y guests amidst the gang harmonies of “Rooftops,” and Khalifa spends a little time rapping about what he’s going to do with the money he’s making — a windfall that will likely continue as “Rolling Papers” rolls out.

New & Noteworthy

Band of Heathens, “Top Hat Crown & the Clapmaster`s Son” (BoH): The third studio album from the Austin, Texas, “all-star” band.

Boxer Rebellion, “The Cold Still” (Absentee): The British rockers bring out their third studio album on these shores after a February release in its homeland.

Broken Bells, “Meyrin Fields” (Columbia): A collection of four new songs to complement the 2010 debut album by this buzzworthy collaboration of the Shins’ James Mercer and Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton.

Cavalera Conspiracy, “Blunt Force Trauma” (Roardrunner): The second album from the sibling duo of Soulfly leader Max Cavalera and his brother and fellow Sepultura found Iggor Cavalera.

Jeff Healey Band, “Get Me Some” (Eagle Rock): The late Canadian blues guitarist and bandleader’s fifth album, released in 2000, finally comes out in the U.S.

Innerpartysystem, “Never Be Content” (Red Bull): The Philadelphia electronic rock trio’s six-song EP, released digitally in February, is an appetizer for the “Never Be Perfect” album due out later this year.

Boney James, “Contact” (Verve Forecast): The saxophonist’s latest outing features guest vocals by LeToya Luckett, Mario, Heather Headley and Donell Jones.

Ivan Julian, “The Naked Flame” (00:02:59): The first album in 20 years from the former Richard Hell & the Voidoids guitarist, a sideman for Matthew Sweet, Garland Jeffreys and others.

Los Lonely Boys, “Rockpango” (Playing in Traffic): The trio of Texas brothers returns to making original music after its 2009 covers album “1969.”

Mary Mary, “Something Big” (Myblock/Columbia): The spiritual sister duo keeps its eye on the mainstream on smoothly melodic tracks such as the first single, “Walking,” “Never Wave My Flag” and “Something Big.”

The Mountain Goats, “All Eternals Deck” (Merge): The latest from the California folk-rock group drew inspiration from frontman John Darnielle’s fascination with the occult.

Willie Nelson, Wynton Marsalis and Norah Jones, “Here We Go Again” (Blue Note): This all-star trio pays tribute to the late Ray Charles on this live set from New York’s Jazz at Lincoln Center in 2009..

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, “Belong” (Slumberland): The New York indie rockers enlisted Flood (U2, Depeche Mode, the Killers and more) to produce their sophomore album.

Peter, Bjorn and John, “Gimme Some” (Startime): The sixth album from the Swedish trio best known for the whistling 2006 hit “Young Folks.”

Radiohead, “The King of Limbs” (TBD): The arty British rockers deliver their latest in hard copy after a February rollout online that yielded mixed reviews.

Snoop Dogg, “Doggumentary” (Priority/Capitol/EMI): This sequel of sorts to his 1993 debut “Doggystyle” features a kennel of Snoop’s pals, including Kanye West, John Legend, Bootsy Collins, Young Jeezy, R. Kelly, T. Pain, Wiz Khalifa and Eminem hype man Denaun Porter.

The Sounds, “Something to Die Fore” (Sideonedummy): The fourth album from the Swedish indie rockers and frontwoman Maja Ivarsson.

Amy Speace, “Land Like a Bird” (Thirty Tigers): The singer-songwriter’s move from New York to Nashville inspired the songs on her latest release.

Sum 41, “Screaming Bloody Murder” (Island): The Canadian punk rockers’ fifth album will surely have fans looking for lyrics about frontman Deryck Whibley’s divorce from Avril Lavigne.

Unwritten Law, “Swan” (Suburban Noize): The San Diego rockers held a fan contest for the cover of their first new album in six years.

Various Artists, “Sin-atra” (Eagle Rock): The Chairman’s music gets a hard rock spin with interpretations by Cheap Trick’s Robin Zander, Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider, Anthrax’s Joey Belladonna, Queensryche’s Geoff Tate and others.

Whitesnake, “Forevermore” (Frontiers): The hard rock group’s first new album in three years sports 12 new originals from frontman David Coverdale and guitarist Doug Aldrich.

From The Vaults: Derek & the Dominos, “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs — 40th Anniversary Edition” (Polydor/UMe); Ladytron, “Best of OO-10” (Nettwerk); Pearl Jam, “Vs. — Expanded Edition,” “Vitalogy — Expanded Edition,” “Vs./Vitalogy — Deluxe Edition” (all Epic/Legacy) ; Ocean Colour Scene, “Mosely Shoals — Deluxe Edition” (UMe); Various Artists, “Mad Men: A Musical Companion 1960-1965” (UMe); Pete Yorn, “musicforthemorningafter — 10th Anniversary Edition” (Columbia/Legacy);

New Music DVDs: Marillion, “Live From Cadogan Hall” (Eagle Rock)



Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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