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The Listening Room: Coldplay, Kelly Clarkson and more...
Say this much for Coldplay’s anxiously awaited fifth studio album — the title is much shorter than 2009’s quadruple-platinum “Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends,” though harder to pronounce. But it’s as ambitious as the British quartet has ever been, full of rich soundscapes, swelling dynamics, full-throttle choruses and a loosely sketched concept about a couple (Mylo and Xyloto) exploring romance in a graffiti-decorated urban dystopia. Heady stuff, for sure, but this being Coldplay there’s a happy ending in which frontman Chris Martin declares, “I know one day good things are coming our way.” The same can be said for Coldplay fans from this 14-song set. Though the group has been the victim of some degree of backlash for its sheer ubiquitous presence, Martin and company carefully stick to the ambient/anthemic mix that’s worked so well for the group in the past, drawn from U2 and Radiohead with a bit of the Cure thrown in on this set’s “Hurts Like Heaven.” Coldplay effectively strips things down for gentle, melodic paeans such as “Us Against the World” and the stark “U.F.O.” and “Up in Flames,” but the group’s penchant for grandiosity ultimately wins the day on “Charlie Brown,” “Major Minus” and “Don’t Let it Break Your Heart.” “Paradise” takes on a slight urban flavor, particularly in Martin’s echoing chorus, while Rihanna turns in counterpoint guest vocals on the sinewy chant-along “Princess of China.” There are greater hints of chill electronica in interludes such as the title track, “M.M.I.X.” and “A Hopeful Transmission,” but the real instrumental star of “Mylo Xyloto” is guitarist Jonny Buckland, who pushes more forcefully through the shimmering keyboards that dominate Coldplay’s sound, particularly on “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall,” “Major Minus” and the outro sections of “Up in Flames” and the Leonard Cohen-sampling album closer “Up With the Birds.” “Mylo Xyloto” isn’t the sonic reinvention some expected from Coldplay this time out, but it’s firm proof that what’s been working is far from broken.
Kelly Clarkson, “Stronger”(RCA) ★★ 1/2
During the tumultuous nine years since she was crowned the inaugural “American Idol,” Kelly Clarkson has certainly learned that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger — even if she’s not exactly someone you’d expect to be tapping Friedrich Nietzche for inspiration. But her fifth studio album is indeed her strongest yet, with Clarkson — who co-wrote six of the 13 songs — in full, robust voice and filled with Girl Power ’tude that seems aimed both at her relationships and her record company. She and her corps of collaborators explore electropop flavors on “What Doesn’t Kill You (Stronger),” “Dark Side” and “Einstein,” and kinetic new wave on “You Can’t Win,” but rest assured the big ballads are here in the form of “Standing in Front of You,” “The War is Over” and “Breaking Your Own Heart.”
New & Noteworthy:
Alesana, “A Place Where the Sun is Silent” (Epitaph): The North Carolina modern rock troupe tapped Dante’s “Inferno” for the conceptual theme of its fourth album.
Judy Collins, “Bohemian” (Wildflower): The folk-pop veteran combines new material with songs by friends Joni Mitchell and Jimmy Webb to re-create the rich Southern California music scene of the ’60s.
Robert Davi, “Davi Sings Sinatra: On the Road to Romance” (Sun Lion): The opera-trained screen actor takes on a dozen of Ol’ Blue Eyes’ lushly orchestrated romantic favorites
Deer Tick, “Divine Providence” (Partisan): The Rhode Island Americana quintet takes a more live-sounding approach on its fourth full-length release.
Thomas Dolby, “A Map of the Floating City” (Lost Toy People): The British singer, songwriter and techy — who we presume is no longer blinded by science — is helped by Mark Knopfler, Regina Spektor, Imogen Heap and others on his first new album in 20 years.
Dirty Projectors and Bjork, “Mount Wittenberg Orca” (Domino): The Icelandic songstress joins the Brooklyn experimental rock troupe for a seven-song suite they originally created for a 2009 benefit concert.
Michael Feinstein, “The Sinatra Project, Vol. II: The Good Life” (Concord Jazz): Yes, another Sinatra tribute release, this one a follow-up to Feistein’s Grammy-nominated 2008 nod to The Chairman.
Vince Gill, “Guitar Slinger” (MCA Nashville): Gill’s latest is his first in five years and features three songwriting collaborations and a duet with his wife, Amy Grant.
honeyhoney, “Billy Jack” (honeyhoney/Los Highway): The genre-splicing Los Angeles duo’s new album was produced mainly by Local Natives cohort Raymond Richards.
Justice, “Audio Video Disco” (Ed Banger): The French electronic duo’s second studio album includes collaborations with Ali Love, Vincent Vendetta and Morgan Phalen.
Toby Keith, “Clancy’s Tavern” (Show Dog/Universal): The country stalwart is showing his stars and stripes again on “Made in America,” the first single from an album named after his grandmother’s bar in Arkansas.
Sam Llanas, “4 A.M.” (Knot): The BoDeans member goes solo again with an album that includes 10 originals and a cover of Cyndi Lauper’s “All Through the Night.”
The McCrary Sisters, “Our Journey” (McC Records): The daughters of the Fairfield Four member Rev. Samuel McCrary wrote six of their own songs for their debut national release, including a collaboration with Bob Dylan.
Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out, “Prime Tyme” (Rural Rhythm): The gospel bluegrass troupe celebrates its 20th anniversary with another set of pickin’ and grinnin’.
The Original 7ven, “Condensate” (TimeLife): The founding lineup of The Time reunites, with a new name, is still funky 21 years after their last studio album.
Puscifer, “Condition of My Parole” (Puscifer Entertainment): The second full-length effort from the collective led by Maynard James Keenan of Tool and A Perfect Circle.
Skinny Puppy, “HandOver” (Synthetic Symphony): The first new album in four years from the Vancouver industrial rock outfit.
Andy Timmons, “Plays Sgt. Pepper” (Favored Nations): The former Danger Danger guitar whiz applies his six-string virtuosity to the Beatles’ classic album.
VNV Nation, “Automatic” (Anachron): The British electropop group’s eighth album was preceded by the free download track “Control.”
Tom Waits, “Bad as Me” (Anti-): The idiosyncratic singer-songwriter’s first set of all-new material in seven years was, as usual, co-written and co-produced with his wife, Kathleen Brennan.
Brian Wilson, “In the Key of Disney” (Walt Disney): The Beach Boys mastermind puts some new pop spins on Disney classics from “Snow White” to “Toy Story 3.”
Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer and Chris Thile, “The Goat Rodeo Sessions” (Sony Masterworks): A pair of contemporary classical icons join two bluegrass hotshots for a spirited meeting of the minds, with Aoife O’Donovan vocalizing on to tracks.
From The Vaults:Nirvana, “Nevermind — Super Deluxe Edition” (Geffen/UMe); Electric Light Orchestra, “The Essential Electric Light Orchestra” (Jet/Legacy); Howlin’ Wolf, “Smokestack Lightning: Complete Chess Masters” (Chess/UMe); Paul Kelly, “Greatest Hits: Songs From the South” (Gawdaggie Music/CEN); Sammy Kershaw, “Icon” (Mercury/UMe); John Prine, “The Singing Mailman Delivers” (Oh Boy); Diana Ross & the Supremes, “50th Anniversary (Motown/UMe): Singles Collection 1961-1969”; Paul Simon, “Songwriter,” “One Trick Pony,” “Hearts & Bones,” “Graceland,” “Rhythm of the Saints” (all Columbia/Legacy); The Temptations, “50th Anniversary: Singles Collection 1961-1971” (Motown/UMe); Various Artists, “The Bridge School Concerts 25th Anniversary Edition” (Reprise); Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings, “Collector’s Edition Box Set” (Proper American); Yes, “9021Live — The Solos (Expanded)” (Firday)
Michael Bublé, “Christmas” (Reprise); Chanticleer, “Our Favorite Carols” (INgrooves); Tommy Emmanuel, “All I Want For Christmas” (Favored Nations); John Rutter, “The Colors of Christmas” (Decca); She & Him, “A Very She & Him Christmas” (Merge); Scott Weiland, “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” (Atco)
New Music DVDs: Peter Gabriel, "New Blood Live in London" (Eagle Rock); Pearl Jam, "Pearl Jam Twenty" (Columbia); Various Artists, "The Bridge School Concerts 25th Anniversary Edition" (Reprise) -- Gary Graff
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