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The Listening Room: Usher, Rush and more...
"Looking 4 Myself"
Rest assured there is sex on Usher's seventh studio album -- how could it not, right? But believe it or not, he dials down the libido here, instead exploring a wider range of song topics and, more importantly, styles that make "Looking 4 Myself" the singer and songwriter's most diverse and satisfying outing yet. Once past the EDM bump 'n' grind of "Can't Stop Won't Stop" and "Scream" we get "Climax," eschewing its title, takes on the regret of a relationship's bend, while other tracks on "Looking 4 Myself" deal with introspection and resolve to be a better man ("What Happened to U," the title track). That's all well and good; at 33 Usher Raymond IV should be growing up a little. But it's musical growth that he and his collaborators -- a formidable crew that includes the Black Eyed Peas' will.i.am, Keith Harris, Danja, Diplo, the Neptunes, Rico Love, Max Martin, Jim Jonsin, Empire of the Sun and Swedish House Mafia -- pursue that really helps Usher find a stellar path here, from the infectious club jams of "Euphoria," "Sins of My Father" and the slightly chilled-out "Show Me" to the sinewy garage soul of "Twisted," the 80s pop feel of the title track, the pop anthemry of "Numb" and the swelling, orchestrated heartbreak of "Dive." Usher is all over the map here, but in a good way, and what he's found on "Looking 4 Myself" is, dare we say, better than sex -- at least in this context.
Rush, "Clockwork Angels" (Roadrunner) ***
Six years between albums -- and nearly three years in the studio -- has given Rush time to make a lot of music, and those who have been counting the days, hours and/or minutes to "Clockwork Angels" will find another formidable set that delivers exactly what fans love from the Canadian trio. There's a concept running through its 11 tracks (a companion novel -- really -- is forthcoming), but the songs more than hold their own apart from the story, especially riffy displays of ensemble virtuosity such as "Headline Flight," "The Anarchist," "Seven Cities of Gold," "The Wreckers" and "Wish Them Well." The title track gets a bit messy, but "Clockwork Angels" is largely a testament to time well spent.
New & Noteworthy:
The Bodeans, "American Made" (F+A): Group frontman Kurt Neumann sold his truck to help finance sessions for the heartland rock group's latest release, its first since co-founder Sam Llanas left the band.
Black Box Revelation, "My Perception" (Merovee): The Belgian rock duo's first U.S. album was produced by Queens of the Stone Age's Alain Johannes.
Celldweller, "Wish Upon a Blackstar" (FiXT): The third album from Detroit-based electronic rocker Scott Albert consists of 16 songs and five "chapters" that have been developed and released, piecemeal, since 2009.
Mary Chapin Caprenter, "Ashes & Roses" (Zoe/Rounder): The veteran singer-songwriter's 12th album features a duet with James Taylor on the track "Soul Companion."
The dB's, "Falling Off the Sky" (Bar/None): The highly regarded quartet, as well production cohorts Mitch Easter and Scott Lit, reunite for its first new album in 30 years.
Jimmy Fallon, "Blow Your Pants Off" (Warner Bros.): The late-night host compiles some of his best comic music bits, including duets with Paul McCartney, Justin Timberlake, Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder and NBC news anchor Brian Williams.
Far East Movement, "Dirty Bass" (Cherrytree/Interscope): The L.A. hip-hop quartet's fourth album sports collaborations with Justin Bieber, Pitbull, LMFAO's Redfoo and more.
Hot Chip, "In Our Heads" (Domino): The British electro-pop quartet moves to a new label for its fifth studio album.
Jukebox the Ghost, "Safe Travels" (Yep Roc): The Philadelphia rock trio crafted 13 new songs for its third studio album.
Robert Lamm, "Songs: The JVE Remixes (Blue Infinity/Chicago): The Chicago keyboardist finds his inner bliss on these electronic remixes of some of his best-known work with the band.
Pat Metheny, "Unity Band" (Nonesuch): The jazz guitar icon introduces a new ensemble that marks the first time he's worked with a tenor saxophonist (Chris Potter) since 1980.
Metric, "Synthetica" (Metric Music International): The Toronto modern rock troupe recruited Lou Reed to guest on "The Wanderlust" on its fifth studio album.
Miss May I, "At Heart" (Rise): The Ohio headbangers continue a melodic metal path on their third album prior to a summer run on the Vans Warped Tour main stages.
Motion City Soundtrack, "Go" (Epitaph): After a flirtation in the major label world, the Minneapolis modern rockers return to their indie label home for their fifth full-length release.
Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, "The Lion The Beast The Beat" (Hollywood): The rock troupe's polished third album includes a collaboration with the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach on the single "Never Go Back.
Ed Sheeran, "+" (Atlantic): The British troubadour's debut full-length follows a number of EPs and has already gone quadruple platinum in his homeland.
Skinny Puppy, "Bootlegged Broke & in Solvent Seas" live album
Josh Turner, "Punching Bag" (MCA Nashville): The South Carolina country hitmaker is joined by guests such as Ricky Skaggs, Marty Stuart and Iris DeMent on his fifth album.
Waka Flocka Flame, "Triple F Life: Fans, Friends & Family" (1017 Brick Squad/Warner Bros.): The New York rapper's second studio album is loaded with features, including Drake, Nicki Minaj, B.o.B., Trey Songz, Plies and more.
Bobby Womack, "The Bravest Man in the Universe" (XL): Unbowed by colon cancer, the veteran artist and songwriter delivers his first new album in 18 years, co-produced by admirer Damon Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz).
Darryl Worley, "One Time Around" (Tenacity): The Memphis-born country singer continues to label hop, recording for his fourth home in as many albums.
From The Vaults: Dave Brubeck, "The Columbia Studio Albums Collection 1955-1966" (Columbia/Legacy); John Denver, "The RCA Albums Collection" (RCA/Legacy); Earth, Wind & Fire, "The Columbia Masters" (Columbia/Legacy); E.L.O., "Classic Albums Collection" (Epic/Legacy); Bill Evans, "Live at Art D'Lugoff's Top of the Gate" (Resonance); Judas Priest, "The Complete Albums Collection" (Columbia/Legacy); Kansas, "Classic Albums Collection 1974-1983" (Kirshner/Legacy); Rick Wakeman, "In the Nick of Time" (Music Fusion)
Soundtracks: Marc Streitenfeld, "Prometheus" (Sony Masterworks); Various Artists, "Bernie" (Lakeshore)
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