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The Listening Room: Muse, Van Morrison and more...
"The 2nd Law"
There's no question that Muse has been thriving during the past 12 years, the British trio building its audience size and critical renown with five albums of anthemic pomp and smart soundtrack placements that include the first three "Twilight Saga" films. That doesn't make the British trio a happy bunch, however. "The 2nd Law" is a musically adventurous opus with dour lyrical stance, whether it's calling for socio-political revolution ("Supremacy"), the global financial crisis ("Animals"), the failing environment ("Big Freeze" and the two-part title suite) or letting bassist Chris Wolstenholme exorcise the demons of alcoholism in "Save Me" and "Liquid State." The 13-song set certainly has the dramatic power blasts we're used to from Muse, including "Supremacy," "Liquid State" and the Summer Olympics theme "Survival," but "The 2nd Law" really revels in the group's twists, turns and new directions. "Madness" echoes U2 circa "Zooropa," while Muse marries U2 with Queen for "Big Freeze" and "Panic Station" is a funky workout that fuses Queen (think "Another One Bites the Dust") with David Bowie's "Fame." There are more Queen and Bowie touches throughout, as well as Radiohead, and "The 2nd Law" suite, with its mix of orchestrations, electronics, sampled radio broadcast and spoken lyrics, is arty but not exactly optimistic, concluding that "a species set on endless growth is unsustainable." "The 2nd Law" is filled with big ideas all the way around, which makes the album both accessible and challenging -- and enormously intriguing.
Van Morrison, "Born To Sing: No Plan B" (Blue Note): ***1/2
Van Morrison has consistently maintained a stature as one of the best singers of the pop music era, even compared to pre-rock icons such as Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby. But every now and then the Irish troubadour reminds us of that in a special way, and "Born To Sing" is one of those. The grippingly sung 10-song set finds Morrison with a few burrs up his saddle, "tryin' to get away from people that are driving me mad" in "Going Down to Monte Carlo" but particularly focused on the world economy on tracks such as "Open the Door (To Your Heart)," "End of the Rainbow," "Educating Archie" and particularly the long, vibey "If In Money We Trust" ("Where's God?," Morrison asks). False prophets are in his crosshairs, too, on "Mystic of the East" and "Pagan Heart," and the album's rich blend of soul, jazz and blues makes even his darkest visions come across with artful aplomb.
New & Noteworthy:
Tori Amos, Jules Buckley and the Metropole Orkest, "Gold Dust" (Deutsche Grammaphon): The avant pop songstress takes an orchestral sidestep, working up new arrangements of some of her best-known material.
Iris DeMent, "Sing The Delta" (Flariella): The Arkansas singer-songwriter taps into her deep South roots on her first new album in eight years.
Micky Dolenz, "Remember" (Waterfront/RoboRecords): The Monkee mixes a few new songs with personal favorites by the Beatles, Neil Diamond, Carole King and others.
Mark Eitzel, "Don't Be a Stranger" (Merge): The American Music Club frontman teamed with highly regarded songwriter producer Sheldon Gomberg for his latest solo album.
Jackie Evancho, "Songs From the Silver Screen" (Syco/Columbia): The 12-year-old singing prodigy takes on favorites from Willy Wonka...," "Titanic," "Summer of 42" and more on her latest project.
Faith Evans, "R&B Divas" (Prolific/eOne): The singer, an R&B diva herself, joins forces with contestants from the reality TV show of the same name that Evans judges.
Heart, "Fanatic" (Legacy): The Wilson sisters' second collaboration with producer Ben Mink comes out in conjunction with a new band autobiography.
Charlie Hunter and Scott Amendola, "Not Getting Behind is the New Getting Ahead" (Charlie Hunter Music): The guitarist "grows" his sound a bit from 2011's completely solo "Public Domain," adding drummer Amendola to the mix.
Diana Krall, "Glad Rag Doll" (Verve): The jazzy singer-pianist follows her collaborative role on Paul McCartney's latest album by teaming with producer T Bone Burnett for a Country & Western flavored collection.
Kendrick Lamar, "good kid, m.A.A.d city" (Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope): The Compton rapper's first major label album includes guests such as Lady Gaga, Mary J. Blige, Drake, Dr. Dre and more.
Matt & Kim, "Lightning" (Fader Label): Ten new tracks comprise the Brooklyn piano-and-drums duo's fourth full-length album.
Tift Merritt, "Traveling Alone" (Yep Roc): The New York singer-songwriter got help from Andrew Bird, Marc Ribot, longtime aide de camp Jay Brown and others on her latest release.
Miguel, "Kaleidoscope Dream" (Bystorm/RCA): The California neo-soul singer's second album sports 11 self-written tracks, including the singles "Adorn" and "Do You."
Jerrod Niemann, "Free the Music" (Sea Gayle/Arista Nashville): The country chart-topper wrote all 12 tracks on his sophomore album, dueting with Colbie Caillat on one.
Beth Orton, "Sugaring Season" (Anti-): The British "folktronica" singer recorded her fifth album in Portland, Ore., with producer Tucker Martine.
Papa Roach, "The Connection" (Eleven Seven Music): The aggro rockers' seventh studio album comes out as frontman Jacoby Shaddix is recovering from throat surgery.
Jake Shimabukuro, "Grand Ukulele" (Hitchhike): The ukulele virtuoso's latest was produced by Alan Parsons and features covers of Adele's "Rolling in the Deep," "Over the Rainbow" and Sting's "Fields of Gold."
Cody Simpson, "Paradise" (Atlantic): The Australian-born teen pop singer's first full-length album follows three mania-inducing EPs.
Three Days Grace, "Transit of Venus" (RCA): The Canadian quartet's fourth album includes an unlikely cover of Michael Jackson's "Give In to Me."
The Tragically Hip, "Now For Plan A" (Rounder): Sarah Harmer joins the veteran Canadian band for some cameos on its 13th studio album.
Various Artists, "Who Are You -- An All-Star Tribute to The Who" (Cleopatra): A wealth of rockers from Def Leppard, Yes, Asia, Dream Theater, Judas Priest, Cream and other bands, as well as Iggy pop and the MC5's Wayne Kramer, salute the Who as it prepares to tour North America again in November.
From The Vaults: Dio, "The Very Beast of Dio, Vol 2" (Niji); Frank Turner, "Last Minutes & Lost Evenings" (Xtra Mile/Epitaph); Shoes, "35 Years: The Definitive Shoes Collection 1977-2012" (Real Gone)
Soundtracks: James Horner, "For Greater Glory: The True Story of Cristiada" (Varese Sarabande); Various Artists, "Pitch Perfect" (UMe)
New Holiday Albums: John Denver, "The Classic Christmas Album" (RCA/Legacy); Kenny G, "The Classic Christmas Album" (Arista/Legacy); Kidz Bop, "Kidz Bop Christmas!" (Razor & Tie); Barry Manilow, "The Classic Christmas Album"; Willie Nelson, "The Classic Christmas Album" (Columbia/Legacy); Elvis Presley, "The Classic Christmas Album" (RCA/Legacy); Blake Shelton, "Cheers, It's Christmas" (Warner Bros.); Luther Vandross, "The Classic Christmas Album (Epic/Legacy)
New Music DVDs: "Beatles Stories" (Cinema Libre); The Move, "The Lost Broadcasts" (Gonzo MultiMedia)
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