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The Listening Room: Britney Spears, Boston and more...
Britney Spears finds herself in the tough position of being the last pop diva out of the box this fall, and under the gun to show us something that Miley, Katy, Gaga or even Lorde haven't. This time, however, there's been on dancing with pythons, no tabloid controversies, no personal-life wrecking balls leading into the release. "Britney Jean" comes out in the calmest landscape Spears has resided in since her debut, and only the title of the single "Work B**ch" might raise a few eyebrows. As if. The unusually modest (10 tracks, 36 minutes) set is low-key as well, the uptempo tracks such as "Body Ache" and "It Should Be Easy" and built on rote club beats and synthesizer patterns from the likes of will.i.am and David Guetta. In fact, this may be the first time Spears' more melodic fare wins out, from the chill, William Orbit-produced opener "Alien" to the clever "Perfume" (co-written with Sia Fuller), the shimmering "Passenger" (co-written with Fuller and Katy Perry) and the gentle album-closing break-up ode "Don't Cry." There are a couple of train wrecks -- including the hip-hop flavored "Tik Tik Boom" with T.I. and "Chillin' With You" with younger sister Jamie Lynn Spears -- and "Britney Jean" mostly feels like an exercise is having some new material for Spears to perform at her Las Vegas residencies rather than setting new standards or keeping pace with her pop peers.
Boston, "Life, Love & Hope" (Frontiers) **1/2
It's a mark of how impactful Boston's multi-platinum 1976 debut was that we still care about the group many years after its last real commercial success. Part of it is a sense of mystery, though; the albums come infrequently -- this is the first in 11 years -- and it's always something of a marvel that mastermind Tom Scholz manages to keep the sonic template he crafted during the mid-70s sounding current. "Life, Love & Hope" actually revisits and revises some songs from 2002's "Corporate America" -- including the late Brad Delp's vocals -- but it also touches on some fresh directions, including industrial touches on several of the songs, the slide licks in the first single "Heaven on Earth" and the proggy, Trans-Siberian Orchestra flavor of the instrumental "Last Day of School." Scholz also sings lead for the first time, on "Love Got Away;" he's convincing, but the other vocalists in his stable probably aren't sweating.
New & Noteworthy:
Ana Barbara, "Yo Soy La Mujer" (Sony Latin): The 11th album, and first in four years, from the Grammy Award-nominated Mexican singer.
Black Flag, "What The..." (SST): The first new album from the American punk rock icons since 1985, though some controversy continues to rage between past and present members over name ownership.
Crown the Empire, "The Fallout" (Rise): The Dallas metalcore band re-releases its 2012 debut album packaged with the previous year's "Limitless EP."
The Gories, "The Shaw Tapes: Live in Detroit 5/27/88" (Third Man): The iconic and influential Detroit garage rock troupe is caught in its raw glory during a party performance in a converted Motor City storefront.
Glen Hansard, "Drive All Night" (Anti-): This four-song EP from the Frames and Swell Season frontman benefits Little Kids Rock and features guest appearances by Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, Rochester Adams alumnus Joe Henry and the E Street Band's Jake Clemons.
Hopsin, "Knock Madness" (Funk Volume/Empire): The Pasadena rapper's fourth album includes cameos from Tech N9ne, Dizzy Wright, Jarren Benton and SwizZz.
Ryan Kelly, "Life" (self-released): A solo outing by the member of Celtic Thunder.
Muse, "Live at Rome Olympic Stadium" (Warner Bros.): The British group's latest stage spectacle is captured on CD, DVD and Blu-ray, focusing on its latest album, "The 2nd Law."
Mutual Benefit, "Love's Crushing Diamond" (Other Music): The debut album from the pop collective led by Jordan Lee, who's hopped from Ohio to Austin, Boston and now Brooklyn while assembling his musical troupe.
Roy Orbison, "The Last Concert" (Legacy): This document of Orbison's December 1988 swan song near Cleveland comes packaged with a DVD of his final interview.
Jake Owen, "Days of Gold" (RCA Nashville): After three Top 10 country albums, Owen and producer Joey Moi aren't changing much, just further polishing the touch of "Gold" they've already demonstrated.
Rhapsody of Fire, "Dark Wings of Steel" (AFM): The Italian symphonic metal group soldiered through the loss of founding guitarist Luca Turilli in making its 10th album.
Royal Hunt, "A Life to Die For" (Frontiers): The 12th studio album from the progressive heavy metal band out of Denmark.
Various Artists, "Sons of Anarchy 3" (Columbia): The third companion album to the FX drama features songs by Leonard Cohen, Katey Sagal, Chris Goss and others.
Various Artists, "Songs For the Phillipines" (iTunes): An all-star typhoon relief benefit featuring the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Justin Timberlake, U2, Eminem, Lady Gaga and more, with proceeds going to the Phillipine Red Cross.
Various Artists, "The Sound of Music (Music From the NBC Television Event)" (Sony Masterworks): Carrie Underwood is the star attraction in this "event" that, with all due respect, we doubt really needed to be made.
Xiu Xiu, "Nina" (FKLG/Graveface): The San Jose avant garde collective pays homage to the late Nina Simone on this 11-track set.
John Zorn, "Shir Hashirim" (Tzadik): The experimental saxophonist celebrates his 60th birthday, and Hanukkah, by digging deeper into Jewish musical traditions.
From The Vaults: Lou Reed, "Playlist: The Very Best of Lou Reed" (RCA/Legacy); Michael Schenker, "Bridge the Gap" (UMe); Velvet Underground, "White Light / White Heat 45th Anniversary Edition" (UMe); Johnny Winter, "Live Bootleg Series Volume 10" (Friday Music)
Soundtracks: Various Artists, "An Unreal Dream: The Michael Morton Story" (Blue Corn Music)
New Music Videos: Muse, "Live at Rome Olympic Stadium" (Warner Bros.); George Thorogood & the Destroyers, "Live at Montreux 2013 (Eagle Rock)
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