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Listening Room: The Arctic Monkeys, The Nightwatchman and more...
Arctic Monkeys, “Favourite Worst Nightmare” (Domino/Warner Bros.)***
Arctic Monkeys were the hip Brits of 2006, taking their homeland by storm as “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not” became the fastest selling debut in U.K. history, and netted the Sheffield quartet a slew of awards -- including the prestigious Mercury Music Prize.
But on “Favourite Worst Nightmare,” the group is no longer what it was; instead, frontman and chief songwriter Alex Turner and his compatriots have made an album that’s heavier, a bit darker and certainly more sophisticated than its predecessor while still retaining the kinetic spirit that made the Arctic Monkeys pacesetters on the British scene and new favorites for discerning Yanks.
The group’s stock in trade is still the staccato, herky jerky rhythms that give Turner’s detailed lyrics a sense of modern beat poetry. “Brianstorm,” the lead track and first single, and “If You Were There, Beware,” are all punchy, jagged dynamics, while “Old Yellow Bricks” rides the same kind of rhythmic sensibility into a nearly prog rock feel and “The Bad Thing” is a boppy advocation of romantic cheating. The real growth, however, is in the more understated but still energetic grooves of “Teddy Picker” and “D For Dangerous,” or in the reggae-flavored roll of “Fluorescent Adolescent” and “This House is a Circus,” the latter of which careens into hard rocking fury by its end. The group also effectively explores quieter terrain on “Only Ones Who Know” and the album-closing “505,” a textured, building piece that hews closer to the likes of Radiohead and Keane than, say, Gang of Four. “Favourite Worst Nightmare” certainly has more dimension than “Whatever ...,” which might knock some of the first album’s fans for a bit of a loop at first. But that second listen will reveal it steps forward without really stepping away from what worked last time out.
The Nightwatchman, “One Man Revolution” (Epic) ***1/2
The Nightwatchman is the protest-singing alter ego of Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave guitar wiz Tom Morello, who not only demonstrates similar skill on the
but also a knack for passionate and intelligent social commentary. More philosophical than didactic, Morello nevertheless exhorts us to “seize the time and storm the tower,” rassle rabble and provoking thoughts on all 13 tracks. It’s not all sober sermonizing, either, thanks to the Celtic-flavored stomper “The Road I Must Travel,” the bluesy “Flesh Shapes the Day” and the anthemic “House Goes Up in Flames.” As the man himself sings, “you don’t gotta be loud, son, to be heavy ...”
NEW AND NOTEWORTHY...
Chuck Brown, “We’re About the Business” (Raw Venture) — The Washington, D.C., go-go pioneer takes the party nationwide on his first solo effort since 1979.
Detroit Cobras, “Tried and True” (Bloodshot) — The garage rock favorites crank out another batch of stylized covers on their fourth fulllength.
Electric Soft Parade, “No Need to Be Down-Hearted”
(Better Looking/ EastWest) — The buzzed-about British troupe’s first full album capitalizes on the buzz generated by last year’s “Human Body” EP.
Tim Finn, “Imaginary Kingdom” (Manhattan) — The former Split Enz frontman recorded his first solo album since 2001 in Nashville.
Bebel Gilberto, “Momento” (Six Degrees) — The Brazilian singer’s collaborators on her third solo album include, appropriately enough, New York’s Brazilian Girls.
Golden Smog, “Blood on the Slacks” (Lost Highway) — The indie-minded “supergroup’s” EP includes leftovers from last year’s “Another Fine Day” plus covers of David Bowie’s “Starman” and Dinosaur Jr.’s “Tarpit.”
Mando Diao, “Ode to Ochrasy” (Mute) — The hip Swedish quintet continues a rocking evolution on its third album.
Dito Monteil, “Dito Montiel” (Atco/Rhino) — The first solo album by the writer, director and former lead singer of Gutterboy.
Ono, “Open Your Box”(Astralwerks) — Pet Shop Boys, Basement Jaxx, Felix Da Housecat and others put a dance spin on favorites from Yoko Ono’s solo catalog.
Donny Osmond, “Decades, Vol. 1: Love Songs of the ’70s” (Decca) — Osmond explores amore of long ago, fortunately avoiding his own “Puppy Love.”
Porcupine Tree, “Fear of a Blank Planet” (Atlantic) — Rush’s Alex Lifeson and King Crimson’s Robert Fripp guests on the latest set from this British prog outfit.
John Prine and Mac Wiseman, “Standard Songs for Average People” (Oh Boy) — Many fans will indeed say “Oh boy!” to this teaming of sardonic songwriter Prine and bluegrass/ country vet Wiseman.
Simply Red, “Stay” (Simplyred.com) — The British group’s first set of all-new material in four years already has some traction thanks to the AC single “Stay.”
Patti Smith, “Twelve” (Columbia) — The new Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee recreates a dozen of her favorite classic rock songs by Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles and more.
Snoop Dogg, “Presents the Big Squeeze” (Koch) — Facing more criminal charge (for drugs and weapons possession), the rapper appears on 12 of 16 tracks on an album that mostly highlights up-and-comers such as Kurupt, Westurn Union and Warzone.
Mavis Staples, “We’ll Never Turn Back” (Anti-) — The R&B legend teams with Ry Cooder on this set of Civil Rights anthems.
Various Artists, “A Tribute to Joni Mitchell”
(Nonesuch) — Björk, Elvis Costello, Emmylou Harris, Prince and a host of other luminaries give Mitchell her props on this 12-track salute.
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