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Pop reviews — week of Sept. 15

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Fuse

Keith Urban

Even though Keith Urban scored three No. 1 hits on his last outing, the veteran country star decided to shake up his production team for his new album, Fuse. Longtime studio partner Dann Huff still collaborates on a couple of songs, but Urban branches out to duet with young country stars Eric Church and Miranda Lambert and to work with a bevy of hot producers.

Urban joins up with Mike Elizondo, Butch Walker and the Norwegian duo Stargate from the pop world and recruits newcomers Nathan Chapman, Zach Crowell and Jay Joyce on the country side.

While Urban wanted to expand his sound, it’s to his credit that so many songs bear his distinctive artistic stamp. For example, Even the Stars Fall 4 U — co-produced by Walker — may feature a pumped-up chorus, but it sounds like a natural evolution of Urban’s upbeat hits from the last dozen years.

Elsewhere, the American Idol judge tackles new sounds, and Fuse benefits from how Urban rises to these challenges.

Shame, co-written and co-produced by Stargate’s Tor Hermansen and Mikkel Eriksen, takes Urban’s confessional lyric and turns it into a heartfelt pop anthem. On Love’s Poster Child, co-produced by Joyce, Urban embraces the hard-rock edge of young country stars and cranks out an up-tempo tune as fierce as any of the newcomers.

Not everything works — Good Thing, co-produced by Elizondo, apes too many current country clichés to sound fresh. Overall, though, Fuse shows Urban maintaining his consistency while challenging himself creatively.

— Michael McCall

Associated Press

Still Foolin’ ’Em: Where I’ve Been, Where I’m Going, and Where the Hell Are My Keys?

Billy Crystal

Billy Crystal looks back on his life and career in Still Foolin’ ’Em: Where I’ve Been, Where I’m Going, and Where the Hell Are My Keys? He writes in such a relaxed style that the reading experience feels more like he’s talking about his life and thoughts over a friendly cup of coffee.

The book includes essays about his age and sex, and these sections are clearly designed to be funny. The 65-year-old comedian delivers numerous chuckles and flat-out belly laughs.

Crystal reflects on growing up, meeting his wife and getting his start in comedy. He provides behind-the-scenes material for some of his biggest career achievements, including the film When Harry Met Sally … and the TV series Soap. The personal anecdotes resonate, and reading about the ups and downs of his life is inspiring. Just when he gets close to being maudlin, another humorous essay pops up to lighten the mood.

One of the themes running throughout his stories is his age, and it seems at times that he feels like everything is coming to an end soon. But here is a man who pursued his dreams, achieved them and exceeded beyond even his lofty expectations.

Crystal has the charisma, humor and down-home charm that fans have loved over the years. And the love for his family clearly shines through the words as well.

To quote one of his most famous characters, Billy Crystal, “you look mahvalous.”

— Jeff Ayers

Associated Press

AM

Arctic Monkeys

A woozy, psychedelic collection cooked up in the Californian desert, Arctic Monkeys’ latest album, AM, is the sound of Sheffield via San Francisco.

Fans expecting anything approaching the kinetic, snot-punk blast of the English group’s highly revered 2006 debut, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, will be disappointed as frontman Alex Turner and cohorts rarely break a sweat — strutting and swaggering their way through 12 tasty rock nuggets.

Turner cites Aaliyah and Black Sabbath as album influences and, when the R&B backing vocals of One for the Road give way to a punishing guitar solo from Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme, a potentially unholy marriage makes perfect sense. Other highlights include the crunching Arabella (complete with riff borrowed from Bad Company’s Feel Like Makin’ Love), glam-rock stomp Snap Out of It and starlit ballad Mad Sounds — sonically one of the most beautiful songs in the band’s impressive canon.

The album’s harmonic strengths are occasionally undermined by repetitive, perfunctory lyrics. Turner recounts tales of parties and wild nights with such disinterest that one can’t help but wonder why he bothered going out in the first place. For a man capable of writing vivid vignettes about working-class Britain, the album is startlingly short of quotable lines. The album’s most memorable couplet — “I wanna be your vacuum cleaner, breathing in your dust, I wanna be your Ford Cortina, I will never rust” — from I Wanna Be Yours was penned by punk poet John Cooper Clarke.

Despite the lyrical letdown, there’s a lot to admire about Arctic Monkeys’ fifth album, the band’s self-professed “West Coast record.” The sunshine obviously suits them.

— Matt Kemp

Associated Press


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