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Pop Reviews — Oct. 20

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The Double

George Pelecanos

Spero Lucas joined the Marines, got shipped off to Iraq, fought house-to-house in Fallujah and came home in one piece to Washington, D.C. Others he served with are damaged, some physically, some in ways you can’t see. Lucas says he’s OK.

He’s not, but he’s better off than most.

His needs are simple: a clean bed, a steady supply of beer and weed, a woman now and then. But he craves action. For him, there must always be a mission.

Spero, first introduced by author George Pelecanos in The Cut, finds what he needs by doing part-time investigative work for a criminal defense attorney and by helping people recover stolen goods in return for a finder’s fee. Sometimes the work requires killing. Spero, who has no nightmares about the lives he took in war, is still capable of doing what needs to be done without remorse — most of the time.

The Double, the new novel featuring the former Marine, finds Spero especially busy.

His brother Leo, a high school teacher troubled by the unsolved murder of a student, asks Spero to look into it.

A lawyer hires Spero to find something, anything, that can throw doubt on the prosecution’s case against a man who almost certainly murdered his lover.

And Grace Kinkaid, a middle-aged woman with bad taste in men, commissions Spero to recover a painting taken by a cad who seduced her, dumped her and ripped her off on his way out the door.

Along the way, the flawed hero finds time to visit wounded warriors and to fall in love with a married, older woman.

The Kincaid case, which provides the main story line, pits Spero against a gang of thieves led by a swaggering sociopath. To track them down, he leans on some old war buddies, but when the brutal confrontations come, he prefers to work alone.

The author laces his story with vivid descriptions of Washington’s changing urban landscape. The writing is taut, the violence is graphic and the characters are so well-drawn that they step off the page and into your life.

Pelecanos, well known for the scripts he wrote for HBO’s The Wire, is the author of a string of critically acclaimed crime novels including The Night Gardener and The Turnaround. With The Double he has produced a throwback, a hard-boiled story that will remind readers of the Parker novels that Donald Westlake published under the pen name Richard Stark.

For fans of such novels, The Double is as good as it gets.

— Bruce Desilva

Associated Press

Bitter Rivals

Sleigh Bells

Brooklyn noise pop duo Sleigh Bells’ new album, Bitter Rivals, is an unfortunate thing. Perhaps singer Alexis Krauss and guitarist Derek Miller overthought the scope of their art.

In an effort to be heavy and edgy, Sleigh Bells have slathered too much production bass and ham-fisted fuzz over their own valuable talents. This is smarty-pants angst drifting in a sea of cliche lyrics and simplistic song structure.

The title track is a mess of indecisive pace and Minnie, for its aggressive assault, is tempered by a refrain that finds Krauss singing in a small child’s voice. Had the album, the group’s third, channeled the zeitgeist of guitar played by Miller on Tiger Kit, easily the best track, Sleigh Bells would have been much better off.

Sleigh Bells sounded more pure on last year’s Reign of Terror. Their power felt less contrived on tracks from that album such as Crush and Comeback Kid. But that was then and this is now, and Bitter Rivals is much less than their best.

— Ron Harris

Associated Press

You Can’t Make Old Friends

Kenny Rogers

Kenny Rogers enters his 75th year with an album that blends the familiar with the challenging, seeking new hits and pursuing new ideas even as he enters the Country Music Hall of Fame this fall.

His age occasionally shows in the raggedness at the edges of his vocal tone. But Rogers always made the huskiness of his voice work for him, and that holds true through most of these 11 new songs.

Impressively, he hits high, forceful notes when required, matching longtime duet partner Dolly Parton on the soaring passages of the wistfully sentimental title tune, which would have fit on any of his solo albums from decades past.

On the progressive side, Rogers tackles the struggles of a Mexican immigrant on the Spanish-tinged ballad Dreams of the San Joaquin; a jaunty Gulf Coast dance tune on Don’t Leave Me in the Night Time, featuring accordionist Buckwheat Zydeco; and a complex narrative about fighting darkness in the modern world on Turn This World Around, a duet with young singer-songwriter Eric Paslay.

He occasionally reaches too far, as in ’Merica, certainly the first patriotic tune to reference a spanked child and a drunken uncle.

For the most part, though, Rogers proves he can still deliver the romantic ballads and dramatic narratives on which his reputation rests.

— Michael McCall

Associated Press


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