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Pop reviews — Week of Aug. 4

Stars Dance

Selena Gomez

Selena Gomez has released Stars Dance, which consists of 11 pop songs she didn’t pen herself backed by instruments she isn’t playing. It might be fun for the casual young summertime listener. But it begs the important question: Why bother?

Artistically, there’s very little Selena Gomez here. This is merely the veneer of Selena Gomez, the look and feel of the pop starlet set atop a middling musical effort. There are lightly emotional lyrics that appear to reference her high-profile romance with Justin Bieber, but it is surface stuff and less than revealing.

Gomez’s lead single, the catchy Come & Get It, is about the best offering here, thanks to Stargate’s club-heavy beat. Songwriting and production assists from Ester Dean, The Cataracs, Rock Mafia and Desmond Child add polish, but it would be nice to unveil more of Gomez and less of the production team pros.

Stars Dance is the 21-year-old’s first album without her band The Scene. She sings the word “baby” 22 times and “dream” 27. She makes stars dance on, wait for it, Stars Dance and takes on a hokey, reggae-inflected tone on Like a Champion. If the pace fuels your body with dancing energy then Gomez has, one can only assume, done her job.

Indeed, this feels like a job. This feels like a vibrant young woman of Disney pedigree simply punched the clock and worked through an already cooked musical plot foisted upon her. Gomez might be an incredibly talented and interesting person with much to offer artistically, but we’ll never find out at this rate.

— Ron Harris

Associated Press

The Highway

C.J. Box

Sixteen-year-old Gracie Sullivan is book-smart and resourceful, but her 18-year-old sister, Danielle, is impetuous, self-involved and boy-crazy. As The Highway opens, they’re driving cross-country from their divorced mother’s home in Colorado to celebrate Thanksgiving with their dad.

Over Gracie’s strenuous objections, Danielle detours toward Helena, Mont., to woo her boyfriend, Justin Hoyt, who doesn’t want her to come. Ronald Pergram, a long-haul trucker and sexual predator who calls himself the Lizard King, trails them through Montana in his Peterbilt semi. His “fun,” as he calls it, has been discovered by a couple of creeps who want to get in on the action.

When Danielle and Gracie vanish on their trip through the mountains, Justin calls his dad, Cody Hoyt, whom we first met as a swashbuckling, rule-breaking lawman in Box’s 2011 thriller, Back of Beyond. But when Justin reaches him, Cody is on a drunk after being fired from the Sheriff’s Department for planting evidence.

Cody quickly sobers up, and with the help of his ex-partner, a feisty but inexperienced investigator named Cassie Dewell, he sets out to track down the girls.

The result is a violent, tension-packed, well-written thriller spiced with Box’s vivid portrayal of the Western landscape that he loves. Along the way, Box also drops in surprising insights about the itinerant lives of long-haul truckers.

Box’s previous thrillers, most of them featuring Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett, have all featured strong, tough-talking male protagonists, but the heroes of this one are the underestimated Cassie, who proves to be both tough and resourceful, and the courageous Gracie, who keeps her head when her flighty sister falls apart.

The Highway is the second new thriller this year from the prolific Box, who seems to get better with every book.

— Bruce DeSilva

Associated Press

In a World Like This

Backstreet Boys

Backstreet’s back, all right!

Not all right, actually.

The Backstreet Boys managed to bring fifth member Kevin Richardson back into the fold for an eighth album and a world tour to celebrate 20 years of making music. In a World Like This is also the first to come out from their own label, K-BAHN, after parting with longtime partner, the now defunct Jive Records.

The boys collaborate mostly with producers Martin Terefe and Morgan Taylor Reid on the 12-track album that lacks the immediate hooks that their earlier hits had. BSB’s album is a grown-up mix of tunes talking about love and commitment, but the songs bleed into each other despite not being similar. The group is too concerned to show us how they’ve matured to remember that it’s sexy vibes that sell.

Breathe, Feels Like Home, Permanent Stain and Make Believe are average, but they provide the much-needed key hooks for the dance floor. Try is too Eric Clapton-esque to stand out, while acoustic downers Madeleine and Trust Me bring the sex appeal factor to a zero Kelvin (thankfully Show ’Em (What You’re Made Of) raises the temperature for a bit).

The album’s best moment is its first song: The Max Martin-produced lead single and title track has simple guitar chords that draw you in and a catchy, wholesome beat that keeps you tapping your feet.

But the rest of the album heads in one direction — downhill.

— Cristina Jaleru

Associated Press



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