willpower

will.i.am

Will.i.am’s 2007 album, Songs About Girls, barely made a splash on the charts, but it was a fine piece of work: He brilliantly wove smooth grooves, pop anthems and hip-hop jams to make one of that year’s best albums.

The underwhelming response may be the reason why he recruits popular acts such as Justin Bieber, Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus and Chris Brown for willpower, his fourth solo effort. Unfortunately, the collaborations feel wasted — and forced.

The hit Scream & Shout, though catchy and fun, features a barely heard Spears. Anyone else could recite her lines. It isn’t as good as This Is Love, which has Dutch vocalist Eva Simons belting out high notes. That tune hit No. 1 in the United Kingdom, though it failed to chart in America, where Scream & Shout peaked at No. 3.

Will.i.am’s newest single, thatPower with Bieber, screams radio hit, but it doesn’t feel special. And Cyrus, who guests on Fall Down, is forgettable.

Will.i.am is better off on his own, or with acts that seem to bring their own flavor, like Love Bullets with Skylar Grey or the playful Nicole Scherzinger-assisted Far Away From Home. Hello, co-produced by Afrojack, is a definite party starter, and The World Is Crazy, with Dante Santiago, is reflective and appealing.

Willpower continues the recent dance tradition that helped the Black Eyed Peas dominate the charts with hits like Boom Boom Pow, I Gotta Feeling and Just Can’t Get Enough. However, the pounding beats feel repetitive and the energy is somewhat dead. Those dancing shoes are worn out.

— Mesfin Fekadu

Associated Press

All That Is

James Salter

James Salter is a brilliant writer. He’s perhaps among the greatest American writers alive today. But All That Is, his latest work and his first full-length novel since 1979, feels written more for writers than for readers. Its strength is the intensely beautiful way Salter combines words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs and paragraphs into this lean, spare 300-page novel.

All That Is tells of the life and loves of Philip Bowman, a World War II veteran who spends a career in publishing. But what happens to Bowman — whom he loves, whom he loses — feels less important than the wisdom Salter leaves behind.

On the blinding power of love:

“He loved her for not only what she was but what she might be, the idea that she might be otherwise did not occur to him or did not matter. Why would it occur? When you love you see a future according to your dreams.”

Or the simplicity of a much-loved home:

“Summer mornings, the light of the world pouring in and the silence. It was a barefoot life, the cool of the night on the floorboards, the green trees if you stepped outside, the first faint cries of the birds.”

In the end, what happens to Philip Bowman is of little consequence. Instead, what matters is the journey led by a true master of the written word.

— Kim Curtis

Associated Press

Bankrupt!

Phoenix

The four Frenchmen known as Phoenix continue to refine their nonpareil synthesis of dance pop and glam rock on their fifth album, Bankrupt!

Marked again by pristine production, miniature symphonies emerge during the transitions and swashes of melody ascend on each chorus.

As polished as the music is, singer Thomas Mars’ nonchalant voice is the band’s defining element. Railing off inner monologue lyrics about Scandinavian leather, “Mint Julep testosterone,” the Rosetta Stone and pesticides, his words act mostly as vehicles to sing along with.

And you’ll want to. Even if nothing reaches the pure pop monstrosity of 1901 or Lisztomania from the group’s last album, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, potential hits abound. Lead track Entertainment picks up right where those left off. Chloroform splits the difference between ballad and banger, a perfect tonic for drifting away while stuck in traffic. Subverting its title, Trying to Be Cool glides effortlessly on a floral neon groove.

Bankrupt! is mostly Phoenix getting better at what it does: firing off populist-themed sure shots that won’t get out of your head. But subtle shifts in the formula resonate. An acoustic guitar trickles through Bourgeois. A blizzard of synth glitter washes out the title track. And an occidental pulse runs through Entertainment.

— Jake O’Connell

Associated Press