KATE NASH

Made of Bricks

Sponsored
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(Interscope)

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Kate Nash is the heir apparent, or the version 2.0, of fleeting British-music-tabloid darling Lily Allen (it depends on whether you liken the British pop-music system more to a royal family or a planned-obsolescence assembly line). Both are young, comfortably posh North London girls who—shock! horror!—aren't afraid to speak their minds; Allen even effectively anointed her successor to the popular world by placing Nash in the highly visible top eight of her now legendary, apparently career-launching MySpace page.

"Foundations," the Made of Bricks lead single, has more sparkly momentum than Allen's relaxed R&B breakout, "Smile"—sometimes that momentum gets the best of Nash; she has a habit of running off rhythm and into spoken word, struggling to cram more syllables than can fit into her lines. "Mouthwash" mixes propulsive instrumentation with superficially introspective lyrics ("this is my face/covered in freckles with the occasional spot"). Old B-side "Birds" is a sweet enough urban bohemian love ballad. The softly rapped verses and gaudy R&B chorus ("I just want your kiss, boy") of "Pumpkin Soup" are built to chart. The slightly morbid romantic lilt and well-placed violins of "Skeleton Song" suggest a more polished Nick Diamonds. But the distorted drum break and repetitious stutter of the throwaway intro "Play" unfavorably recall both Nash's red-herring debut single, "Caroline's a Victim," and the electro-fop routine of Calvin "I Created Disco" Harris. "Why you being a dickhead for?" even when delivered in a well-practiced, slightly world-weary jazz croon, is not exactly a compelling chorus ("Dickhead").

Nash possesses a clear, classically trained voice, capable of pulling both jazzy pouts and Björk-lite wails, and she's surrounded by slickly professional acoustic production—clean guitars, bright pianos, tight but unremarkable rhythm sections, big choruses, occasional blasts of horns or Pro-Tooled synths. And her particular inflections and self-conscious snatches of pub slang (a "fit" here, a "twat" here, a "wot?" there) will appeal to a certain indiscriminating brand of twee Anglophile. Others will be thrown by Made of Bricks's constant flirting between confessional singer-songwriter and teen-pop modes. ERIC GRANDY

BIRDMAN

5 Star Stunna

(Motown / Universal)

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Last year's Birdman/Lil Wayne collaboration,Like Father Like Son, seemed like a powerful capping of Cash Money's past as well as a look ahead into Wayne's iridescent future—an impression strengthened by Birdman's own proclamation that it would likely be his last recorded appearance as a rapper. He has apparently recaught the performative bug, though, which is a shame not only for those eagerly awaiting Wayne's much-delayed Tha Carter III, but for all who hold any value whatsoever for lyricism.

Admirable though his business acumen and music empire may be, Birdman is a terrible, terrible rapper. While his club-footed flow can feel cool breaking up the space between more nimble rappers (as in his recent appearances on posse cuts "Make It Rain (Remix)" and "We Takin' Over"), when forced to carry a whole album it gets numbing almost immediately. Fittingly then, the record's one shining moment arrives during the single "100 Million," where Birdman's brief verse is tucked away amidst a slew of modern rap superstars in top form (Rick Ross, Young Jeezy, Wayne), an exultant chorus, and regal, rousing production from Miami duo Cool & Dre. The bulk of the record, however, sags with droning mumblings about all of the same stuff as every other Birdman or Big Tymers or, until Wayne's recent creative leap, pretty much any Cash Money record: money over bitches, fucking dudes up, stacking cheese. Most charitably, 5 Star Stunna could be accepted as a sort of ambient rap music; it is generally unobtrusive and only really grates when one takes the time to pay attention to it. SAM MICKENS

RÓISÍN MURPHY

Overpowered

(EMI)

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The problem with going solo is that it ruins everything. The original sound-expanding, in-band creative tensions are lost, and you end up with some sad, low-key, acoustic, parallel-world version of something you used to like. When Róisín Murphy left Moloko, then, a stompy funhouse voodoo-cabaret band with UK indie-dance highs like "Indigo," "Familiar Feeling," and "Sing It Back"—clearly one of the oddest success stories of the '90s—she'd already unplugged her relationship with bandmate Mark Brydon and launched a solo career with 2005's Ruby Blue, which defeated none of the unfortunate after-band stereotypes.

Ruby Blue was too tentative. The songs wedged Murphy, uncomfortably, between broken leave-me-alone has-been and newborn floodlit chart star, and it wasn't fun to listen to. Overpowered finds Murphy more fully formed and confident. It's bright, wry, modern, unsettling, occasionally confusing—the sound of pop-influenced British dance culture filtered through personal rebirth and magazine glam.

On the title track, Murphy's voice looms with confidence and breaks into unapologetic ghost falsettos. "Footprints" and "Cry Baby" are acid-touched creeping disco. "Movie Star" is all Kylie, a warm subway blast of gay-club shimmer-haze. Elsewhere, stair-stepping piano riffs and Yello-like samples fill the air like glitter.

Overpowered could only have been made by the woman on its cover—a mad, alien fashion model plopped down in everyday places of our ordinary world—but the extra-terrestrial clash doesn't always come together. The end result's often not wild enough, stopping just short of a total identity wipe. But it restores the idea of Murphy's potential so that it's once again a promise rather than a curse. If Murphy can't quite hit the off-balance pop of M.I.A., Siobhán Donaghy, or Nelly Furtado, unable to detonate, she now at least knows what she's aiming for—a grand, clever exception to the solo disease. DEAN FAWKES

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