Fly or Die
As fake as plastic fruit, N.E.R.D. is the offspring of mega pop producers the Neptunes, who helped craft hits by Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake, but bogusly pretend to be weird on Fly or Die. Once a promising group, N.E.R.D., who also imagine themselves to be nerdy, cough up pseudo R&B tunes like "Backseat Love" and "She Wants to Move," which are only vaguely eccentric like an annoying uncle.
An hour-long rock opera about alienation, pierced lips, and black fingernail polish, American Idiot is the banal testament of an uninspired generation. If this sort of trite pop-punk is what passes for political protest music in the '00s, then is it any wonder that so many clueless young people voted for Bush?
Though not generally appreciated for their artistry, Duran Duran were true originals, as imaginative as any act to come out of Britain's new-wave invasion. Their high-concept videos were brilliant (better even than Mötley Crüe's) and their lyrics were as avant-garde as André Breton's poetry. It would be too much to ask of them to still create vital, unique music, and as a matter of fact, their sound is now more apt for an aerobics class.
As Hollywood as they come, but still sorta punk, Courtney Love takes drugs, breaks windows, hurls a microphone stand at somebody's nose, and in her own inimitable way--keeps it real. People forget that her band Hole also used to spew out some fierce, fucked-up music, but that's because Love's current output is so self-conscious and overproduced. These days, Love writes icky, vomit-inducing, sleazy-hot-tub-party power ballads like "Hold On to Me" and "Sunset Strip." Yuck!
Helmet, with their burly riffs and pulverizing rhythm section, defined kick-ass heavy music during the '90s. So, it's a shame that songwriter Page Hamilton's first album in seven years seems a step too slow with melodies verging on lame, concepts redundant of his past successes, and a once-fierce pummeling reduced to a dull thud.
Within a Mile of Home
(Side One Dummy)
In concert, jolly, pseudo-Irish nutters Flogging Molly are an excellent justification for vomiting on a stranger's sweater. They're a grand time especially when the audience is so ass-drunk that they can imagine they're witnessing the Pogues. However, listening to Within a Mile of Home while sober is a less-sudsy experience. The album combines the over-the-top preposterousness of U2 with blatant larceny of Shane MacGowan's masterpieces and tops it off with a jug of Guinness' worth of silly, teary-eyed sentiment.
The Magnetic Fields
Stephin Merritt is overly prolific and a little bit too in love with himself. His three-volume 69 Love Songs was a work of genius, but since that landmark 2000 release, he hasn't concocted a memorable record. The weary-sounding i drifts along on downbeat cruise control, though there's one worthy song, "I Thought You Were My Boyfriend," a shimmery disco number that recalls the synthesized high drama of Soft Cell.
Tom Waits Real Gone (Anti-)
Throughout the '70s, '80s, and most of the '90s, Tom Waits churned out classics and was hipper and more talented than Nick Cave, the Beastie Boys, and Leonard Cohen combined. On Real Gone, easily the worst album of his career, Waits has abandoned the piano (always his best instrument) in favor of loud, rhythmic jams that include him shouting a lot, guitar solos, and his son scratching records. Even Waits' signature gravelly voice becomes irritating.
Velvet Revolver (a band name as queer as Guns N' Roses) seemed intriguing at first glance. Was this going to be a flashback to the glory days of heroin excess, legions of stripper groupies, and buttless chaps? Well, no. Those days are fuckin' over--as exemplified by an album where Slash is no longer a guitar hero, but merely above average, and where Scott Weiland's droning vocals make you pine for Axl, who could have kicked his skinny junkie ass from here to Indiana.