Green Day, ¡Uno! (Reprise) * * * 1/2
The bracing, infectious power-pop rock of ¡Uno! ditches the pretention and grandeur of Green Day’s two previous rock opera projects. The energy level of the new album, written and recorded in a flurry of activity — ¡Uno! will be followed by ¡Dos! in November and ¡Tré! in January — never flags. Every one of these 12 effervescent tracks sounds like it was written to be a single. Lead singer/guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong has dropped his affected British accent. Mike Dirnt and Tré Cool, who form the crackling rhythm section, are in top form on such hook-fueled rockers as Troublemaker and Fell for You.
The album peaks on the F-bomb-laced irony of Kill the DJ, a dance-rock song sure to inspire controversy among Green Day fans and critics. The lyrics are never clear who or what the DJ represents (club culture? the government?) or why the singer wants to kill him, but the pleasures of that wicked dance tempo and chorus hook prove undeniable.
Download: Kill the DJ, Fell for You.
The Killers, Battle Born (Island) * * *
Las Vegas rockers The Killers, who seek musical and lyrical inspiration from Bruce Springsteen, write such super-sized anthems one half expects New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to call for a ban on Killers’ music.
Lead singer Brandon Flowers doesn’t just meet a girl; he meets her momentously: “When we first met, headstrong and filled with doubt… I was fallin’ back on forever when you told me about your heart,” he sings on the rousing A Matter of Time. When Flowers misses someone, he misses her bad: “I don’t want your picture on my cell phone/I want you here with me,” he pleads on Here With Me, a power ballad seemingly torn from the songbook of Journey.
Flowers is well-served on The Killers’ fourth album by his ace band mates, who stir the propulsive rhythmic thrust of the E Street Band with Asia’s bombastic rock hooks on melodic tracks like Runaways, the excellent first single. Battle Born, which comes in regular and 17-track deluxe versions, is well sequenced as it delivers racing heartland rockers with tuneful ballads and the mix never feels jarring or slack.
Download: Runaways, Deadlines and Commitments, Prize Fighter.
Heart, Fanatic (Sony Legacy) * * *
Heart follows 2010’s Red Velvet Car with an album of hard rock reminiscent of earlier sets like Bebe Le Strange. The Wilson sisters, Ann and Nancy, sometimes have a hard time writing singles-worthy hooks. The pair are better at crafting an overall sound on Fanatic, Heart’s solid 14th studio album.
Fanatic, which arrives in the same year in which the Wilsons compiled a career retrospective box set and wrote a memoir, is one of their most personal albums. Dear Old America, which opens with a shrill string section ala Paul McCartney’s Only Mama Knows, tells of a soldier returning from war with post-traumatic stress disorder. The song was inspired by their Marine father. Rock Deep (Vancouver) pays homage to their roots in Canada, where the original group formed in the mid 1970s.
Ann Wilson’s wide-ranging voice, one of the best ever in rock, has also held up remarkably well. She might well be the only 62-year-old in classic rock who can sing the old songs like Crazy on You in the same key in which they were written and still deliver equally demanding rockers such as this set’s gritty title track or the wailing Led Zeppelin-like crunch and muscle of Mashalla.
Download: Fanatic, Walkin’ Good.
P!nk, The Truth About Love (RCA) * * *
P!nk’s first album since becoming a mom feels like the radio-friendly work of a real flesh and blood, complex human being, given to temper tantrums one moment, tenderness the next. Though overlong and not a creative stretch for the gifted P!nk, that honesty is a real selling-point.
On How Come You’re Not Here she excoriates her wandering partner who appears to be carrying on with an underage lover. She blasts the guy on the scorching, innuendo-laced kiss-off of a single, Blow Me (One Last Kiss) for what a lousy expletive day she’s having. But P!nk can also express tenderness on Just Give Me a Reason (a duet with fun.’s Nate Ruess) and the pretty piano-pop of The Great Escape.
Tabloid watchers who have charted her turbulent marriage to skater Carey Hart will no doubt buy into the sentiment attached to True Love: “At the same time I wanna hug you/I wanna wrap my hands around your neck.”
Download: Blow Me (One Last Kiss), Just Give Me a Reason.
Barbra Streisand, Release Me (Columbia) * * *
Barbra Streisand celebrates the 50th anniversary of signing with Columbia by opening her vaults to release unreleased songs. The 11 songs range from 1967’s Willow Weep for Me, intended for Simply Streisand, to If It’s Meant to Be, meant for her Alan and Marilyn Bergman tribute disc last year. None are truly essential. But, with the exception of an overly-sweetened studio version of With One More Look at You, wisely axed from the A Star Is Born soundtrack, all are quite good.
The majority of the selections are issued without alteration. But for 1977’s Superman reject, Try to Win a Friend, Streisand felt Larry Gatlin’s ballad could use more country instrumentation so she recently sent the track to Nashville producers who added pedal steel. The song is a highlight, as is the exquisite Jimmy Webb ballad Didn’t We. The Streisand voiceis peerless as always.
Download: Try to Win a Friend, Didn’t We.
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