Album reviews

Michael Bublé coasts, Fleetwood Mac returns and Rod Stewart writes again

 

hcohen@MiamiHerald.com

•  POP

Michael Bublé, To Be Loved (Reprise) * * 

The Canadian crooner scored his fourth No. 1 album last week with his first full studio set since 2009’s Crazy Love and it’s not hard to see why he’s so popular. Bublé sings with such enthusiasm and charm he’s irresistible.

On To Be Loved he’s also a man in love which, given his pending fatherhood with Argentine actress/model wife Luisana Lopilato, isn’t surprising. The lyrics of It’s a Beautiful Day, one of four originals he co-wrote, read like a Billy Joel-style kiss-off, but the musical arrangement is so perky, even a break-up is cause for celebration: It’s a beautiful day and I can’t stop myself from smiling/If I’m drinking, then I’m buying/And I know there’s no denying/It’s a beautiful day, the sun is up, the music’s playing/And even if it started raining/You won’t hear this boy complaining/‘Cause I’m glad that you’re the one who got away.

Alas, Bublé must have been distracted when preparing To Be Loved as it lacks the attention, freshness and imagination that helped Crazy Love transcend its mix of pop and jazz covers and originals. It’s a Beautiful Day even feels like a pale rewrite of that set’s delightful Haven’t Met You Yet.

Bublé and producer Bob Rock’s biggest problem is their unimaginative choice of obvious and overdone material. There have been countless pop and soul covers of the Bee Gees’ To Love Somebody (listen to Nina Simone’s or Janis Joplin’s) and the songs associated with Frank Sinatra, You Make Me Feel So Young, Young at Hear t, Come Dance With Me and Something Stupid. (Nancy Sinatra’s duet part on the latter is rendered here by a flat Reese Witherspoon).

The recording mix is also over-loud, lacks dynamic range and it appears some unnecessary processing has been added to Bublé’s voice. Next time out, a new producer, more originals and smarter covers will advance Bublé’s studio craft.

Download: Close Your Eyes, I Got It Easy.

• ROCK

Fleetwood Mac, Extended Play (LMJS Productions) * * * 1/2

Fleetwood Mac’s first new music since 2003’s Say You Will is short on Stevie Nicks, who resisted recording a full album with the group. The resulting four-track EP, released to iTunes as a digital download, makes you wish for more on the strength of Lindsey Buckingham’s three new songs.

Nicks contributes the folksy Without You, a reject from the 1973 sessions for the Buckingham Nicks LP. The pair harmonize over Buckingham’s tinny acoustic strumming. Meh.

Much better: Buckingham’s fresh songs in which he returns to writing crisp, accessible, engaging California pop/rock, like the infectiously melodic and rhythmically driving Sad Angel and the breezy Miss Fantasy, a piquant taste of Mirage-era Mac that makes great use of the famed rhythm section of Mick Fleetwood and John McVie.

His stark solo piano ballad, It Takes Time — imagine Christine McVie’s Songbird as its closest cousin — intrigues the most because it’s unlike anything the guitarist has released.

Nice to report, also, that 37 years after breaking up, those old rumours between Buckingham and Nicks never cease to amuse. Buckingham has said that Sad Angel was written in a bout of anger over Nicks’ reticence to record an album. “Hello, hello, sad angel/Have you come to fight the war/The drums, a fire, a calling ... the crowd calling out for more.” Score one for Team Lindsey.

Download: Sad Angel, Miss Fantasy, It Takes Time.

Rod Stewart, Time (Capitol) * * 1/2

Pre-release buzz put so much stock in the fact that Time marked the return of Stewart as a songwriter for the first time since his 1998 album, When We Were the New Boys, that one is reminded he also wrote for his mid-1980s albums and those songs were hardly celebrated. (The 1986 Rod Stewart album, anyone?)

But a series of inexplicably popular standards albums he released in the 2000s put such distance between Stewart and his rock past that most figured he’d never recover his reputation. Time is perfectly pleasant but it won’t push Every Picture Tells a Story or even Blondes Have More Fun off a boomer’s iPod.

Still, there’s much to enjoy as Stewart, in fine voice, albeit smoother and warmer these days, offers reflective tunes like the mournful divorce ballad, It’s Over, or Can’t Stop Me Now, which details the pluck that brought him from the pubs to Maggie May. “I stood up straight and sang for the record company man/My enthusiasm filled the room …We can’t sign you son ‘cause you don’t fit the mold/With your hair and your nose and your clothes.”

Stewart once crowed salaciously over Hot Legs; on the bouncy She Makes Me Happy it’s disarming, but honest, to hear the 68-year-old sing contentedly for domesticity: “When I get home there’s a hot bath waiting/Glass of wine on the side.” And if those frisky bedroom lyrics to the dance floor Sexual Religion are to be believed, Time has indeed been kind to the ol’ boy.

Don’t look for the scrappy rock band Stewart once toiled with in the late ‘70s; alas, there’s a bit too much programming going on. However, the folk-oriented mandolin, violin and acoustic guitars that once serenaded Maggie May return on Live the Life, which helps make Time the most Rod Stewart-sounding album in decades.

Download: Can’t Stop Me Now, It’s Over.

•  COUNTRY

Kenny Chesney, Life on a Rock (Blue Chair/Columbia) * * 1/2

Every few years Chesney indulges himself with “a very personal” album in which he slows the tempos to a crawl and steers away from the kind of anthems that have made him one of country music’s contemporary superstars.

But, as he did on Be As You Are (Songs from an Old Blue Chair) in 2005 and That Lucky Old Sun in 2008, Chesney has little going on under that cowboy hat. No deep thinker, he comes off as a sometimes maudlin guy who complains about the life of fame he’s chosen and endlessly seeks the sea as an escape. “Sometimes my life takes more than I can give/That’s where I gotta go,” he explains on Marley, so named because he artlessly strings together a series of Bob Marley song titles to say absolutely nothing.

“Everybody’s got a place they go/When the old battery gets a running low/I’m a sucker for the sand and sea,” he sings on Coconut Tree, like an old salt who keeps spinning the same yarn to the guys he meets every night at the bar. That said, Coconut Tree is an amiable ocean breeze of a folk tune that gains considerable charm from guest vocalist Willie Nelson.

Unlike Jimmy Buffett, the melody-rich, island-hopping troubadour he most aspires to emulate, Chesney’s settings are studied, artificial. Quoting Marley (and featuring The Wailers on a generic reggae track) does not an island boy make, any more than wearing a cowboy hat makes a pop singer a country one.

So why isn’t Life on a Rock a wash-out? Because, like his previous placeholder albums, the well-recorded island beach folk makes for an agreeable summer day soundtrack if you don’t turn to it for intellectualizing or poetry. And these diversions from the formulaic mainstream fare of his regular albums, like last year’s misfire, Welcome to the Fishbowl, won’t overstay their welcome on country radio.

Download: Coconut Tree, Must Be Something I Missed.

Lady Antebellum, Golden (Capitol Nashville) * * 1/2

The award-winning single Need You Now still seems like a fluke, but Lady Antebellum clearly noted the recent overdue acceptance of label mate, Little Big Town, and the country-pop trio rises to the challenge by delivering its meatiest, most aggressive album yet. That’s not to say it’s great or that Lady A captures any of the vocal personality of Little Big Town, but expertly crafted, catchy radio material like Get to Me, Goodbye Town or the emotive It Ain’t Pretty will brighten the airwaves over the summer.

Download: Get to Me, It Ain’t Pretty.

Follow @HowardCohen on Twitter.

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