"APHRODITE," Kylie Minogue (Astralwerks)
Madonna's best release so far this century came in 2005, when she recruited producer Stuart Price to put out "Confessions on a Dance Floor," her version of a Kylie Minogue album -- i.e. a European-friendly, liberating, unapologetic dance project.
In a bit of a turnaround, Minogue employs Price for her new "Aphrodite," which is a European-friendly, liberating, unapologetic dance project.
Minogue, arguably Madonna's biggest rival outside of the United States, originally intended "Aphrodite" to be a more soulful, down-to-earth affair. But with encouragement from her buddy Jake Shears (of Scissor Sisters), she revamped her focus.
It mostly proved to be a superb move: The gorgeous first track, "All the Lovers," finds the native Aussie opening with her own confession: "Dance/It's all I wanna do, so won't you dance?" Her traditional warmth, embedded in the mix, eventually sweeps into cinematic etherealism,
Although "Aphrodite" occasionally has a little more Price and a little less Minogue than it ought to, this one is a crowd pleaser, from the elastic electricity of second track "Get Outta My Way" to the turbo-disco of the life-affirming closer "Can't Beat the Feeling." In between, they stick with the electronic/dance theme -- an exuberant anthem for "Put Your Hands Up (If You Feel Love)," a propulsive/hypnotic swarm for "Everything Is Beautiful" and a heart-racing rush to explosive climaxes for "Cupid Boy." And Minogue is usually the angelic voice of humanity, rising above the synthetic storm with sweet savoir faire.
"Aphrodite" also retains a few scraps from its original incarnation, including the pounding, event-song title track and a fulfilling funk/soul "Better Than Today." In "Better," a suddenly down-to-earth Minogue soothes, "I know life is hard ... We just want tomorrow to be better than today."
Minogue might consider revisiting her original concept for "Aphrodite," though she should have no regrets over what she created here.
Rating (five possible): 4
"ROOM 7-1/2," Dot Allison (Arthoused)
Dot Allison's electro-cool 2002 release "We Are Science" features a mesmerizing tribute to obsession, "I Think I Love You." In it, Allison repeats one lyric, "I think I love you," from beginning to end with varying intonations.
Her new "Room 7-1/2" reveals what can happen to a person with such tunnel vision. The release seems to come from the autopsied heart of a woman who has overanalyzed love to the point of self-destruction. It's beautiful, disturbing, seductive and sad.
Allison mostly sheds the electronica she mastered years ago and goes for a more intimate sound -- perhaps too intimate on the title track, where a listener might feel awkward at intruding as she sinks into lonely despair, with autoharps and horns expediting her mental quicksand.
But that cut is unavoidably moving, made all the more so by strangely uneven and breathy vocals that subtly expose the raw nerves of vulnerability. Meanwhile, the simple, folksy arrangement of "Paved With a Little Pain" only exasperates the heartbreak. And Allison's voice takes a preternatural turn on the eerie lullaby "While She Sleeps," singing, "I've got a bullet hole the shape of you running through my heart."
There are moments of dark cabaret, downbeat folk and modified, melancholy chamber music, but nothing as striking as the supple "Fall to Me," with string samples, violin and keyboards escalating the tension in her bittersweet revelations: "Like a ring thrown to the ocean/Merge our hearts upon the canvas/Lost at sea, yet bound to me/Time will still the wave on the surface."
Unexpectedly, the "selling points" of the release are its distracting pitfalls: guest vocals by Pete Doherty (on "I Wanna Break Your Heart") and Paul Weller ("Love's Got Me Crazy") that disrupt Allison's spell, forcing her into fragmentation on the former and mundanity on the latter.
Her loneliness is more powerful when she's alone.
"PLAY THING," The Cringe (Listen)
The Cringe will indeed make listeners cringe with its new "Play Thing." It's not that the release is cringe-worthy because it's so bad; it's simply that the New York City band consistently seems to be performing below its potential.
The power pop/straight-ahead rock/neo-grunge group takes a backward step from 2007's "Tipping Point," which had considerable energy pushing the act through mixed metaphors and other confusing spots. The frustrating "Play Thing" is more inclined to settle into mediocrity.
Opening cut "Ride" inspires hope with its unpolished-but-not-totally-tattered spunk and mildly infectious hook. Could the band be devising some kind of "tarnished metal" sound for the 2010s?
But subsequent cut "Weary Me" squashes optimism, collapsing "Play Thing" into a somewhat anemic, and simplistic, wannabe niche.
From there, "Play Thing" alternates between warm and lukewarm, neither awful nor memorable, as singer-songwriter John Cusimano (Mr. Rachael Ray for those keeping score) guides his band, and audience, into uncertainty. What's he getting at? Who's his audience? Where's the edge?
Sonically, The Cringe is ultra-accessible and "Play Thing" repeatedly flashes enticements: a Beatle-esque bridge in "Hiding Space," escalating firepower on "In the End (We All Are the Same)," fitful rambunctiousness on "Where It Hurts," "Friends & Family" and a great catchphrase for the track "Poison" ("I don't want to be your poison/I just want to be your cure").
Yet the songs tend to fall flat or fall apart, some never rising above throwaway status, creating an air of incompletion comparable to the outline of a painting without the colors filled in.
The release offers superficial enticements, but once it goes back in the toy box, there's not much reason to retrieve this "Play Thing."
(E-mail Chuck Campbell of The Knoxville News-Sentinel in Tennessee at Campbell(at)knews.com.)
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