CD Reviews

BY DI ARTS STAFF | MARCH 31, 2009 7:30 AM

A hipster thing

Peter Bjorn and John: Living Thing
*** out of *****

Peter Bjorn and John is the anti-ABBA.

True, both bands bear titles that refer to their respective members, sing songs with catchy hooks, and represent two of Sweden’s more notable exports. But while the perpetually cheery ABBA portrays everything sunshine and rainbows, forcing the listener to assume the band’s homeland is equally saccharine, the pulsating rhythms of Peter Bjorn and John evoke a darker “street Sweden” — a side of town on which the members of ABBA would surely get their asses kicked.

Hauntingly minimalist and strangely esoteric, Peter Bjorn and John’s latest release, *Living Thing*, is a treat for all hipsters who wear their skinny jeans and horn-rimmed glasses with pride. Though *Living Thing* continues in the funky indie-dance vein of *Writer’s Block* and *Seaside Rock*, *Living Thing* is a little more theoretical, moderately alienating, and has a lot more bite.

The heavy first measures of *Living Thing*’s opening track, “The Feeling,” set up the rest of the album well. It’s clear the band loves to layer — a quirky singsong melody rides atop a thumping beat, accompanied by a pleasant descant of space sound effects. The best tracks follow in a similar dance-oriented fashion, including the choppy title track and merrily explicit “Lay It Down.” But the album’s real standout, “Nothing to Worry About,” moves the layering technique into funkier territory, adding a children’s chorus above an M.I.A.-style hard groove — proving that Peter Bjorn and John is at its best when it’s making people get off their butts.

Unfortunately, there are moments of *Living Thing* that get far too caught up in their own experimentation, resulting in tracks only the most diluted of indie snobs could sink their teeth into. “I’m Losing My Mind” is an unlistenable, repetitive drone over a sparse tin-can rhythm that’s enough to make most audience members go a little crazy. Similarly, “Stay This Way” and “4 Out of 5” are so desolate, they’re a total bore — for these tunes, everyone at the party has undoubtedly abandoned the dance floor.

*Living Thing* proves Peter Bjorn and John are perfectly content to dally with the dark side. Let’s just hope the group doesn’t neglect to satisfy its Dancing Queen fans in the process.
Melea’s Picks: “Nothing to Worry About,” “Living Thing,” “Lay It Down”

Raspy sexy goodness

Gavin DeGraw: Free

**** out of *****

Sweet melodies coupled with slow and steady tunes mingle to create Gavin DeGraw’s latest album, *Free*. DeGraw manages to make *Free* a success with its laid-back tracks making the CD an easy-listening, relaxing collection.

*Free* opens with “Indian Summer,” which has the album’s quickest beat, though it sure isn’t akin to the peppiness of Kelly Clarkson’s latest single. Though “Indian Summer” doesn’t contain a catchy chorus, the melody and the lyrics mix beautifully and make the song a success.

*Free*’s second song and title track shows off DeGraw’s strong, raspy voice, which drips sexy goodness. It’s the type of song that won’t stick in your head, but after listening to it numerous times, it’s enough to spark desires of sunny days and driving in convertibles while singing about life.

As the album plays on, the songs blend together with similar sounds, yet he is able to make each one distinct with deep, soul-touching lyrics that make each track stand out in its own little way.

His goal with the album was to focus on the lyrics instead of trying to add overwhelming melodies that weigh down the album. He wanted listeners to connect in a meaningful way with *Free*, and he accomplishes his desire with the album.

The real-life stories DeGraw sings about in his tunes open up space for a deep connection between the singer and listener. When listening to the *Free*, it’s easy to forget that he isn’t singing directly to the listener, because it almost seems like he is bearing his words directly into the soul of his fans.

Overall, DeGraw creates mixes soul and heart into yet another success.

Rachael’s Picks: “Free,” “Dancing Shoes,” and “Waterfall”

Bow Wow this isn’t good

Bow Wow: New Jack City II

* out of *****

For Bow Wow’s sixth studio album, *New Jack City II*, the Columbus, Ohio, native does little to differentiate himself from his peers. This is the first full-length release by the 22-year old to have a parental-advisory warning.

Even though *New Jack City II* features some of the industry’s most famous artists, including T.I., Nelly, and T-Pain, it doesn’t add much to the record’s credibility. Also, girls are a recurring — and overdone — theme in his lyrics which makes for a dull listen.

Tracks such as “Like This” and “You Can Get It All” sound more like R&B than rap. Both of these tracks also have lame lyrics and weak beats.

“You Can Get It” is a great example of Bow Wow’s inability to write good lyrics. With such lines as “you think that everything I say is straight gang,” listeners are left to wonder what that is even supposed to mean.

“Sunshine” samples Nancy’s Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walking” very nicely and has a Jay-Z-like beat, but Jessica Simpson covered that song four years ago. Why is Bow Wow taking his cues from her, and what does that say about him?

Though *New Jack City II* lacks the lyricism of such artists as Nas, some of the beats aren’t completely terrible. “Shake It” and “Been Doin’ This” have the best rhythms on the album but even they aren’t that great.

“Shake It” is produced by Swizz Beatz, who is probably the most credible collaborator on the album. Bow Wow rhymes “baby” with “baby” numerous times, which is not only cheesy but disheartening for fans of more poetic rap from artists such as Talib Kweli.

In Bow Wow’s defense, this work is much more mature than his prepubescent works, such as 2000’s *Beware of the Dog*. He has a very smooth, fast-paced lyrical delivery, but when the lyrics rhyme words with themselves, does the flow even matter?

The most disappointing thing about Bow Wow is that he is definitely talented at rapping, but he just can’t write interesting lyrics or produce good beats. I’d hate to hear the album’s sequel.

Nick’s Picks: “Sunshine,” “Shake It”

Three Discs That Should Have Been One

Prince: Lotus Flow3r
*** 1/2 out of ***** stars

There are two components required for a successful Prince album: raunchy sex and a whole lot of crazy. Indeed, the R&B artist named as No. 28 on *Rolling Stone*’s list of 100 Greatest Artists of All Time is just as famous for his extreme indiscretions — and numerous name changes — as for his revolutionary Minneapolis sound.

With these key ingredients in mind, *Lotus Flow3r*, Prince’s latest three-disc release, is only moderately successful. Two of the three albums explore Prince’s dual personality: *MPLSoUND* effectively showcases the artist’s (or is it the Artist’s?) provocative sexuality, while *Lotus Flow3r* is cautious, buoyant, and, well, kind of lame. The third disc, *Elixir*, is the full-length début of Prince’s breathy protégé, Bria Valente, and is insipid and wholly dismissible.

But Prince rocks it — on *MPLSoUND*, anyway. “(There’ll Never B) Another Like Me” is a rightfully arrogant R&B jam, evoking the rough, rude Prince of the late-80s. “Valentina” is a less explicit “Darling Nikki”-like ode to a vivacious vixen, “Better With Time” is a suggestive falsetto ballad, and “Chocolate Box” has the funkiest a cappella choral opening of any song ever created. Though his heavy reliance on the auto tuner is disappointing, the throbbing beat never wavers, ensuring that you and Prince will be up all night long.

Too bad *MPLSoUND* wasn’t released as a single disc. *Lotus Flow3r* is far sweeter than its mate, showcasing a Prince who will engage in some post-coital cuddling rather than shove a purple high heel up your ass as he kicks you out the door in the morning. “Boom” is a spacey melodic ride that boasts a couple of jarring guitar licks but is far too nice to be anywhere near evocative. Similarly, “The Morning After” is a bright gallop through the rolling green hills of a boring pop plain, inferring that perhaps Prince has lost a little of his bite with age.

“Dreamer” is easily the best song on the three-disc collection, complete with orgasming guitars, stratospheric squeals, and the hardest rocking Prince since “Gett Off,” but *Lotus Flow3r* is a dud overall. The triple-disc set may not be the next Prince classic, but there are enough moments of absolute pleasure to warrant coming back, or just coming, again and again.

Melea’s Picks: “Dreamer,” “(There’ll Never B) Another Like Me,” “$,” “Chocolate Box”

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