Sustenance Enough?

Indie-rock heavy hitters get confused figuring out why they're doing it, doing it, doing it

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN
Devils and Dust
(Columbia)

Springsteen the superstar's one-man-band album is less engaging musically than Malkmus the cult artist's, but more engaging artistically, because for all his overreliance on dramatic drawls, Southwestern locales, and mother love, Springsteen has stories to tell. I dearly hope the two kids in "Long Time Comin' " 's sleeping bag are off with their parents on a cheap but restorative vacation—that would be so much less a commonplace than on the road. But I'm not so curious I'm tempted to boot up the explanatory DVD on the other side of the superstar's DualDisc. A MINUS

THE WILLOWZ
Talk in Circles
(Sympathy for the Record Industry)

The new generation of cute punkoid bands are committed minimalists, like when these kids from Anaheim put nine songs on their 22-minute debut whatzit. But they're also ambitious, a winning quality in a cute punkoid band. You can tell because these 20 songs last over an hour. Yet they still sound rushed and excited—if a lyric is unfinished it's obviously because they couldn't wait to get to the next one, and when they slow down they're just catching their breath. In its cute punkoid way, a major statement. A MINUS


Dud of the Month

TRACE ADKINS
Songs About Me
(Capitol)

Adkins is one of these guys who spends so much time in the weight room that his arms don't hang plumb from his shoulders. In the rear view thoughtfully provided his female fans in the booklet, only his ponytail and his cowboy hat distinguish him from the Incredible Hulk. You'd never confuse him with the similarly named Clay Aiken, a much wimpier guy, and not just in the delts—Adkins's baritone sounds like it emanates from the Mammoth Cave. But in the most essential matter you'd be dead wrong. Track record notwithstanding, the ex-gospel singer is every bit as much a calculated corporate creation as the duly elected idol. The 11 songs on this No. 1 country, No. 11 pop album were written by 23 songwriters, only one of whom has his name on even two. The most far-fetched is "Arlington," in which Dave Turnbull vouchsafes the patriotic thoughts of a dead soldier—to be specific, the first Tennesseean to die in our current Iraq war—to former DUI Adkins. Needless to say, the artist suffers no anxieties over exactly why any of these songs he didn't write is "about me." These are "songs I've been waiting to record for my entire career." Especially "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk." C


Additional Consumer News

PONY UP!
(Ten Fingers/Dim Mak)

The demure femme-punk sexpot trick ("Shut Up and Kiss Me," "Matthew Modine").

THE MOUNTAIN GOATS
The Sunset Tree
(4AD)

Is it that he knows less about himself than he does about the world, or that he won't reveal it? ("Dance Music," "Hast Thou Considered the Tetrapod?").

PAVEMENT
Crooked Rain Crooked Rain: LA's Desert Origins
(Matador)

You have to care even more than I do to sort this expanded edition out, but you won't turn it off ("Unseen Power of the Picket Fence," "Fucking Righteous").

SHELBY LYNNE
Suit Yourself
(Capitol)

"You do it do it do it do it just let go" ("Johnny Met June," "You're the Man").

COMMON
Be
(Geffen)

Few of the best moments belong to the main attraction, who's not as wise as they tell him he is ("It's Your World [Part 1 & 2]," "The Food [Live]").

THE ROBERT CRAY BAND
Twenty
(Sanctuary)

"I wanna see you burn all the way down/I wanna see your ashes all over the ground" ("My Last Regret," "Twenty").

DWIGHT YOAKAM
Blame the Vain
(New West)

Sounds older, and the infirmity becomes him ("Blame the Vain," "Three Good Reasons").

FARM FRESH
Time Is Running Out
(Peanuts & Corn)

McEnroe supercrew a tad too long on Pipi Skid's whiteboy groan ("Frail Dale," "Ex-Girl").

COREY HARRIS
Daily Bread
(Rounder)

Has more blues in him than Ali Farka Toure and Sylford Walker combined ("The Bush Is Burning," "Mama Wata").

OXFAM ARABIA
(World Music Network)

If by Arabia you mean Palestine, Morocco, Egypt, Algeria, Lebanon, Sudan, and Iraq (MoMo,"Agee Jump"; Abdou, "Mali Ha Mali").

BRIGHT EYES
Digital Ash in a Digital Urn
(Saddle Creek)

Noised these up because he's nervous about them ("Arc of Time," "Hit the Switch").

RHYMEFEST
A Star Is Born
(All I Do)

Kanye homeboy proves who his friends are by rapping all over their mixtape ("All They Do Is Dis," "Devil's Pie").

NORTH AFRICAN GROOVE
(Putumayo World)

Mediterranean cosmopolitans entertain a groovy world (Amr Diab, "Nour el Ain"; Samir Saeid, "Aal Eah").

MIKE JONES
Who Is Mike Jones?
(Swishahouse/Asylum/Warner Bros.)

Marvel mildly yet again at the sonic variety of criminality ("What You Know About . . . ," "Back Then").


Choice Cuts

VAN MORRISON
"Keep Mediocrity at Bay"
(Magic Time, Geffen/Exile/Polydor)

PRINCE PAUL
"MVU (Final Act)," "Yes, I Do Love Them Ho's!"
(Itstrumental, Female Fun)


Duds

BRIGHT EYES/NEVA DINOVA
One Jug of Wine, Two Vessels
(Crank!)

MATSON JONES
(Sympathy for the Record Industry)

TIFT MERRITT
Tambourine
(Lost Highway)

ROBERT PLANT AND THE STRANGE SENSATION
Mighty Rearranger
(Sanctuary)

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