Dear Mr. President

Baby let's have a ficus leaf and a cranberry Snapple before Bush do something crazy

PICK HITS

GHOSTFACE KILLAH
Fishscale
(Def Jam)
With the crack trade making its hip-hop comeback, Ghost fashions a trend record that ranks with any Biggie or Wu CD. Morally, it's a retrospective—there's no attempt to convince us that he's still in the game or wants to return. But neither will he countenance doubt that he knows whereof he speaks. The stories are as vivid, brutal, and thought-out as any noir, with details that both encompass and surpass the wisdom of "pyrex scholars." This is a guy with a bald spot who likes cranberry Snapple, Larry King Live, and women who work for JetBlue. When he asks his boo to turn the flame down a little, he says thank you. His high wail renders extreme anxiety beautiful. And before the music settles into a powerfully souled and sampled Clan-type groove, its screeching intensity has a Nation of Millions feel. A PLUS

THE COUP
Pick a Bigger Weapon
(Epitaph)
Boots Riley's live-in-the-studio funk is as retro as his Afro, and when Talib Kweli percusses next to him you'd think his flow was straight out the Watts Prophets. So call him corny if his Marxist talk makes you nervous. Fact is, the brother's some writer, with his own Oaktown sound. Marxism fans should start with the two love songs: "Ijustwannalayaroundalldayinbedwithyou" lays out the rationalization of the capitalist workday, while the Silk E. feature "BabyLet'sHaveABabyBeforeBushDo Somethin'Crazy" speaks for itself. Plus the Chomskyite "Head (of State)" also has sex in it, the sponsored "Ass-Breath Killers" will help cure your bootymouth, and "I Love Boosters!" is merely the warmest of many shout-outs to a criminal community he's too busy to join. Riley understands as well as any songwriter in America how the black poor and other barely employeds get by, and he also understands who's taking their money, and how. His lesser songs would be dookie gold on an ordinary undie-rap album. And he's no moralizer: "I'm here to laugh, love, fuck, and drink liquor/And help the damn revolution come quicker." A

LOVE IS ALL
Nine Times That Same Song
(What's Your Rupture?)
A minor, female-fronted Swedish band who may have something to tell us about love when somebody posts the lyrics, but probably won't, and yes, they sing in English, as in "I know we like the same kind of cheese." What they can tell us about is the persistence of punk. Unlike the Hives, who I bet they look down on, they're avant formalists as opposed to pop formalists, twisting funky drumming and weird guitar. Love them for getting excited about these time-honored usages. A MINUS

PINK
I'm Not Dead
(LaFace/Zomba)
With American Idol rampant, it's nice to have this emotional hipster sticking her celebrity cred in the stupid world's face. She overdoes the ballads, but what kind of teen idol could she be if she didn't? She's got turf to claim before dropping "Dear Mr. President," which assumes, correctly, that Bush did coke and teens care about the homeless. If there's a Bono song like that, the stupid world missed it. And if stardom slips through Pink's cleavage, she's got an answer: "You don't have to like me any more/I've got money now." No, she doesn't mean it—that's just a smarter than usual woe-is-stardom song. Much smarter than usual. A MINUS

PRINCE
3121
(Universal)
It could be argued that music this masterful waives all claim to the sound of surprise—until you pay attention. Sure "Love" and "Satisfied" and "Fury" constitute a standard sequence, keyb funk to torch r&b to u-got-the-rock—but only by genius standards. Sure he overdubs all the time, but he risks letting the Other play bass and drums on the over-under-sideways-down title tune—and then immediately prefabs the cockeyed "Lolita" by himself. The dubiosities he induces NPG fans to collect prove only that geniuses know who their friends are. I'm back to suspecting that, at 47, the Abstemious One can keep laying top-shelf stuff on the public for as long as he's in the mood. Even if he gets on your nerves, treat him nice. A MINUS

THE RAKES
Capture/Release
They're more Wire fans than Wire imitators—looser and louder, comfortable with their middle-class roots in a time when identifying middle class is just a fancier way to point out that you're oppressed. Nevertheless, a fuller sound can be a problem for a band that sounds something like Wire. Suddenly dynamic tension alone won't do—you start aiming for rock, for songs, for anthems like "22 Grand Job," more universal than the immortal "I Am the Fly" itself. Unless you're way too big for dynamic tension, you won't nail all that many. But you may get close, like on the U.S.-only "All Too Human." And for sure you'll be dynamic. "T Bone"! "Terror!"! One after the other! A MINUS

THE ROUGH GUIDE TO BHANGRA DANCE
(World Music Network)
Punjabi-based dance music has accrued formula since Rough Guide's first bhangra comp, and this one pumps identical hyperdrive from boy group, Anglophone pop queen, and subcontinental elder. Only it's really great hyperdrive—if that's the same hook again (it is, right?), bring it on. Eventually, soft or folkloric sounds do enter the mix, and how about that? The letdown is a respite if you happen to be tired and does itself proud if you're not. More more more. A MINUS

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