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record reviews



Published: Sun, November 25, 2012 @ 12:00 a.m.

Rihanna

Album: “Unapologetic” (Island Def Jam Music Group)

Grade: A

There’s something about Rihanna. And her producers.

The singer’s new album — her seventh in seven years — is like many of her other releases, full of songs that are catchy, fun and addictive. Her albums are almost like listening to a “NOW” compilation disc.

“Unapologetic” is no different. It’s full of future hits, and not a single miss.

“Phresh Out the Runaway,” which kicks off the album, does so with a bang. And there are more: “Pour It Up,” which has Rihanna sounding like a female version of The-Dream, is appealing; “Jump” samples Ginuwine’s “Pony” — and it’s surprisingly good; and the David Guetta-helmed “Right Now” is European-flavored and upbeat.

Even Rihanna’s duet with her ex Chris Brown on “Nobody’s Business,” which samples Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel,” will make you move your feet. Lyrically though, the song is somewhat dismissive. “Ain’t nobody’s business,” she sings. OK, then stop tweeting one another.

When Rihanna slows it down, she’s still on point: Her duet with singer Mikky Ekko on the piano-tune “Stay” is touching; the mid-tempo first single, the Sia-penned “Diamonds,” is enjoyable; and “What Now” builds nicely from its calming verse to its electrified hook.

—Mesfin Fekadu, Associated Press

PITBULL

Album: “Global Warming” (RCA)

Grade: C

Last year this Cuban-American MC installed himself as the commander of a worldwide dance-rap scene with “Planet Pit,” which spawned a series of club-ready hits featuring the likes of Marc Anthony (“Rain Over Me”), Chris Brown (“International Love”) and Ne-Yo (the Hot 100-topping “Give Me Everything”). Having evidently found leadership to his liking, Pitbull is now seeking a second term.

“Don’t stop the party!” he barks not long into his new album, and the rest of “Global Warming” gives you little opportunity to consider other options. It’s an all-night rager as envisioned by the planet’s best-dressed autocrat.

What makes Pitbull’s rule tolerable is his goofy shamelessness. Though the approach here precisely mirrors that on “Planet Pit” — think big beats and bigger cameos — he’s using his increased power to venture even more daringly beyond the limits of good taste. In “Have Some Fun,” he and guests the Wanted riff on “All I Wanna Do” by Sheryl Crow, while “Feel This Moment” (with Christina Aguilera) turns A-ha’s ’80s synth-pop curio “Take on Me” into the stuff of a Las Vegas bachelorette bash. The title track is bolder still: It opens the album with the unmistakable keyboard pulse of Los del Rio’s 1996 novelty smash “Macarena.”

—Mikael Wood, Los Angeles Times

PAUL KELLY

Album: “Spring and Fall” (Gawd Aggie)

Grade: A

How good is Paul Kelly? Earlier this year the Australian released here in the States “The A to Z Recordings,” an eight-CD career summation, presented in live, mostly unplugged performances, that highlights the remarkably sustained high quality of his vast body of work.

And he’s not done. The new “Spring and Fall” is a song cycle with richness that belies the prosaic title. It starts with the blossoming of love in “New Found Year” and “When a Man Loves a Woman.” Then the bloom begins to fade, and the set concludes with the autumnal air of “None of Your Business Now” and “Little Aches and Pains.” As usual, everything is exquisitely understated, from the acoustic-textured folk-rock arrangements to Kelly’s vocals, letting the depth and power of the songs and performances cast a spell slowly but inexorably.

—Nick Cristiano, Philadelphia Inquirer

BAD BRAINS

Album: “Into the Future” (Megaforce Records)

Grade: B

There’s a sample on the new Bad Brains album, “Into the Future,” that perfectly captures the influential D.C. punk band’s early contact with audiences: “We figured if they didn’t mind us being black, we didn’t mind them being white.” The statement, like the band, is an incitement, an acknowledgment of the occasionally uneasy relationship among punk, metal and race in the genre’s formative years.

It didn’t hurt that Bad Brains were one of the most incendiary of the first-generation hard-core punk bands, and the band went on to influence a wealth of recent acts, including the Beastie Boys, TV on the Radio and the Mars Volta. Formed in 1977, Bad Brains — singer H.R., guitarist Dr. Know, bassist-producer Darryl Jenifer and drummer Earl Hudson — offer a heavy blend of riffage and Rastafarianism on their first studio album in five years.

As on the band’s classic self- titled debut and its oft-overlooked ’86 metal/punk/reggae album “I Against I,” the four musicians on “Into the Future” present brutal songs that often travel on meandering paths. “Youth of Today” starts hard and ends dubby, and “Come Down” is as ferocious a hard-core wind sprint as anything the band’s ever done. As always, singer H.R. is as much a preacher as a singer, and the constant proselytizing about Jah gets a littleSFlbold, but complaining about it is like knocking Kirk Franklin for singing about Jesus. It’s best to sit back and let the power of vision- ary punk rock wash over you.

—Randall Roberts, Los Angeles Times

Copyright 2012 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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