Album: “Bangerz” (RCA)
For all the antics that Miley Cyrus has demonstrated in the last few months — the wardrobe selections (or lack thereof), the outrageous quotes, the awkward twerking and the rest of her wild child behavior — she could easily grab attention if she did one thing: let her music speak for itself.
Cyrus’ “Bangerz,” her fourth album, is a collection that marks the 20-year-old’s musical breakthrough. The former “Hannah Montana” star kicks off the 13-track set with “Adore You,” a downbeat song about love. Other tracks that follow with that energy — “Wrecking Ball,” “My Darlin”’ and “Somewhere Else” — capture a more mature, nuanced side of Cyrus that we haven’t seen much of — and that’s a welcome change. When she explores the different emotions of her character and doesn’t play the caricature that she’s become, you’re able to appreciate Cyrus as an artist.
If using the phrase “artist” and Cyrus is shocking, it follows the theme of “Bangerz” — which surprises you, in a good way. When Cyrus teased the album with the radio-friendly party anthem “We Can’t Stop” — a song originally created for Rihanna — and said producers would include Pharrell, Dr. Luke and will.i.am, the album seemed like it was going to be a hit machine in the vein of Rihanna or Katy Perry. But Cyrus’ jams don’t sound like insta-hits; some tracks even feel experimental as she blends elements of alternative, upbeat pop, soft rock with hints of R&B and hip-hop.
The Britney Spears-assisted “SMS (Bangerz)” and the Pharrell-produced “#GETITRIGHT” are addictive, feel-good, up-tempo pop tunes; “FU” — guess what it stands for — has Cyrus semi-angry over a dramatic beat, and it makes for an overall punchy and amazing track; and “4x4,” featuring Nelly, is a pop-twang adventure. Even “Do My Thang” — where Cyrus isn’t too convincing as a rapper — sounds good thanks to the groovy hook that she sings, and will.i.am’s Southern hip-hop-flavored beat.
—Mesfin Fekadu, Associated Press
Album: “Bitter Rivals” (Mom + Pop)
Brooklyn noise pop duo Sleigh Bells’ new album, “Bitter Rivals,” is an unfortunate thing. Perhaps singer Alexis Krauss and guitarist Derek Miller overthought the scope of their art.
In an effort to be heavy and edgy, Sleigh Bells have slathered too much production bass and ham-fisted fuzz over their own valuable talents. This is smarty-pants angst drifting in a sea of cliche lyrics and simplistic song structure.
The title track is a mess of indecisive pace and “Minnie,” for its aggressive assault, is tempered by a refrain that finds Krauss singing in a small child’s voice. Had the album, the group’s third, channeled the zeitgeist of guitar played by Miller on “Tiger Kit,” easily the best track, Sleigh Bells would have been much better off.
—Ron Harris, Associated Press
Album: “You Can’t Make Old Friends” (Warner Bros.)
Kenny Rogers enters his 75th year with an album that blends the familiar with the challenging, seeking new hits and pursuing new ideas even as he enters the Country Music Hall of Fame this fall.
His age occasionally shows in the raggedness at the edges of his vocal tone. But Rogers always made the huskiness of his voice work for him, and that holds true through most of these 11 new songs. Impressively, he hits high, forceful notes when required, matching longtime duet partner Dolly Parton on the soaring passages of the wistfully sentimental title tune, which would have fit on any of his solo albums from decades past.
On the progressive side, Rogers tackles the struggles of a Mexican immigrant on the Spanish-tinged ballad “Dreams Of The San Joaquin;” a jaunty Gulf Coast dance tune on “Don’t Leave Me in the Night Time,” featuring accordionist Buckwheat Zydeco; and a complex narrative about fighting darkness in the modern world on “Turn This World Around,” a duet with young singer-songwriter Eric Paslay.
He occasionally reaches too far, but for the most part, Rogers proves he can still deliver the romantic ballads and dramatic narratives on which his reputation rests.
—Michael McCall, Associated Press
Album: “The Last Ship” (Cherrytree)
Ambitious but unalluring, Sting’s first collection of new music in a decade is in fact the score to a musical of the same name slated to open on Broadway in 2014. It tells the story of a seafaring man who returns to his homeport, Wallsend in northern England, just as its storied shipyard is closing. Sting, born Gordon Sumner in that same Tyneside town, pours on the local flavor, often singing in a pronounced Geordie accent. But “Dead Man’s Boots,” “The Night the Pugilist Learned How to Dance,” and other numbers work better as stories than as songs. The tone is largely somber, with only “What Have We Got?” naturally suitable to song-and-dance. At times evocative, “The Last Ship” is marked by musical intelligence. But it resists easy boarding.
—David Hiltbrand, Philadelphia Inquirer