John MayerParadise Valley/Columbia Records
Even those of us who have yet to date and break up with John Mayer may find “Paradise Valley” unlikable. Kids are apt to spend some time with the hummable tunes before moving on to more fulfilling relationships.
Predictably, Mayer’s in love-’em-and-leave-’em mode. “Sure was fun being good to you,” he sings. And, “I was made to chase the storm.” And, “Some nights I throw it all away.” On “Who You Love,” Katy Perry weighs in, singing, “Some have said his heart’s too hard to hold.”
Best is the summery “Waiting On the Day,” which layers lovely vocal harmonies over a reggae pulse, and “Paper Doll,” a gentle shuffle with darting guitars.
Elsewhere the songs are slow and slower fizz and froth, and there’s nothing here to make us think, laugh or understand Mayer better. The serial celebrity romancer’s not leaving any blood on these tracks, which is a missed opportunity because a lot of words rhyme with “Taylor.”
Don Was co-produced Mayer’s sixth effort, which makes the hodgepodge arrangements a surprising disappointment. There’s a bit of flute here, some pedal steel there and a tiki-bar mood that neuters Mayer’s guitar playing, usually his strong suit.
On the most bluesy song, the JJ Cale-esque “Call Me the Breeze,” Mayer’s solo is just building steam when it’s oddly interrupted mid-verse.
Mayer can still write a pretty melody and his singing’s fine following treatment on his vocal cords. But nearly half of the songs include wordless vocals, probably because on “Paradise Valley” Mayer doesn’t have much to say.
By Steven Wine, Associated Press
Various artists‘The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones’ Original Motion Picture Soundtrack/Republic Records
Successful film soundtracks have to complete a pair of difficult tasks. They must creatively echo the film they enhance and also stand up on their own.
“The Mortal Instruments” soundtrack manages to encapsulate the spirit of the story’s adventure into the violent world of shadowhunting (demon killing), the teenage protagonists’ restless spirit and the fragile love story that weaves itself into the narrative.
The recipe for the album is simple: take an indie rock/pop band’s song, shake, stir into a hypnotic EDM track, add a serene ballad, repeat half a dozen times, cook on high and, voila, you’ve got a healthy, balanced mix of action and emotion.
From the dangerously dark and stormy dance track “Into the Lair” by Zedd to the catchy wails of AFI remix “17 Crimes,” to the bizarrely compelling low frequency tubular vibrations of Jessie J’s remixed “Magnetic,” it all coagulates into a moody party.
The high-energy beats are tempered by Demi Lovato’s lovelorn “Heart by Heart” and Colbie Caillat’s evocative “When the Darkness”; two tracks recorded especially for this soundtrack. And He is We’s “All About Us” is a playful invitation to love that will lodge itself deep into your brain.
The teenage baiting becomes obvious with “Almost is Never Enough,” a duet from Ariana Grande and The Wanted’s Nathan Sykes. It’s a throwback to the 1990s power ballads that are just too cheesy for contemporary tastes but will never go out of fashion for feelings-ravaged adolescents.
On an album full of memorable songs, perhaps Bassnectar’s too-short “Calling From Above” sums it up best: a torrent of eerie, dynamic electronic sounds punctuated by siren calls to get lost in the music.
By Cristina Jaleru, Associated Press
Luke BryanCrash My Party/Capitol Nashville
Within the first minute of “That’s My Kind of Night,” the opening track on Luke Bryan’s new album “Crash My Party,” he cites tailgating, beer drinking and a nameless “pretty girl” in suntan oil and cowboy boots: all standard modern-day signifiers for a country song.
Set to an electronically altered bass-and-drum rhythm, the song also refers to a country hip-hop mix tape, a reflection of the tune’s arrangement, which mixes banjo, hard-rock guitar riffs and hip-hop production touches.
What Bryan’s fourth album doesn’t offer is many surprises.
The current Academy of Country Music entertainer of the year, Bryan sticks with souped-up country rockers and romantic ballads about how guys who like to fish and guzzle beer and drive pickup trucks do better with women and generally have more fun than their counterparts.
That theme rings out in the title song and many others, including “Beer in the Headlights,” “We Run This Town,” “Play It Again,” “Out Like That” and on and on.
Bryan and producer Jeff Stevens do push the edge of how many electronic effects they can use in a country song. But in every other way, Bryan sticks a bit too predictably with a successful formula on “Crash My Party.”
By Michael McCall, Associated Press