CD reviews: Ariana Grande, Nine Inch Nails, Franz Ferdinand

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

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Republic Records/AP
“Yours Truly” by Ariana Grande.
  • “Hesitation Marks” by Nine Inch Nails
    ( Dayve Ward/Columbia Records/AP )
    “Hesitation Marks” by Nine Inch Nails

  • “Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action” by Franz Ferdinand
    ( Domino/AP )
    “Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action” by Franz Ferdinand

Ariana Grande

Yours Truly/Republic Records



While Miley Cyrus is being a wild child to demonstrate she is growing up, Ariana Grande is letting her music do all the talking.

The 20-year-old singer-actress, one of the stars of Nickelodeon’s “Victorious” and the network’s spinoff “Sam and Cat,” is in near-perfect form on her debut, mainly thanks to her Mariah Carey-esque vocals and songs written by Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds.

“Yours Truly” kicks off with the R&B-flavored, near-six minute “Honeymoon Avenue.” It’s dreamy, velvety and warm, and backed with shoo-be-doos and violins. It sounds as good as a Justin Timberlake intro.

Grande uses her voice as an instrument throughout the 12-track set: “Baby I,” with its finger snaps, features her screaming high notes; “Tattooed Heart” and “Daydreamin’ ” are A-List ballads; and on “The Way,” her lead single and Top 10 hit, Grande’s voice sounds like a Carey-Toni Braxton mash-up.

Her breakthrough comes at a time when other former Disney-Nickelodeon stars have pop hits. Cyrus and Selena Gomez are following the Rihanna track with “We Can’t Stop” and “Come & Get It,” while Demi Lovato’s latest sound mirrors Kelly Clarkson. But Grande is looking back to a ’90s R&B-pop feel on her debut, and her formula works better than the others.

“Almost Is Never Enough,” a duet with The Wanted’s best vocalist, Nathan Sykes, sounds classic and the Big Sean-assisted “Right There,” which samples Jeff Lorber’s “Rain Dance” — also sampled for Lil Kim’s “Crush on You” — could easily be a No. 1 hit.

By Mesfin Fekadu, Associated Press

Nine Inch Nails

Hesitation Marks/Columbia



Sun-kissed harmonies, funk-flecked guitar lines and — whisper it — a saxophone workout all make an appearance on “Hesitation Marks,” a surprising new offering from Trent Reznor’s Nine Inch Nails after a lengthy, self-imposed hiatus.

In the five years since the industrial rockers’ last album, the 48-year old Reznor has won an Academy Award for his soundtrack work on “The Social Network,” married musician Mariqueen Maandig and become a father to two young boys. These developments are apparent in the makeup of “Hesitation Marks,” where chinks of light occasionally penetrate the darkness so prevalent on the band’s previous releases.

“Wish me well, I’ve become something else (just as well, really)” sings the front man on the surprisingly poppy track “Everything,” which has spawned a fan-made video of Reznor riding a white unicorn in front of a rainbow.

Elsewhere, the falsetto vocals and staccato guitar line of “All Time Low,” and the brass stabs that punctuate the shuffling rhythm of “While I’m Still Here” suggest Reznor is leading his troops to markedly new terrain.

The band’s trademark brand of decaying electronica and discordant noise has not been ditched altogether, though. The opening four tracks play like a “best of” Nine Inch Nails. Lead-off single “Came Back Haunted” couples existential lyrics with aggressive synths and a searing guitar line. And spiritual ballad “Find My Way” echoes the group’s 1995 single “Hurt.”

The intriguing “Hesitation Marks” often resembles a ship trying to break free from its moorings. Once the final rope snaps, Reznor promises to deliver a memorable trip — but, until then, longtime fans of Nine Inch Nails will be relieved to find that underneath the album’s occasionally bright, brash surface there’s still a heart of darkness beating strong and steady.

By Matthew Kemp, Associated Press

Franz Ferdinand

Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action/Domino



It’s been four years since Franz Ferdinand’s last album, “Tonight: Franz Ferdinand,” and in that time the band nearly managed to split up, but thankfully they did not.

Instead, members have recharged their batteries and made a fourth album, “Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action.” It’s a 10-track experience of clever songwriting, catchy riffs and pure indie punk passion.

“Love Illumination” is a standout track with its 1980s flare and unforgettable synth keyboard. “Bullet” shines with crashing guitars and an immense presence that jumps right out at you.

There’s no massive shift in Franz Ferdinand’s direction that most bands suffer in their “hiatus” period, however, the influence of guest producers is evident. Todd Terje, Roxanne Clifford (Veronica Falls) and Bjorn Yttling (Peter Bjorn and John) all lend a hand, as well as Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor and Joe Goddard, whose contribution to “Right Action” is remarkable, with its opening beat and mesmerizing flow.

The pace slows down on the electronic ballad “The Universe Expanded,” where Alex Kapranos’ soft vocals shine.

“Brief Encounters” is another signature Franz offering with vintage keys and heavy percussion.

The closing track, “Goodbye Lovers and Friends,” could be mistaken for a final bow out with lyrics such as “When they lie and say this is not the end, you can laugh and say we’re still together, but this really is the end.”

Thankfully, it’s not — we hope.

By Reetu Rupal, Associated Press