Kings of LeonMechanical Bull/RCA
Three years after the Kings of Leon’s last record, the edgy, gravely rock foursome return in top shape with “Mechanical Bull.”
The album takes the band’s unique sound — the recognizable longing guitars and Caleb Followill’s growl — and adds a hint of melancholy and a stillness that gives the songs an aura of contentment.
Nervy desire and wildness is still present in their music, most prominently in “Tonight,” with its sexy vibes of earlier hits that hinted at mad tumbling into lust, and in the obsessive strummings of “Wait for Me.”
The playful notes of the first single, “Supersoaker,” set the tone, adding a sense of giddiness to the proceedings.
“Don’t Matter” goes full-on rock in the beginning but is gradually imbued with a hint of Billy Joel. “Temple” starts out noisily and morphs into the confident stage presence of a rock star. “Beautiful War” rounds up the sound with a heartfelt ballad that showcases Caleb’s voice.
And “Family Tree” sounds like an old man trying to give advice to the young, who think they know better than everyone else.
Despite tackling the familiar themes of drunken nights and tentative love, the songs weave the story of a man who knows the meaning of being lost and who has finally been found. “Mechanical Bull” isn’t the anguished edgy ride you’d expect from Kings of Leon but a fun, stirring experience you don’t want to end.
By Cristina Jaleru, Associated Press
Leave your preconceptions at the door. The new self-titled MGMT album is worlds apart from the group’s debut “Oracular Spectacular” and 2010’s “Congratulations.”
Gone are the days when the Connecticut boys sing of models and drugs. “MGMT” is dark. The melody on the record’s debut single “Your Life is a Lie” is uplifting with cow bell added to up the tempo. But the lyrics are cutting. “Count your friends on your hands, now look again, they’re not your friends,” lead singer Andrew VanWyngarden sings with an Eels-esque sardonicism.
Lead-off song “Alien Days” is as close to the old MGMT material as you’re going to get. It opens disconcertingly, with strange female vocals, and then drifts into a lazy, slow drum beat and guitar strum. VanWyngarden wryly distorts his voice when singing, “I love those alien days.”
The album has weird moments: “A Good Sadness” sounds like computer glitches before VanWyngarden’s voice creeps in and under, and a cover of Faine Jade’s “Introspection” has an interlude of what seems to be a whistle, juxtaposed with drums and synth, all building up to the chorus.
If you’re expecting pop music like “Kids” or “Electric Feel,” you won’t find it here. But spent time with “MGMT” and you’ll find it’s an interesting concoction.
By Sian Watson, Associated Press
Alan JacksonThe Bluegrass Album/ACR/EMI Nashville
Veteran country star Alan Jackson ranks among the most tradition-based singers of his generation. Most of his influences are on the surface: honky-tonk, swing, blues and songs both romantic and social that draw on details from his personal life.
Jackson’s new “The Bluegrass Album,” much like his two collections of gospel hymns, brings out another form of American roots music that he loves. With characteristic laid-back charm, Jackson applies his sweet baritone to the hot acoustic picking and soaring harmonies that characterize bluegrass.
What Jackson brings to the table is outstanding songwriting, an area where contemporary bluegrass can be lacking. The 54-year-old contributes eight original songs, including the standouts “Blacktop” and “Let’s Get Back to Me and You,” as well as two by his nephew, Adam Wright, who co-produced the collection with Jackson’s longtime studio collaborator, Keith Stegall.
Jackson tips his hat to bluegrass history by covering Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky” and the Dillards’ great “There is a Time,” and he runs John Anderson’s “Wild and Blue” through a mountain gap without losing its soulful strength.
To Jackson’s credit, he doesn’t aim any of these songs to fit country radio’s format. Instead, he concentrates on making a solid string-band album for the ages — and succeeds.
By Michael McCall, Associated Press