Guns N’ Roses Chinese Democracy Interscope
Frankly, after a decade and a half, I’m just happy that only some of this blows, instead of the whole thing – and as a bonus, several of the tracks that do blow are unintentionally funny. Not all of them, of course: “If the World” sounds so much like misbegotten jazz fusion that I kept expecting an alto-sax solo. But hearing Uncle Axl grumble the “Sorry” line “I don’t want to do it” like a pouty Homer Simpson cracks me up every time, as does the Dust Brothers-like rhythm sample from “I.R.S.,” which wouldn’t have sounded all that edgy back in 1996, when he probably started recording it. And what’s with all the strings and French horns? Was Rose’s biggest inspiration the Young Frankenstein soundtrack? Still, “Scraped” and “Riad N’ the Bedouins” are good enough not to need grading on the curve, and even the weaker cuts, like the too-treacly “Street of Dreams,” usually offer up some elaborate guitar wankery (by Buckethead or who-the-hell-knows) that justifies their existence. Can’t wait to hear the next one… when I’m 62. – Michael Roberts
Kanye West 808s & Heartbreak Roc-A-Fella
Despite what’s been written, Kanye West’s new style on his fourth album 808s & Heartbreak – which incorporates “tribal”-style drum machines and auto-tuned vocals – doesn’t sound especially shocking to the ears. Immediately satisfying singles like “Robocop” and “Love Lockdown” make Yeezy’s much-discussed crooning and his T-Pain-assisted use of vocoder non-issues here. Kanye was never much of a rapper anyway, and in fact Young Jeezy sounds absolutely Paleolithic when he does his usual thing on “Amazing.” Thematically the album plunges deeper into Kayne’s usual neuroses (insecurity, spiritual unease, and the difficulties of celebrity), and the death of his mother and a relationship fissure have brought these concerns into sharper focus. Still, Heartbreak’s tracks avoid many specific details about Kanye’s losses, and instead deal in generalities. On “Coldest Winter” he sings: “Goodbye my friend/ Will I ever love again?” The move from slang-heavy rap particulars to clearly-articulated pop universals completes a transition he started with his last album Graduation; the idea is to enable crowds worldwide to sing along at his shows like they do at U2 concerts. Heartbreak’s strict commitment to its aesthetics help Kanye achieve what he’s set out to create, an immediately-gelling, singular testament to indescribable suffering. -- Ben Westhoff
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T-Pain Thr33 Ringz Nappy Boy Entertainment
Despite being unattractive, dressing like a Dr. Seuss character and depending heavily on auto-tune, T-Pain is all over hip-hop and R&B radio. With his circus-themed third album, Thr33 Ringz, then, his task is moving beyond singles towards a memorable CD. Sadly, unfunny skits clog it up and the sexy songs, aren’t. Big single “Can’t Believe It” is about Pain stashing his women around the world, “Long Lap Dance” is about getting good value out of your stripper, while “Therapy” is about relationship conflict (“5, 6, 7, 8, I don’t need your sex/ I’ll masturbate”). All told, Thr33 Ringz’s tracks aren’t unified, and it doesn’t work as full album. That doesn’t mean Pain’s not R&B’s ringleader, as he claims, he’s just not its Barnum & Bailey. -- Westhoff