Beyond Playlist: Kevin Drew and More

Broken Social Scene Presents: Kevin Drew Spirit If… (Arts & Crafts) The credit Kevin Drew chose for himself on this disc seems designed to reassure fans fearful that his decision to release a CD under his own name means Broken Social Scene is bound for the grave. But the wordiness of this bit of front-cover exposition is unnecessary, since the music argues that the outfit remains foremost in his mind. Plenty of Scenesters contribute, and the majority of the songs sport all of the elements BSS fans have come to expect: confusing moments, chaotic moments and, most of all, beautiful moments that cohere for reasons that have more to do with intuition than anything that smacks of careful planning. In some ways, his fealty to the collective’s style is mildly disappointing: Solo albums can afford artists an opportunity to stretch beyond the boundaries imposed by the group concept. Then again, BSS imposes fewer limitations on its members than practically any other current band, and tracks like the thrillingly expansive “Lucky Ones” and the quirky yet embracing “Big Love” are so enjoyable that complaining about their familiarity is utterly pointless. Clearly, the Spirit is willing.-- Michael Roberts

Mark Knopfler Kill to Get Crimson (Warner Bros.) Never could really get into Dire Straits. Even when they were supposedly rocking out, they struck me as sorta dull, and I realize in retrospect that the reason I enjoyed 1980’s Making Movies more than the group’s other recordings had more to do with Jimmy Iovine’s memorable production and the guest presence of Springsteen pianist Roy Bittan than anything intrinsic to the band itself. It’s no surprise, then, that the latest by DS leader Mark Knopfler, which the faithful champion are championing as his best solo work to date, strikes me as a big snooze. The album’s a well-crafted folkie affair with a few standout moments, including the Irish passages that distinguish “Heart Full of Holes.” But if “Punish the Monkey” is the most Dire Straits-like moment here, it still sounds like J.J. Cale on Thorazine, and too many of the other tunes display all the liveliness of Rip Van Winkle at year ten. Looking for excitement? Look somewhere else.-- Roberts

Garbage Absolute Garbage (Almo Sounds/Geffen) As a band, Garbage never got its critical due, and that’s unlikely to change: Most reviewers still can’t quite reconcile the Butch Vig who produced Nevermind with the one who masterminded this often danceable, ultra-slick modern rock band. Still, Absolute Garbage makes a compelling case for the group as one of the most enjoyable singles acts of the middle and late ‘90s. Cuts such as “Stupid Girl,” “Milk,” “Push It” and “I Think I’m Paranoid” certainly sound of their period, yet their machine-tooled tightness prevents them from dating nearly as much as a good many hits that once shared the charts with them. In some ways, in fact, the companion disc of remixes seems considerably more past its prime than the original cuts. Hell, even “The World Is Not Enough,” the theme song for the James Bond movie of the same name, has improved with age, for reasons that have everything to do with the skill with which it was assembled in the first place. Garbage doesn’t belong in the dustbin of pop-culture history.-- Roberts

Joe Nichols Real Things (Universal) The praise that’s greeted Nichols’ latest indicates what a grim place commercial country music is in right now. A few songs earn their keep, including the percolating “Comin’ Back in a Cadillac.” But even though “Let’s Get Drunk and Fight” sports a promising title, it probably couldn’t inspire more than a mild scuffle, and the title track, during which Nichols lists stuff that he cherishes – “Hardwood floors and stone fireplaces/And looking back on the past” – is little more than a lazy rewrite of Tom T. Hall’s egregious “I Love.” (Somehow Nichols neglects to mention little baby ducks, old pickup trucks, slow-moving trains and rain.) The album as a whole is tastefully presented by current standards, but ditties such as “Who Are You When I’m Not Looking” lack either palpable passion or the pungent language that was once a C&W staple. Real Things only measures up to the genre’s glory days if it’s graded on the curve. -- Roberts

Cassius 15 Again (Astralwerks) With the rise of Justice and the popularity of Kanye West’s Daft Punk-sampling “Stronger,” French dance duos are back in vogue – or at least trendy enough to earn the Cassius twosome of Philippe Zdar and Boom Bass a stateside release for the first time since 2002. The results are hardly consistent: “Rock Number One,” a sorta cheesy but strangely irresistible soul thumper, is followed immediately by “This Song,” a clunky rewrite of “Fever” that couldn’t raise the planet’s temperature by a trillionth of a degree. Nevertheless, several numbers stick thanks to the combination of production acumen and oddball juxtapositions. “Toop Toop,” with its tweaky reggae gallop and modified Casiotone burbles, shouldn’t work but somehow does like gangbusters, and “Eye Water” is both weirder and more appealing than anything on the latest disc by its guest star, Pharrell Williams, in spite of lyrics like “All the Christians, Muslims, Jews/Kill each other/They’re so confused.” On these tracks, I come to praise Cassius, not to bury it.-- Roberts