Jonas Brothers Lines, Vines and Trying Times (Hollywood)
Of course the Jonai are interested in broadening their demographic appeal. At this point, after all, medical science is unable to prevent girls from aging beyond their twelth birthday. But their approach to sonic maturation is flat-out inexplicable. Late teens and early twenty-somethings are supposed to be enthralled by the corny brass lines and Vegas-lounge arrangement of the opener, "World War III," and the gruesomely mistitled "Much Better"? Only if they're into Blood, Sweat & Tears toward the end of the David Clayton Thomas era. And while "Paranoid," the lead single, is kinda catchy, that's only because it blatantly lifts the riff from "Everybody Wants You" by Billy Squier -- another artist who's not exactly battling the Black Eyed Peas for chart supremacy. True, the power-pop influence that made 2008's A Little Bit Longer guiltily pleasurable on occassion remains in force. But this time around, the results are often so dumb that they're capable of causing your medulla oblongata to scream in pain (exhibit A: "Poison Ivy"). Frankly, the boys would be better off cranking out parmesan like "Before the Storm," co-starring Miley Cyrus, and then putting the proceeds in the bank for as long as they can. Interest rates aren't what they used to be, but low yields are preferable to the humiliation caused by trying to grow from teenager to baby boomer over the length of a single "tasty" sax solo.
Moby Wait For Me (Mute)
Remember when Moby used to make club music? Hedonistic thump-thumping no longer holds much of an appeal for him. He sees himself as much more of a composer now, a specialist in atmospherics - a conductor of moods, not a mover of feet. True, there are beats on early tracks such as "Pale Horses," crooned with affecting simplicity by a vocalist named Amelia Zirin Brown, and "Shot in the Back of the Head," with its cinematic swoops and swells. But rather than ramping up the pace, he regularly dials it down - and while the vocal sample on "Study War" is a throwback technique of sorts, the emotional power only gives off the slightest hint of nostalgia. This evolution recalls that of Brian Eno, whose music and singing Moby blatantly imitates on "Mistake," which is one, albeit of a rather minor sort. As a whole, though, Wait For Me is a distinctive piece of work that justifies its melodramatic instincts and conceptual pretentiousness even as it moves Moby into a very different artistic field from the one he started out exploring.
Marilyn Manson The High End of Low (Nothing)
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As a man with a keen sense of marketing, the former Brian Warner has tried to reinvent and repackage himself numerous times. Remember the glammy, Thin White Duke shtick of 1998's Mechanical Animals? Or the this-is-the-real-me confessional routine that marked 2007's Eat Me, Drink Me? But after years of diminishing returns, he's apparently decided that change is bad. Hence, The High End of Low, which pretty much regurgitates his mid-'90s zeitgeist-shaking style. In "Devour," he wails that "pain's not ashamed to repeat itself" - and neither is he, as the tune's ultra-familiar soft-to-loud structure demonstrates. That's followed by one flashback after another, and if they're not all as overt as "Arma-Goddamn-Motherfuckin-Geddon," with its juvenile naughtiness ("First you try to fuck it/Then you try to eat it") and ass-shaking clap track, the degree of difference can be measured by a micrometer. Which isn't to say Manson's lost his ability to combine distorted guitar crunch and hook-laden melodies, as on "Blank and White." But his fans already own these songs, or very similar ones, anyway. And they haven't listened to them for years....
The Low Anthem Oh My God, Charlie Darwin (Nonesuch)
It's easy to understand why music reviewers tend to focus disproportinately on lyrics. Discussing words in print makes perfect sense, but mighty few descriptions of a given note are as impactful as actually hearing it - a lesson reinforced by the Low Anthem's latest. The lyrics of "Charlie Darwin," the de facto title cut, are painfully sincere: Lines such as "The lords of war just profit from decay/And trade their children's promise for the jingle" are so on-the-nose that they beg for angioplasty. As gently warbled by Jocie Adams over an acoustic sea of echo, though, they come across as almost profound. Other balladry, including "Cage the Songbird," is equally moving, with Adams' voice joining that of lead singer/guitarist Ben Knox Miller over a backdrop thick with melancholy. But the band, which also includes bassist Jeff Prystowsky, is capable of raucousness, too, and pace-changers like "Horizon Is a Beltway" and "Home I'll Never Be" are important, since the Low Anthem is prone to preciousness. Still, when the melody, production and performances come together, as they do on "The Ghosts Who Write the History Books," rhymes that seem too black and white suddenly burst into color.