The latest edition of Beyond Playlist includes reviews of the Offspring's Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace, Vanessa Hudgens' Identified, Misha Alperin's Her First Dance and George Strait's Troubadour.
The Offspring Rise and Fall, Rage and Grace (Columbia)
Don’t go changing to try and please us. Despite the presence of a big-time rock producer with a big-time rock name – Bob Rock, appropriately enough – Dexter Holland, Greg K and Noodles pretty much stick to the template that’s kept this combo alive and commercially viable since long before its 1994 mainstream breakthrough. This approach may not have a load of appeal for those listeners who already own a handful of Offspring platters – but it makes stumbling upon the CD a lot less painful than it might have been in the case of an experiment gone terribly wrong.
The pace-changers here aren’t egregious, but neither are they likely to inspire much enthusiasm. “A Lot Like Me” starts off a lot like Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” which – surprise, surprise – a certain Mr. Rock produced back in the day. Too bad the style is a bit too grand for these guys. Likewise, the Offspringers’ venture into power-ballad territory with “Kristy, Are You Doing Okay?” takes the band, and its fans, outside the comfort zone. But “Half-Truism,” “You’re Gonna Go Far, Kid” and the concluding “Rise and Fall” gallop in the expected ways, and “Stuff is Messed Up” turns out to be far less lyrically cautious than its moniker implies. The cut would be named “Shit is Fucked Up” if the players weren’t concerned about selling the disc in Wal-Mart.
Not much rising, but not much falling, either. More like a holding action. -- Roberts
Vanessa Hudgens Identified (Hollywood)
On Identified, our little High School Musical sweetheart isn’t all grown up yet. That’d be premature from a marketing standpoint. Instead, her Disney masters try to find a style that will appeal to a slightly older demographic without alienating the tweens who make up her most enthusiastic fans. But they only succeed in making her sound even more generic than she already does.
The most effective track is the title cut thanks to production wizard Dr. Luke, who sprinkles some of the magic dust he had left over from his work on Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl.” Not that Hudgens is doing much chick mackin’, daddy. Hell, as Musical viewers know all too well, it took Miss V two damn movies to smooch a boy. The results, though, don’t differentiate Hudgens from any of the good doctor’s other patients, not to mention the pop-princess population in general – and the other ditties range from vapidity to mediocrity and back again. On one level, “Sneakernight,” in which Hudgens struggles to deliver the clunky hook line “Basically, what we’re gonna do is dance,” represents the low point. But at least it’s memorably weak. Most of the rest will slip from your mind faster than the birth and death dates in a European history class.
Wrong title, my friends. If Hudgens really wants to be Identified, she’s got to be given better material than this. -- Roberts
Misha Alperin Her First Dance (ECM)
Pianist Alperin, a Ukranian by birth, records for a jazz label, and his work has improvisational aspects. In truth, though, the material on First Dance, which breaks a six-year silence between releases, sounds more like a mingling of classical music and Eastern European folk, played with a formal virtuosity that’s wholly impressive.
The arrangements tend toward spareness, with cellist Anja Lechner and (occasionally) horn player Arkady Shilkloper supplementing Alperin's keyboarding. But from the first track, “Vayan,” which juxtaposes meditative passages whose notes shimmer and echo in the approved ECM manner with dizzying bumblebee-flight bursts, the overall focus is clear. Alperin is drawn to melancholia, and the plaintive “New Day” and the appropriately glacial “Frozen Tears” benefit tremendously from his patience and pacing. Yet he’s equally adept on busy efforts such as “Jump,” a frantic yet still precise rain of arpeggios that’s charmingly playful – at least until its expectedly somber conclusion.
Jazzy? Not really. But jazz aficionados will still be rewarded if they decide to Dance. -- Roberts
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George Strait Troubadour (MCA Nashville)
Because today’s country-music industry is every bit as youth-obsessed as its pop counterpart, George Strait’s continuing commercial viability seems inexplicable – or it would if he weren’t so damn reliable. He may never have made a genuinely classic album, but he’s never made a truly horrible one, either, and his self-awareness and discipline are the reason why. While artists in every genre give in to creative restlessness on occasion, and sometimes embarrass themselves by doing so, Strait understands what he does best and sticks with it come hell or high concept – and that’s the case again with Troubadour.
All of the material on the recording was penned by others, and not all of it’s prime. “I Saw God Today” is so egregiously soggy that even Strait’s dry delivery can’t soak it up, and “House of Cash,” a tribute to Johnny and June Carter Cash, collapses under the weight of clunky couplets such as “Well, no one sleeps in Cash’s bed/Except the man in black and the woman he wed” – although ol’ George deserves credit for choosing Patty Loveless to duet with him on the track, as opposed to, say, Taylor Swift. But the appropriately melodramatic “Give Me More Time” proves that he hasn’t lost his song-picking perspicacity, and “Make Her Fall in Love With Me Song” and “West Texas Town,” featuring Doug Dillon, represent the sort of nods to Western swing that Strait includes on every long-player. Somehow, though, they never get old.
The same can’t be said for him, of course. Yet he’s a lot more dependable than most of the newer models. -- Michael Roberts