Weezer, Katy Perry, Tiesto, Willie Nelson/Wynton Marsalis

Weezer, The Red Album (Interscope Records)

It’s got to be weird getting old and being Weezer.  They can throw out all the skateboard-kids-unleashed booger-nose-ness they want and leap at every opportunity to hot-foot the specter of adulthood (“marryin’ a bee-otch, havin’ seven kee-ods”), but geez, now they even look their age in that Village People-like cover shot. 

And it’s not as good as the Blue Album (their debut, so how could it be, right?) blah blah blah.  There are some good, even interesting tunes on Red, well-constructed on the whole even if their Xanax-brat ‘tude anthems are starting to sound more and more like something blapped forth by a crew resigned to a fate, fast bearing down on them, that’ll eventually find them getting all BFF with the Today Show cast while introducing “our first full-bore album strictly for toddlers” in some hideous future dimension.

“Troublemaker” opens this can of worms with one hand in the Strokes cookie jar and the other stealing from their own older stuff, a phoned-in but listenable way to segue into “The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived,” in turn a big-chorus-fitted slushball of "Bohemian Rhapsody For Dummies" that depends on “Buddy Holly” for, well, everything that isn’t Queen-like.  “Pork and Beans” is the friendly little emo-glitterball ditty you’ve probably heard already, and “Heart Songs” is a mindless roll call of every pop tune singer Rivers Cuomo has ever had glued to his brain.  If anything, it shows Weezer to be a Forever Band, one for whom age won’t matter as long as kids and (more importantly) adults need to indulge their inner idiot now and then.

Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis, Two Men With the Blues (Blue Note Records)

Though I can’t help but admire his commitment to helping green our ecological plane, Willie Nelson has always sung a little too grandfatherly to sell me anything.  I don’t care how many times he’s been photographed swiffing away in High Times, his nondescript tone isn’t snake-belly-cool and certainly wasn’t built for sloppy New Orleans blues.  So it’s cute and everything that he struck up a friendship with New Orleans classical/jazz trumpet-god Wynton Marsalis (who, sadly, became ten times more familiar to regular folk for being interviewed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina than for his 60-odd albums), but this is a case of big-league clout gone terribly wrong in the discussion phase.  There are some successes (“Stardust,” thanks to Nelson’s being a most capable crooner), but the deeper N’awleans vibes – “Bright Lights Big City” and “Night Life,” both coming in succession – have no value whatsoever.  “Caldonia” works as a swing workout for Marsalis but soon enough the cowboy hats come out and the jazziness goes belly-up.

Fate, Vultures
(Metal Blade Records)

The primordial death-metal ooze from which sprang everything from your Dimebags to your math-metal geeks is nowadays in a flux of apostasy, with the genre being reborn in a never-ending array of sub-sub-genres that all add up to the same thing: hardcore isn’t dead, we swear.  This record is an interesting crossover result of the ongoing Carcass-vs-Meshuggah-vs-Red Scare steel cage razor-fight, more blunt than Black Dahlia Murder, but less heavy than Dillinger Escape Plan.  Come to think of it, that could describe every even-numbered thrash metal outfit doing business today, and there isn’t one thing here that hasn’t been done before, if with less enthusiasm for the most part.  The songs are of Billboard-single length, though, even the Neurosis-lifted ones, which is certainly a positive, because, unless there’s deep classical training somewhere within a unit like this, it’s best not to shoot for concerto-sized legend as the riffs can get old plenty fast.  As this stands, I’d personally like to hear more Meshuggah-style rubber-bands of doom and less prissy double-tracked guitar math, but for a nuevo-thrash Hot Pocket, it isn’t all bad.

Katy Perry, One of the Boys (Capitol Records)

Most likely what’ll happen with this record is the culture-at-large will take dutiful note of its hooky choruses and promptly forget all about it after the next trumped-down arrest of Lindsay Lohan.  In the copycat world of new pop-rock players, Perry’s trip is a PJ Harvey Mini-Me, a good choice since Perry needs to cut down on the too-perfect sound engineering and grow a sense of artistic embarrassment ("Ur So Gay" is something Amanda Palmer from Dresden Dolls might have created had she been a junior-high-cheerleading MySpace kid, but it does conjure enough experimental funhouse atmosphere to keep the album as a package from being lumped in with similarly built major-label instant-oatmeal). 

The candy coating can get thick.  "Mannequin" is sort of 4 Non Blondes and sort of Van Hagar, a showcase for Perry’s vulcanized rubber lungs but at the same time a walk of shame being that she was all too ready to be led by the nose by whichever company hack producer was hired to turn the song into filler that won’t spoil the mood of post-Julia Roberts-era karaoke girls on the way to the bar ("I Kissed a Girl" panders to the same demographic – a little sexual confusion couldn’t possibly muck up an imminent honky wedding).  Much better is "Waking Up in Vegas," a vision of Avril Lavigne all growed up.

Rob Gee, Says (Rock Ridge Music)

Well on his way to becoming the Weird Al of drum n bass, Rob Gee will make you laugh – not a woah-I’m-supposed-to-be-laughing laugh, but a these-chaps-are-total-imbeciles-and-I-approve laugh.  This isn’t a joke band per se, mind, but by the same token don’t let the leadoff track chase you away – the first parts of “Asylum” may walk like album-filler for Kid Rock, but Gee’s gotten a lot of jollies from Ministry in this life and knows how to bring the murder-death-industrial, to which that song and the even better “Lost Control” attest.  Something snaps, though, and without warning Gee and his perfect morons are perfecting their Robert DeNiro/Dice Clay impersonations, making like Alvin and the Chipmunks slapping together a cheeseball slab of original-sin hyper-speed Casio-driven DnB (“Jersey Guido”).  And just like that, you’re hip-deep in Velveeta, bouncy gabber beats making the stupidly overdone ethnic jokes even stupider – it’s like being chased around by a Super Mario Brother methodically beating your head in with a test-your-strength circus hammer.  What had me hitting the deck was the cover of AC/DC’s “Hells Bells,” initially tinkering away like a copy band trying earnestly to get the song right, and here comes Super Mario again with the square-wave bonk-bonk-bonk as though he’d lost you and he was eager to catch up on old times.  This is fricking priceless.

The Briggs, Come All You Madmen (SideOneDummy Records)

The world of Americanized oi was and still is Dropkick Murphys oyster, too bad for bands like The Briggs as it turned out.  Any band that has a group-yelled syllable in the middle of every line of every song gets branded as a Dropkicks ripoff by casual listeners, effectively negating the years of work turned in by all the muscle-brained bands that helped develop the sound, from pre-Elvis Costello organ-punk geeks like Sham 69 to today’s carefully branded, kid-safe Street Dogs. 

The Briggs are from Los Angeles and do capitalize quite a bit on the Dropkicks’ puppeteering of mutt-Irish beer chuggers, but their avoidance of bagpipes and accordions in tandem with a slightly less hardcore sound actually puts them on the same page as prehistoric oi crew The Oppressed.  Unlike Flogging Molly, there are no 80s-metal-ballad overtones, and unlike Street Dogs it isn’t all about jealously exposing the Dropkicks as money-greedy scammers who ran screaming from punk rock.  The album is decently catchy from beginning to end, unobtrusive as mood music for rogue packs of pub invaders, and the Irish brogue isn’t heinously overdone.  Calculated, yes, but it does fill a gaping void.

Tiesto, In Search of Sunrise 7: Asia (Black Hole Recordings)

If you ever, as one Amazon “critic” did pertaining to this set, find yourself subtracting points from your grades of the mix albums of jumbo-stadium electro DJs strictly because of how they bridged one or two songs, it may be time to move on to smarter genres of music.  As the premier DJ in the world, one of Tiesto’s responsibilities is to give actual listens to the hundreds of house and trance songs that get emailed or handed to him every day, and once again he’s made the most of his poor, unfortunate lot in life, doing that horrible job in between jumping into hot tubs full of Paris Hiltons. 

Two CDs here, and where you’d probably expect to get hammered with super-Hoover blasts of strobe-lit power-dance to help you shake out every drop of Red Bull you’ve guzzled over the past few months, it’s instead mostly understated, stunningly gorgeous couch-potato chill comprised of state-of-the-art progressive trance and progressive house (really only hinging on the number of bass-drum beats going at the time, let’s be real).  The climactic songs – Tiesto’s own remix of Cary Brothers’ “Ride” on the A disc; Estivalez’ marginally louder “Casa Grande” on the other – aren’t lunkishly telegraphed, nor do they sneak up on you, all of which speaks to a refinement of the sound.  Granted, there are a ton of sounds with which techno DJs could be experimenting toward the goal of crossing over into the mainstream, but as a set of safe moves, the genre rarely soars higher than this.

Various Artists, The Jewish Songbook: The Heart and Humor of a People (Shout Factory Records)

I’m not Jewish, just a mere mixed-up schlemiel from one of those wiseass pro-Semitist, disgustingly Anglo families whose members threw out random oy gevalts whenever someone felt like getting a cheap laugh.  I’m pretty certain, however, that the 13 songs included here capture a general sense of the Jewish musical language, even if the inclusion of Adam Sandler as a guest singer looked at first to pose a wonderful opportunity to go on offense for a sentence or fifty.   But he handles “Hine Ma Tov,” a melancholy hymn traditionally sung at Shabbat feasts, with great care (albeit with un-great trilling), leaving the cartoon stuff to Richard Belzer and Paul Shaffer, whose good-stuff-cheap awkward-pitchmen vaudeville shtick in “Joe and Paul” serves as decent enough comic relief from the infinitely sad strains of Neil Sedaka’s version of “My Yiddishe Momme” and Dave Koz’ string-drenched “Raisins and Almonds.”  Bolted in place by marching drums, Seinfeld’s Jason Alexander goofs around with “Shake Hands With Your Uncle Max,” to which Marvin Hamlisch’s piano later responds by accompanying Kenny Karen’s proud tenor in “Hatikvah,” the Israeli national anthem.

The Orb, The Dream (Six Degrees Records)

Often propped up as the default example of IDM (intelligent dance music), The Orb have been doing large-scale chill-down techno since their DJ days in the late 80s.  Actually, the genre they’re more popularly reputed to having helped foster is ambient house – their mission statement from the start was to provide music for ravers to come down to, and with The Dream they’ve doubled back to amniotic sci-fi weird-scapes after venturing into more urban, less phantasmagorical things. 

Although this album does fly into monumental fits of style, it isn’t hugely experimental.  The sleighbells on “The Truth Is” seem like a what-the-hey afterthought, but everything here could be viewed as what-the-heys – the genres don’t merge as much as stop and start.  After the title track bids you to melt into the couch with your annihilated date as the clock strikes 5 AM, upbeat house tune “Vuja De” abruptly grabs your ear and drags you to the nearest floor-space big enough to get your feet moving.  Such genial unpredictability should make nice-nice with fans of Moby, and there’s plenty-enough dub-reggae buffoonery to keep you awake, or at least thinking you are.

People in Planes, Beyond the Horizon (Wind-Up Records)

Not that it’s your problem, but here’s another adult-oriented-emo album (any fellow CD reviewers out there remember Division Day?) with an ever-changing release schedule, making its review a possible moot point – Amazon lists it as “out of stock” with a release date of late June but an original release date of this coming August.  Luckily I’ve been digging on old Irwin Allen TV shows like Lost in Space on hulu.com, so wacky time traveling through revolving hypno-swirls with all sorts of lost luggage and stuff isn’t completely foreign to me.

But again, that isn’t your problem; deciding on whether or not to buy it if biggie-sized-indie Wind-Up ever releases it is.  By “adult-oriented emo” you should be thinking the post-Radiohead soft-hard-rock bands like Air Traffic and maybe Dashboard Confessional are doing, not that the album’s warmup track “Last Man Standing” doesn’t have a little paleo-Aerosmith in its genes; it’s a hard-bouncy, almost menacing slab of gravitas made for Indian rain dances as much as dripping lost-in-the-city survivor angst into the great cultural I.V. 

Lots of marginally different styles otherwise and no filler, all the songs feigning attempts to elbow their way out of dentist-ready properness but eventually fitting snugly into the mold.  “Pretty Buildings” is a Muse-like breakup-bummer with marimba, “Beyond the Horizon” is what Good Charlotte will sound like once they have to start thinking about putting their kids through college.

Outraged ranting, indie label release news and spaghetti sauce recipes are always welcome.  Email [email protected]

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