Review: Two stars (out of four)
There are some truly great "divorce albums" out there. Pink's "Funhouse" is not one of them.
Marvin Gaye's "Here, My Dear" is probably the most incisive in this morbid little subset of popular music. It's downright brutal. Bruce Springsteen's "Tunnel of Love" is not technically a divorce album -- it's dedicated to his then-wife, in fact, but the writing is clearly on the wall; Springsteen's wedding record is tortured, the reflections of a man all too aware that the story he's a character in "doesn't end good," as the saying goes. Tom Petty's "Echoes" recounts his painful divorce, most eloquently with its title tune. XTC's "Apple Venus Volume I" raises the art of the kiss-off to new heights.
All of these records share common traits -- they find the universal resonance in personal pain, and they paint a big picture, rather than wallowing in purely individual misery. Pink, recently divorced from motocross dude Carey Hart, could've learned a thing or two from these albums when it came time for her to work through her own issues in public. It doesn't appear that she did, though. "Funhouse" is not a lot of fun, but more significantly, it isn't likely to ring true to anyone who isn't a famous, wealthy rock star with a drinking problem.
From the album's outset, it's clear Pink is way confused. Opener "So What" is a song in the mode of Pink's previous party-anthem boasts. It's upbeat, arrogant, cloying and centered around a nursery-rhyme melody. It's also the strongest song on the record, because it blends techno-stomp, pop-punk sheen and dance-club rhythmic consistency in the manner Pink fans have grown accustomed to. That boozy self-confidence disappears the instant "Sober" stumbles its way out of the gate. "So What" is Friday night on the tiles; "Sober" is Saturday morning on the bathroom floor with a brutal hangover. The song's melody, smartly layered vocal harmonies, and emotional pacing almost make up for the tired drum loop and cheesy synth-string melodies, which are maudlin. Almost. "I Don't Believe You" is the first straight-up "I've got a broken heart" ballad, and though the pain at its core is obviously deep and real for Pink, the listener hears only overwrought emotion, delivered via tired cliches.
By the time we get to "Please Don't Leave Me," we're ready for a break in the clouds. We get one, sort of. The song has a buoyant bounce in the rhythm section, and the guitars borrow from the parallel movement common to the guitar figures of '80s alternative. Still, it's more depressing than redeeming.
Ignore the lyrics -- which is clearly not what Pink had in mind when she wrote them -- and you might find some kicks inside "Funhouse." On balance, though, Pink fails to make us feel her pain. Thus, "Funhouse" is a sometimes interesting album that splits the difference between danceable pop and bummed-out ballads.
-- Jeff Miers
Review: 3 1/2 stars
The Cure has always been considered a progenitor of the "goth" movement. That's bunk. The Robert Smith-led behemoth is in fact a psychedelic-alternative-pop band. It's a sub-genre oft-imitated, sometimes well, but more often than not, badly. Take away Smith's lovelorn howl, the almost frustratingly uniform (but still oddly beautiful) guitar figures, and the disturbed rumble of the rhythm section, and you've successfully missed the point. Smith writes pop songs with strong choruses, mostly, then embellishes them with massive, lumbering guitar arrangements. He balances the more easily likable pieces with epic songs that unfold slowly and build in a linear fashion toward startling climax. There's also plenty of an ingredient the Cure is rarely credited with adding to the mix -- humor.
If one accepts the above as the recipe for the finest Cure music to be released over the past quarter century-plus -- with the album's "Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me," "Disintegration" and "Wish" standing as the band's finest albums -- then the new "4:13 Dream" is a dream come true. It deftly balances all of Smith's talents, adding levity and a tendency toward self-editing, and comes out the other end as one of the band's five best albums.
Happily, "Dream" opens with one of those grandiose Smith mini-movies, in the form of "Underneath the Stars," my favorite Cure tune since 1992's "From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea." The guitars here are strange and glorious, if rudimentary in that delightful Smith fashion. Credit this to the return of co-guitarist Porl Thompson, after a fourteen-year absence during which he played with Robert Plant and Jimmy Page. Thompson and Smith have always excelled at intertwining their guitar figures, and they do so throughout "Dream."
The pop tunes -- the blissed-out "The Only One," the country waltz-informed (seriously) "Siren Song," the snappy, bounce-along "The Hungry Ghost" -- are a simple, easy delight.
Thirty years into the game, the Cure sounds seasoned, vibrant, decidedly alive.
The Best of Bond. . . James Bond
[Capitol, disc plus DVD]
Review: 3 1/2 stars
Here's a game everyone can play: All-Time Best James Bond Theme?
"Goldfinger" sung by Shirley Bassey, I say. Once you hear Bassey sing the movie's title at the beginning of the song, those three notes are in your head, forever. And her final, long-held note on "he loves only GOLLLLLDDDDD" may be the angriest vocal fillip in pop music before Alanis Morissette came along with "You Oughta Know." If you ask me, "Goldfinger" just noses out No. 2 on the list, Carly Simon's "Nobody Does It Better" from "The Spy Who Loved Me" in 1977. As a contribution to the promulgation of sexual pleasure throughout the Western World, that song was right up there with the invention of the birth control pill. It gave women, after all, the ultimate way to lie to their boyfriends and husbands -- in song.
After that, on my list, it's a tie between Paul McCartney's "Live and Let Die" (whose sudden rinky-dink C section is the most creative moment in any Bond theme song ever) and Sheena Easton's "For Your Eyes Only," the song, presumably, to be sung before "Nobody Does It Better."
Well, they're all here on this disc plus DVD in honor of the new Bond film "The Quantum of Solace" coming out next week. To have every Bond theme in the series history is a delight -- not only to remind you how bad A-Ha's "The Living Daylights" and Garbage's "The World is Not Enough" were but also to surprise you with how good k.d. lang's "Surrender" was from "Tomorrow Never Dies" (much better than Sheryl Crow's title song).
And with it all, you get a DVD of Sheena Easton, Tina Turner, A-Ha, Rita Coolidge, Duran Duran videos, complete with a live 1974 Bassey performance of "Goldfinger."
For Bond devotees and nostalgists, the disc definitely has the Midas Touch and then some.
-- Jeff Simon