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Disc reviews: Drake, Capella Amsterdam, Desperate Heroines, Now That’s What I Call Movies

Hip-hop

Drake

If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late

[Cash Money]

∆z

Even Drake’s fans seem to be a bit confused. Is the Canadian actor/rapper’s bum-rush-released 17-track “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late” a mix tape or an actual album? Comments surrounding the various platforms by which the collection is both streaming and being offered for sale suggest that even those who make such semantical minutiae their business don’t know the difference anymore.

That’s probably because there really isn’t one. Initially, the term mix tape referred to a collection of familiar beats, melodies and tunes granted a new interpretive mix by a DJ. Soon, they developed into lazy lingo employed to describe an “under the radar” – read “not on a major label” – release by a well-known artist.

Now, the meaning has pretty much evaporated, or at the very least, become malleable. It’s to the point where Drake can drop an album, call it a mix tape, and simultaneously get away with releasing substandard material and charging full retail price for it. If it’s deemed a great work, well, bonus. If it isn’t, well, what did you expect? It’s just a mix tape, dude.

In truth, most Drake releases have been mix tapes anyway – they largely employ beats and grooves constructed by others, atop which Drake complains about his clearly privileged lifestyle, sometimes celebrating the shallow pleasures that helped make him a star, and at other times pitching a fit about the shallowness his celebrity has apparently forced him to be surrounded by.

“If You’re Reading This...” is pretty sloppy, but as strange is it might seem, that’s a good thing; Drake’s penchant for disturbingly melodramatic narcissism can make his albums rough going, and though this new – er, whatever it is – is full of poor misunderstood me-isms, at least there’s a little room to breathe inside the loose, sometimes giddy mixes.

The problem with Drake is that he’s not a particularly fluid rapper. His rhymes are so text-heavy that they often buck against the groove in a manner that some (me) find irritating, and others celebrate as Drake’s style. If you’ve heard any of the new Kendrick Lamar, you know that personal insider-information-riddled lyrics can be made to flow and somehow sound universal in their concerns, but Drake is the polar opposite of Lamar – most of “If You’re Reading This...” finds Drake complaining about his bosses at the Cash Money label. Yes, Drake is bummed that he’s got a “Brand new Beretta, can’t wait to let it go/Walk up in my label, like, ‘Where the check, though’?”, as he makes plain via one of the album’s strongest rhymes, during “Star 67.” If you already are a fan of Drake, you probably don’t care what this thing is. It’s new Drake. Buy it, and help your hero pay for his new Beretta. Or stream the thing, and save your money for the sure-to-be-steep concert ticket prices.

– Jeff Miers

Soundtrack

Various Artists

Now That’s What I Call Movies

[Sony]

∆∆∆

“Classic soundtrack hits from your favorite films” is what they promise in the latest entry in the supermarket checkout anthology series that you couldn’t avoid seeing in modern America in the last couple of weeks even if you were more cold-and-snowbound than usual.

Classic? Favorite? We’ll be the judge of that.

These “Now That’s What I Call Music” hit collections are fun in their limited way of showing off the popularity of pop music. When they went to the movies this time, they give you a pre-Oscar demonstration of how music and movies sometimes married.

What you’ve got here are some instances where it was clearly romance and some where it was just a divorce waiting – nay, begging – to happen. Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” was, in its way, just made for “Wayne’s World” and anyone who saw “Against All Odds” is going to remember Phil Collins’ “Take a Look at Me Now” very well indeed. “The Bodyguard” and “I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston? Married for life, and beyond, as the song’s flourishing long after her death signifies.

But of all the Bee Gee songs in “Saturday Night Fever” who cares about “How Deep is Your Love?” Who even remembers Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” in “Almost Famous?” Or Van Morrison’s “Brown Skin Girl” in “Born on the Fourth of July?”

On the other hand, Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone” and “Top Gun” will be wedded forever as well “Eye of the Tiger” and “Rocky III.”

Also included: the Soggy Mountain Boys version of “Man of Constant Sorrow” from the best-selling “O! Brother Where Art Thou” soundtrack that was infinitely better than the movie. Blue Swede and Anna Kendricks are forgettable, but not Springsteen’s “Philadelphia” lament and a few others including, of course, Pharrell Williams’ justifiably ubiquitous “Happy” from “Despicable Me 2.”

As last second impulse buys at supermarket checkout time, you could do far worse.

– Jeff Simon

Classical

Brahms Choral Works

Cappella Amsterdam

[Harmonia Mundi]

∆∆∆

I love this CD’s cover, a dark landscape with pine trees and a cross, and above it, the big word “Warum,” German for “why.” “Warum,” it says in big letters, followed by smaller type: “... ist das Licht gegeben dem Muhseligen?” which translates to “Wherefore is light given to him that is in misery.” The opening of one of the first songs. The type mirrors the emphasis of the music. Such an uncompromising image gives you a feel for this whole disc, which, aimed at fans of Brahms’ “German Requiem,” is rather somber all the way through. Led by director Daniel Reuss, some songs are religious, and others are simply dark. “Gloomy is the autumn,” begins one, and another starts out “Ah, wretched world, you deceive me.” The disc culminates in “Schicksalslied,” or “Song of Fate,” a transcendent work accompanied by enchanting four-hand piano. It is serious stuff but still throughout it all shines that peculiar luminous quality that shines through all of Brahms’ music. The performers give the music a timeless, seamless sound and clearly revel in Brahms’ characteristic rich and deep harmonies. I also like how the ethereal Intermezzo, Op. 119/1, is thrown in, as a kind of intermission.

Mary Kunz Goldman

Classical

Mozart

Desperate Heroines

Sandrine Piau, soprano

The Mozarteum Orchestra, Salzburg

[Naive]

∆∆∆z

Get into opera, and one of the first Italian words you will learn will be “crudele.” It means “cruel one.” And this CD, led by conductor Ivor Bolton, has a couple of great invocations of that word. But though there are several dandy hell-bent arias, there also is desperation of a gentler kind. “Don Giovanni” is represented by the lovely “Non mi dir,” not the more overwrought revenge arias. And somehow the breathtaking serenade “Deh vieni non tardar,” from “The Marriage of Figaro,” qualifies. Well, desperate strategies were at work, in that opera’s final act. There is also an overwrought aria from “Idomeneo,” “Se il padre perdei.” Soprano Sandrine Piau is a subtle singer who sculpts the melodies line lovingly and not always in the way you expect. The orchestra has a wonderful light sound. An opera fan will welcome in particular the arias from early Mozart operas – “La finta giardiniera,” “Mitridate, re di Ponto,” “Lucio Silla,” and “Il re pastore.” Mozart improved the older he got, but already, when he wrote these operas, he was head and shoulders above Salieri or any of his other competitors. Already that beauty was there.

– Mary Kunz Goldman

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