At least 20 new releases of note hit the bins this week, some from mainstream superstars, some from underground legends, and a few from folks who can’t seem to decide which of these they’d prefer to be. (I’m looking at you, Rod Stewart. Why do I keep coming back for more, when you betray me, time and again? I’ll deal with you later.)
The big news for folks who are obsessed with the surface of the pool, and aren’t particularly interested in what lurks down there in the sun-less depths, is the release of Adele’s new single, “Hello” (Columbia). The recently missing-in-action diva racked up more than 100 million views for the tune’s accompanying video in less than a week, which suggests that far more customers are interested in what she’s up to than, say, what Laurie Anderson might have to offer with her new “Heart of a Dog” (Nonesuch).
I’m not one of them, though; I find the Adele tune to be remarkable only for the strength of the woman’s singing, which is abundant. Too bad that powerhouse of a voice is somewhat wasted on a fairly stock modern pop/soul power-ballad. The Anderson collection, however, is wholly fascinating, deeply moving, and – like Anderson herself – utterly unique.
“Heart of A Dog” is both a film and an accompanying album, both of which are ostensibly dedicated to Anderson’s recently departed terrier, Lolabelle, but are in fact at turns witty and irreverent and lush and ruminative reflections on mortality, the encroaching authoritarian atmosphere of post-9/11 New York City and America, and the loss of her husband, Lou Reed. Snatches of gorgeously ethereal melody, the suggestions of harmonic density, and musique concrete passages form connective tissue between Anderson’s spoken-word performances. There is a narrative flow, but Anderson being Anderson, that narrative flow leads toward the beautifully abstract, not the baldly stated.
Not exactly the stuff of Top 40 dreams, it’s true, but hey, life can’t be all Adele and Carrie Underwood (who dropped the 13-tune “Storyteller” via Arista Nashville this week, and it landed with a dull and empty overproduced country-pop thud) and Justin Bieber (who snuck the Def Jam single “Sorry” onto an unsuspecting public, and yeah, he should be – this is some plasticized dreck, right here.)
These are strange times. Strange music seems wholly appropriate to accompany them. So “Heart of a Dog” makes sense, while Adele and Underwood and Bieber continue to release music that celebrates an existence wholly alien to people who live around here, or most of them, anyway. Perhaps that’s the point – escapism.
Speaking of the musically left of center, Scottish post-rock juggernaut Mogwai helped to answer the question, “What is the sense of releasing a ‘greatest hits’ collection in an age when everyone is streaming their music, and can easily create their own playlist of favorites?” with the release of the three-disc “Central Belters” (Rock Action) this week. The answer? It’s still interesting to hear a band or an artist cherry-pick from their own career – to in a sense curate their own exhibition. That’s what happens here, as the guys dig deep into the nooks and crannies of an always interesting 20-year career to offer up what amounts to the ultimate Mogwai playlist. It’s full of intense, dynamic art-rock, most of which still sounds ahead of its time. Which is as it should be.
For fans of raw, guitar-based post-blues with an indie edge – which is a long way of saying “things that sound like the Black Keys” – the new effort from Windsor, Ont., duo the Blue Stones should flip your lid. “Black Holes” (Blue Stones) is stuffed with big sludgy riffs, smart songwriting, and full-on primal rock abandon, and it sounds very good when played very loud. Which is pretty much the garage rock litmus test, isn’t it?
If dreamy shoe-gaze indie is your thing, I recommend checking out Long Beard’s “Sleepwalker,” (Team Love) throughout which the New Brunswick ensemble makes plain its love for the likes of Galaxie 500, Dean & Britta, and Yo La Tengo. Not exactly groundbreaking, but beautiful, nonetheless.
Don’t think we forgot about you, Rod the Mod. I’ve got a bone to pick with you. This week, you released your gazillionth album, “Another Country,” (Capitol) and once again, this release was presaged by press suggesting the collection would represent “a return to form,” which in Stewart-speak, suggests something akin to the Faces, or at the very least, “Every Picture Tells A Story.” Alas, this couldn’t really be further from the truth. Yes, Stewart wrote the majority of these songs himself, and most of the instrumentation is of the acoustic variety, a la the Stewart of early ’70s peak form. Don’t book your train ticket for “Gasoline Alley” just yet, though. The sad truth is, much of “Another Country” suggests that someone at Stewart’s record label urged him to listen to Mumford & Sons, and you know, sort of offer his own take on that band’s pseudo old-timey “soccer anthem with a banjo” shtick.
Rod, please – while you and Ronnie Wood are both still alive, get together and do what comes naturally. Record it. Don’t tell anyone you’re doing it. Put it out on your own label. You can afford it.