XTina, Celine top CD reviews

Darryl Sterdan, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:01 PM ET

From Christina to Celine, from Buck to Brian, from Cyrus to Madness, there’s plenty of memorable music out this week.

Christina Aguilera
Lotus


Rebirth? Or just repositioning? Aguilera claims the former on her eclectic seventh release, but the unfocused results say different. The powerhouse diva spends most of the disc belting out tales of self-empowerment while genre-flitting from pulsing dance-pop and funky R&B grooves to gospel, guitar-rock and more — but ultimately, Lotus never blossoms into a unified, coherent entity.

Download: Red Hot Kinda Love; Circles

RATING: 2.5 (out of 5)

Celine Dion
Sans Attendre


Translation: Without Waiting. Given that Dion’s Francophone fans waited five years for this album, that title seems ironic. The songs, of course, are anything but. Celine is her usual earnest self, belting out declarations and lamentations of love, family and living for today over a luxuriantly crafted backdrop of symphonic pop balladry and bombastic orchestral rock. Comme ci, comme ça.

Download: Qui peut vivre sans amour?; Attendre

RATING: 3 (out of 5)

Robbie Williams
Take the Crown


“This time I’ll be different, I promise you,” Williams vows on his ninth album. To that end, the Britpop lad swears he’s back on track to make up for some recent lacklustre albums. Well, he’s got a funny way of showing it. His ninth record is a fairly unengaging outing, watering down his mischievous wit with generic stadium-sized synth-rockers. At this rate, he’ll never retake that crown.

Download: Candy; Hey Wow Yeah Yeah Yeah

RATING: 2.5 (out of 5)

Billy Ray Cyrus
Change My Mind


For a one-hit wonder, Billy Ray is doing OK. It’s been two decades since Achy Breaky Heart, but Miley’s dad just released his 13th album (produced by ex-Winnipegger Brandon Friesen). And like its predecessor I’m American, it’s a solid effort, packed with catchy choruses and music that merges earthy roots and country with muscular rock and blues. He’ll change your mind all right.

Download: Hillbilly Heart; Good as Gone

RATING: 3 (out of 5)

Ne-Yo
R.E.D.


The titular acronym of Ne-Yo’s fifth album stands for Realizing Every Dream. Only he knows how true that is — though he’s doing pretty well on the musical scale. The eclectic record finds him taking his silken tenor beyond the borders of lush R&B and soul, venturing gamely into dance-pop, EDM and even country — while upping the emotional ante with frank lyrics. A colourful play.

Download: Cracks in Mr. Perfect; Let Me Love You (Until You Learn to Love Yourself)

RATING: 3.5 (out of 5)

Peter Buck
Peter Buck


Life’s rich pageant continues. One year after R.E.M., guitarist Buck is sharing some new solo adventures in hi-fi. Cut on the fly with cronies and bandmates (including Lenny Kaye and bassist Mike Mills), the set list reflects its freewheeling origins, toggling between scrappy garage-rock nuggets and gauzy psychedelic janglers, with dashes of blues, country and more. Very cool beans.

Download: Sorry, kids; this one is only on vinyl.

RATING: 3.5 (out of 5)

Madness
Oui Oui Si Si Ja Ja Da Da


Remember the good old days — whenever they were? Madness do. And on their 10th audio disc, the long-serving British ska-popsters fondly recall lost loves, ponder change and mourn a rude boy over a bittersweet soundtrack of mellow saxophones, bubbly keyboards and gently bouncing midtempo beats. It’s more One Step Backward than One Step Beyond, but that’s life, innit?

Download: My Girl 2; How Can I Tell You

RATING: 3 (out of 5)

The Who
Live at Hull 1970

Substitute? Indeed. Recorded the night after Live at Leeds — and then shelved due to John Entwistle’s misbehaving amp — this comparable 110-minute performance was salvaged a few years ago by grafting Ox’s Leeds basslines onto several tracks. Fanatics and completists already bought it in a 2010 Leeds reissue; average fans won’t be disappointed by this standalone version.

Download: A Quick One, While He’s Away; Shakin’ All Over

RATING: 3 (out of 5)

Brian Eno
Lux


Let there be Eno. Again. After a series of collaborative albums with the likes of David Byrne, the innovative musical visionary returns to his ambient ways on his first solo outing in eight years. Inspired by works in Turin’s Palace of Veneria, this subtle 75-minute soundscape glimmers and twinkles with the warm grace and beauty of sunlight playing on canvas. It’s fine art for your ears.

Download: The whole thing

Fear
The Fear Record


This week in unnecessary remakes: L.A. Punk provocateur Lee Ving and his latest incarnation of Fear Xerox their offensively incendiary 1982 debut from stem to stern. On the upside: Ving’s gravel-throated wail holds up, the songs are still delivered with speed-demon aggression and the production is cleaner. On the downside: It still can’t match the intensity of the original. Fear not.

Download: I Love Livin’ in the City; Gimme Some Action

RATING: 2 (out of 5)

Andrew Bird
Hands of Glory


Bird fanciers are in luck. Eight months after his latest album Break it Yourself, the Chicago singer-violinist returns with this companion EP. Supposedly recorded around a single microphone in a barn — which seems dubious given the production — the disc mixes country covers, classics, new originals and Break It fare, all rendered with Bird’s usual blend of art and heart. Worth a hand.

Download: When That Helicopter Comes; Railroad Bill

RATING: 3.5 (out of 5)

Bat for Lashes
The Haunted Man


Every picture tells a story. And the tasteful nude of Natasha Khan on her third album succinctly summarizes her revised musical approach. Stripping away the baroque flourish of old in favour of understated synths and minimalist, textured electronic grooves, the singer and multi-instrumentalist fashions her darkest, moodiest and yes, her most haunted (and haunting) songs. Scary good.

Download: All Your Gold; Laura

RATING: 4 (out of 5)

The Polyphonic Spree
Songs from the Rocky Horror Picture Show Live

Talk about a Halloween treat: Singer Tim DeLaughter and his robed orch-pop cult recreated nearly all the Rocky Horror soundtrack at an Oct. 31 gig in London — then sold bootlegs of the show immediately afterward. Naturally, the sound is dodgy at times. But the joyful exuberance of the performance — which includes a second set of Spree faves and Who covers — makes up for it.

Download: Sweet Transvestite; Pinball Wizard

RATING: 3 (out of 5)

The Envy
Deception | Conception


Baby steps. They seem to be paying off for these Toronto pop-rockers and Gene Simmons proteges. Instead of rushing out an album, they’ve taken it slower, honing their songwriting over the course of these two EPs (now being simultaneously released). Conception is slightly poppier and peppier; Deception is a bit darker, heavier and moodier. Both are steps in the right direction.

Download: Label Whore; Bleach

RATING (BOTH): 3 (out of 5)

The Coup
Sorry to Bother You


The revolution may not be televised – but if Boots Riley has his say, it’ll definitely be funky. The rabble-rousing Oakland rapper raises a raucous ruckus once again on his sixth album, raging against the system and spurring the 99% to action with the help of a mischievously groovalicious soundtrack reminiscent of George Clinton’s P-Funk and OutKast’s Andre 3000. Join the party.

Download: The Magic Clap; Strange Arithmetic

RATING: 4 (out of 5)

Converge
All We Love We Leave Behind


Well, perhaps not ALL they love. These mighty Massachusetts metalcore vets don’t completely reinvent their wheel of destruction for their eighth studio outing. But they do upgrade it slightly by incorporating moments of melodious musicality to their relentless onslaught of shape-shifting time signatures, explosively propulsive mayhem and primal-scream intensity. Love it or leave it.

Download: Trespasses; Vicious Muse

RATING: 4 (out of 5)

DVDs

Big Sugar
Eliminate Ya! Live!


Appearances really do deceive. Big Sugar singer-guitarist Gordie Johnson was dealing with a nasty case of carpal tunnel syndrome on the band’s 2011 Revolution Per Minute Tour. But you’d never know it from this DVD — the 135-minute show taped at Winnipeg’s Burton Cummings Theatre features all the requisite blues-rock guitar heroics, along with plenty of Rastaman vibrations.

RATING: 3.5 (out of 5)

Alice Donut
Freaks in Love


Alice Donut are hardly a household name — unless the members of your household appreciate psychedelic punk from the ’80s and ’90s. If so, this definitive documentary on the long-running New York oddballs is right up your alley. It chronicles every adventure (and misadventure) in their continuing career via the usual assortment of vintage footage and new interviews. Join the cult.

RATING: 4 (out of 5)

 


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