Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Reviews of Recently Released Albums AKA Bruno Mars, Mary J. Blige, Gorillaz, and Kendrick Lamar!

More Music!
I of course love music (when I'm not hating it, at least) and wanted to offer my thoughts on some recently released albums. Shall we?

"XXIVk [24k] Magic," by Bruno Mars
Alright, this isn't exactly, "Recently released," as it came out in November of last year. That said, various singles off the album still are playing on the radio quite often so I think we're good. I've written about the infectious pop-enthusiasm of Bruno Mars previously and this album is the epitome of that. Whether the title track ("24k Magic"), a bit slower but still easy-to-dance-to tune ("That's What I Like") or a song that sounds designed for pure seduction ("Versace on the Floor"), Mars knows how to give people what they like--and what they like is new music that also sounds as if it could simultaneously be an old Motown or 1980's funk-hit.

Mars has mastered the art of making fresh songs that also sound like old classics, arguably broadening his appeal even more between both young folk and older individuals. "Calling All my Lovelies," sounds like something that could simultaneously have been created on an old synthesizer and carries with it a modern pop-swagger. Plus, because he knows we also like when he croons romantically with a hint of sorrow, album-closer, "Too Good to Say Goodbye," is sure to make ladies and men have their eyes tear-up, because the only thing as popular as happy and energetic Bruno Mars is sad and heartbroken Bruno Mars (I personally prefer the former but enjoy the latter as well).

Between his writing and voice as well as his producers and other contributors Mars knows how to craft deliciously party-ready albums that are sure to encourage folk to get-up and start dancing (or on his forlorn tunes, kick-back and cry a little). There is just something about songs like the first one on the LP and my favorite, "24k Magic," where they burrow into your body and make you want to start grooving. Some of the songs carry a bit less impact than others ("Straight Up & Down," drags horribly) but overall Mars and his chums have given us yet another catchy record to play when we want to put any get-together into overdrive.
4 out of 5 stars.

"Strength of a Woman," by Mary J. Blige
Upon listening to this album I think a better title would have simply been, "I'm Pissed!" For those who are unaware, Mary J. Blige has been in the midst of a rather nasty divorce with a man who (as more and more is revealed) seems to himself be quite the horrific person. Essentially her husband stole money from her to treat his secret-girlfriend whom he was cheating with to lavish vacations and gifts, and now during the divorce proceedings is demanding he receive Alimony of over a hundred thousand dollars a month which he believes he is owed it for all he's done for Mary. I don't know about you, but after you steal from your spouse to cheat with somebody else I don't think you have much of a leg to stand-on in regards to morality.

Mary clearly has not been pleased with everything in life because as she sings on her song, "Set me Free," about a cheating man isn't directly named but clearly her husband, "There's a special place in Hell for you," as well as assuring him he won't be getting a dime. Much of the album is Mary singing about being wronged by someone who claimed to love her, discussing how terrible these kind of cheaters are, and how she'll find herself a new man who actually loves her and treats her right. It's a very emotion-filled album because clearly a lot of raw feelings went into it. All of these, "Feels," would be useless without good singing and music however, which the album thankfully has much of.

Whether listening to, "The Thick of It," with Mary crooning, or the delightful guest appearances on, "Glow Up," from talent such as Missy Elliot, "Strength of a Woman," maintains a steady presence throughout its run-time, keeping listeners engaged and intrigued (at least it did that for me). There is a lot of rage in this LP, but a good deal of hope for the future and love in general too--Mary may have been wronged but she isn't giving-up on love, just being extra-careful from now on. She's been making music for decades and continues to create very enjoyable stuff, so I hope Mary meets the right man and is able to also give us an album full of joy. In the meantime however, this angry one works quite well too.
3.5 out of 5 stars.

"Humanz," by Gorillaz
One of the first CDs I ever bought was the self-titled debut LP of the, "Gorillaz." I loved how it jumped around to various genres and was otherwise a weird little experimental hodge-podge . I feel the sophomore album, "Demon Days," is probably the best album ever put out by, "Them," as it had the perfect mixture of guest-artists and solitary weirdness. I put, "Them," in quotation marks as this band of course isn't a real entity. It is the brainchild of Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett along with their various collaborators on different albums.

This is what I consider to be the fourth studio album as, "The Fall," doesn't really count in my mind as a true album so much as little experiment within this experiment. I personally feel that over time each album has moved more and more in the direction of having tons of guests that now basically the Gorillaz albums are more-so an anthology with a unifying theme than an actual imaginary group (and yes, "The Fall," was pretty minimalist but what did  I just say about not counting it?), for better or worse.

This vibe of, "More is always better," results in an album that at times feels both bloated with its 20+ tracks and shockingly short in its 49 total minutes of run-time. There is this sensation that Gorillaz is throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks, which makes it all the more striking and slightly disappointing that while there are a number of misses, some tracks do stick, and their genius is quite apparent. "Momentz," with De La Soul as a featured artist sounds like a sugar-rush mixed with an assortment of club-drugs to create a barrage of pure energy and fast-rapping. "Busted and Blue," is amazing with its quiet and melodic melancholy, and, "Ticker Tape," with Carly Simon of all people making an appearance is a catchy and funky ditty for sure.

There are these flashes of amazing ingenuity, but a lot of it is surrounded by decent songs that struggle to stay in my memory once they finish playing. There were no songs I really hated when listening to, "Humanz," but far too little I absolutely loved considering how the first Gorillaz album and, "Demon Days," still find themselves played in the car for me often. This was a good album, but not as superb as I would have hoped.
3 out of 5 stars.

"DAMN." by Kendrick Lamar
There are three living rappers who may be the best alive, but two of them come with nagging, "If's," attached. They are Kanye West, Andre 3000, and Kendrick Lamar. Kanye West would be one of the best ever if he could stop buying into his own mystique so much that his craft at times suffers. Andre 3000 is just plain amazing when he raps, if he chooses to do so outside of a guest appearance on an album here-and-there.

That leaves us with Kendrick Lamar, the greatest living rapper alive who is actually willing to rap and not absurdly self-absorbed. "DAMN." is more of Kendrick showing off his stellar abilities be it spitting bars absurdly fast over dizzying beats ("DNA," is astounding), vaguely singing and growling amorously at the same time ("LUST), or simply observing how screwed-up our nation is while Bono joins in with U2 ("XXX").

Lamar is so amazing that a rare misfire can really stand-out, such as, "LOVE," which sounds absurdly pop-driven and more like something that would be on a Justin Bieber album with a guest-verse by Kendrick than it does a song fit to stand with his amazing jams, "YAH," or "PRIDE." Still, a song here-or-there that isn't utterly mind-blowing is perfectly alright when your album in general is yet another masterpiece.
5 out of 5 stars.

Turn that Down, You'll Damage Your Hearing!
A variety of albums have come out lately and some impressed me more than others. Still, they all had at least some tracks I greatly enjoyed and other LPs were almost entirely awesomesauce. Music really is a magical thing, ain't it?

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