Tears for Fears
Everybody Loves a Happy Ending
Behold the first Tears for Fears record in 15 years featuring both original members, Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith. As is the case with any re-formed '80s band, there's a great deal of forced media hype surrounding this, but while the duo's superior songwriting skills survive intact, will today's musical climate properly embrace Happy Ending? It certainly should. It's the most Abbey Road-centric set of tunes the band's ever attempted, and with great songs like "Of Sorrow," "Who Killed Tangerine" and the title track -- the "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" of its time -- it's apparent there's something still thriving in the Tears' dual chemistry. What made and makes this band great is its strong reliance on structured, melody-driven, pop-friendly, accessible, yet authentic and credible tunes. That practice is in full play here, but with music nowadays veering so far away from that, there's little hope that this Happy Ending will be appreciated the way it should. -- Lily Moayeri
Leonard Cohen is 70 years old and has been releasing music since 1967. Before that he had a distinguished literary career in his native Canada, publishing several books of poetry and two wild, experimental novels. The story goes that upon hearing Bob Dylan in the mid-'60s, Cohen had a "eureka / I could do that" moment and moved to New York to try his hand as a troubadour. In NYC, Lou Reed used to defend him in barroom throwdowns ("Hey, this guy wrote Beautiful Losers!" or words to that effect). Soon Judy Collins recorded "Suzanne," and Dylan himself became a Leonard Cohen fan, eventually warbling backup vocals (along with Allen Ginsberg) on the immortal Phil Spector-produced party anthem "Don't Go Home with Your Hard-on." At some point, Janis Joplin gave him "head / on an unmade bed" in the Chelsea Hotel (see the intro to "Chelsea Hotel #2" on Live Songs). The first song on the first Nick Cave album was a cover of Cohen's "Avalanche." Lots of other modern rock demigods revere and cover Cohen. More recently, he dated Rebecca DeMornay and then became a Buddhist monk.
Dear Heather is the new Leonard Cohen CD, and it finds him no less randy, absurd or portentous than he ever was. "Because of a few songs / Wherein I spoke of their mystery / Women have been / Exceptionally kind / To my old age," he intones in his onion-skin rasp, still master of the self-effacing boast. Elsewhere he has the nerve to set Lord Byron's immortal "Go No More A-Roving" to lite jazz (and make the blasphemy work) and weighs in on the September 11 attacks ("Some people say / It's what we deserve / For sins against g-d / For crimes in the world / I wouldn't know / I'm just holding the fort / Since that day / They wounded New York").
Typically enough for Cohen, much of the music on Dear Heather is subtle to the point of near-facelessness. However, charges that the sounds are a mere setting for the words would stick a lot better if the songs themselves didn't -- several are still in my head now. Cohen's ongoing collaborations with singer-arrangers Sharon Robinson, Anjani Thomas and Leanne Unger are augmented here by contributions from such peers as founding Fug/Manson biographer Ed Sanders and erstwhile Band-lynchpin Garth Hudson; and in an oddball move, Cohen's lonely jew's harp takes center stage on a few of the more mournful numbers. The title track is probably the strangest Cohen song ever, its circus waltz and self-deconstructing linguistic breakdown recalling nothing so much as the Ween brothers at their most playfully wasted. Makes you wonder what he'll sound like at 80. -- Scott Faingold
The Inc./Def Jam
Ja Rule's last outing, 2003's before-Christmas quickie Blood in My Eye, was so terrible that he deserves credit for simply showing up a year later -- and even more for realizing that the album's raw, mix-tape-style format did his pedestrian rhymes a grave disservice.
Reloaded with plentiful pop hooks, high-profile guests (R. Kelly, Jadakiss) and the gravelly croon Ja unwisely abandoned in an attempt to spit toe-to-toe with his many detractors, R.U.L.E. turns back the clock to the days before 50 Cent, when Ja was the thug king of hip-pop, with hot tracks that never forced him to back his bark with bite.
The result is that Ja and his Inc. handlers have arrested his slide; the candy-corn chest-beater "What's My Name" and the trigger-happy "New York" are equal to any of his G-Unit competition. The larger question is what this orgy of superficiality means, especially as more gifted MCs move the game forward. There's still no trace of wit or insight in his simple-minded blast-and-bling, and tracks like the vile ode to strippers, "The Manual," deserve no further comment. Ja has never sounded better -- or more irrelevant. -- Dan Leroy
Parade of the Athletes
Beware the prestige project, a creative endeavor in which entertainment values come freighted with Artistic Importance. Such is the lineage of Parade of the Athletes, an album of material that Dutch DJ Tijs Verwest, a.k.a. Tiësto, created for the opening ceremonies of the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. Although the resulting disc has its moments, it exudes a sometimes stifling air of pretentiousness.
Granted, Tiësto knows his way around a beat, and that's a good thing, since rigorous rhythms prevent efforts such as "Ancient History" from tumbling into overt pomposity. But all too often, he seems jealous of Vangelis and tries too hard to produce his own personal Chariots of Fire. For instance, "Athena" is dragged down by a self- consciously tony middle section that grasps for greatness but settles for shlock, while "Victorious" vacillates between a killer groove and synthetic inserts whose attempts to soar seldom get off the ground.
This ode to Athletes may have finished first in Greece, but on the dance floor, it winds up in the middle of the pack. -- Michael Roberts
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