Random Stabbings & Artless Critique

Taking Stock Of Current Releases

By Eric W. Saeger

So Strong Album Cover

Jonathan Butler

So Strong

(Rendezvous Records)

Easiest way to break this down is to say that veteran jazz guitarist/singer/leader Butler is the Stevie Wonder of guitar. No, he can see; what I’m saying is his vocal sound is similar, strong, upbeat and rubbery, and being that he’s a guitarist rather than a keys player, the chill-combo vibe is often redolent of WeatherScan background.  Untold “personal issues” plagued him last year, which can sometimes – actually always, if drugs aren’t involved – bring out the best in an artist, as here, with a great set of autumn-tinted chill that’s like a wool blanket for the heart. Underlining his recent setbacks is a slow, reflective, soul-filled rip of “I Can See Clearly Now.” At 48, he’s aware that Ne-Yo and people like that are out there, so the album’s curveball “Factual” unites Nintendo-cheese, Marvin Gaye and nu-R&B.

Grade: A-

KT Tunstall

Tiger Suit

(Virgin Records)

The sophomore jinx rarely lets off a thud as dull as what resounded from Tunstall’s 2007 album Drastic Fantastic. It was a letdown for the ages, given that her blow-doors debut Eye to the Telescope lent her the blank-check rep of a songwriting Supergirl, which is unfair of course: entire lifetimes go into debut albums, follow-ups are contractual obligations. So she sort-of disappeared in order to sort-of not-really-but-yes-really get into Twitter-beefs with Dido and Shakira (evidence does keep mounting that women couldn’t run the world any better than men, doesn’t it?), marry her male drummer (thereby sort-of putting the lesbian static to sort-of rest) and, by the way, do some songwriting.

Tiger Suit doesn’t have the otherworldly melodic sculpturing of ETTT, but it’s not the underdone failure DF was either. Here she’s allowed her inner Melissa Etheridge to take the wheel and simply make up songs, tunes she probably invented in her head recently in airports and dressing rooms and actually wrote down, not stuff she forced onto herself in painful solitary blocks of “writing time” like the ones that so obviously wrought Drastic’s downfall.  Don’t believe too much of the hype about all sorts of electronics on here; there’s some, but in the end she’s just a Scottish immigrant who once busked in Vermont for pocket change. The world may never hear another ETTT from KT Tunstall unless she takes 10 years off at some point, but meantime this new hard-ass busker chick is pretty cool.

Grade: A

Linkin Park

A Thousand Suns

(Warner Brothers Records)

No critic has real knowledge of the motivations of any A-list band, but most times you’re good if you follow the money. The Rolling Stones had their disco period, Hall & Oates pretended to like ‘50s music during the New Wave -stuff like that- and here, in a massive shift in paradigm similar to when Microsoft suddenly discovered there was an internet, Linkin Park goes electro on our ass. Haters want to make the release-date a national holiday and a full armored division of metal weenies is bemoaning the lack of any “Breaking the Habit” speed-wank on this album. But keep in mind that this isn’t Papa Roach or any other bunch of nu-metal dummies (who will all be following suit in 3… 2… 1…) we’re talking about. It’s Linkin Park, the slick, logo-flaunting McRebel band whose protectionism makes Lars Ulrich look like a Grateful Dead all-you-can-bootleg Socialist (I have stories but no room). The music isn’t complicated, but it’ll be giving the skip-button finger of anyone, and I mean anyone, who buys the CD a workout.  A ping-pong match between Dashboard Confessional wimp-emo and rap-infused electro-industrial refereed by Eminem after a Shakira binge, it offers two opposing environments: one minute you’re holding your new girlfriend and hoping she doesn’t mind you’re working her bra-clasp (“Waiting For the End”), the next you’re getting absolutely flattened by Chester hanging some black-metal Exorcist-yowls over a pneumatic drill-press beat reminiscent of Skinny Puppy’s “Assimilate” (“Blackout”).  The understated but energetic “Robot Boy” is the glue holding this all together, but looking at the demographic, I doubt fans will make the connection until too late, when these guys are doing their inevitable Dashboard-centric act in Vegas.

Grade: B



(Epitaph Records)

Literally if not inarguably figuratively, Rivers Cuomo is getting old, having, as he acknowledges in this album’s leadoff tune “Memories,” come from the time “when Audioslave was the rage.” Does he know that the verse of “Memories” sounds like Huey Lewis’ “Heart of Rock n Roll,” or did he do it on purpose?  Regardless, he won’t go away and take his 40-year-old skater dweebs with him, and they do themselves a solid by continuing to refuse to speed up their proto-emo to keep pace with Yellowcard and all those guys (yikes, “Trainwrecks” moves like a hard-rock Jefferson Starship B-side from the mid-‘80s) (then again, “Unspoken” could make you think they bought an Interpol album once on a lark).

They named this album after the morbidly obese dude from TV’s Lost, though, so with that, and as the flailing yell-stomp of “Where’s My Sex” proves, they’re just Weezer being Weezer, doing their traditional geek-awkward, culturally stupid shtick (and not in as sucky a vein as The Red Album and whatnot, so count your blessings) all for the benefit of your boneheaded little brother as he shall ever remain.

Grade: B

Reach DCP freelance writer Eric W. Saeger at contactus@daytoncitypaper.com

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