By BRIAN ORLOFF, WADE TATANGELO, CHRIS TISCH and JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK
Published November 30, 2003
THE STROKES, ROOM ON FIRE (RCA) It's easy to confuse the Strokes' cool factor for ennui. The New York quintet became the pretty poster boys of the 1970s rock revival with its cooler-than-thou, hipster posturing. And don't forget its equally detached music. The band's deliciously derivative debut, 2001's Is This It, matched undeniably catchy melodies with lovely distortion and art rock abandon.
Room on Fire doesn't tinker with the band's winning formula, which is fine. Lead singer Julian Casablancas still croons dispassionately, and the band buries emotion beneath tuneful guitar assaults, leather jackets and shag hairdos. Casablancas is the ultimate frontman, delivering lyrics such as "I never needed anybody" with such sexy sangfroid, you might be tempted to check him for a pulse.
The band explores new sonic ground on Automatic Stop with its dublike reggae groove. And, oh, listen to that fetching chorus girded by its bass line and a buzzy blend of dovetailing guitars. Give the band kudos for I Can't Win; the song is the closest to approachable the Strokes get, all lighthearted and fun. Casablancas delivers his rebellious cry of "good try, we won't take that s--" over some playful guitar, and just for one second, you feel like you might actually be cool enough to join the party. A-
- BRIAN ORLOFF, Times correspondent
BRITNEY SPEARS, IN THE ZONE (JIVE) The titillating virgin/whore, "I'm not that innocent," motif Britney Spears has been milking since her career erupted in 1999 has nearly run dry. So the international sexpot, who turns 22 Tuesday, is left with few choices on her latest release, In the Zone, but to abandon the girl-next-door shenanigans altogether in favor of the oversexed persona she and her savvy management have meticulously constructed.
Sans the Lolita gimmick, Spears is just another scantily clad sex kitten, willing to pole dance and purr to distract listeners from her subpar singing.
A traditional review of this disc is pointless. Just imagine a breathy 1-900 operator cooing over some expensive dance tracks courtesy of acclaimed production geeks such as Moby.
In addition to electronic augmentation, Spears' pipes are aided by a slew of background singers.
A fading star named Madonna even lends a desperate hand to the disc's first single, the laughably titled Me Against the Music. (Now the true motive behind "the kiss" at MTV's Video Music Awards rears its less-than-comely head.)
There is one bright side to this dismal release, at least for one sizable chunk of her fan base: It brings Spears one step closer to fielding offers from the likes of Hugh Hefner and Larry Flynt. C-.
- WADE TATANGELO, Times correspondent
PINK, TRY THIS (LA FACE) For her third album, Pink again teams with Linda Perry of the defunct 4 Non Blondes, reuniting the pair that brought us Missundaztood and the anthemic Get the Party Started.
On Try This, Pink also hooks up with punk rocker Tim Armstrong of Rancid to create a satisfying album that doesn't damage the tough girl's appointment by some as the next Madonna.
The punchy single Trouble kicks off the record with Pink's expected spunk and attitude. But it's the sexy track Oh My God, which includes a cameo from rapper Peaches, that is the record's most bona fide hit.
Most of Pink's collaborations with Armstrong are strong, including the ska-flavored Tonight's the Night and Unwind, a raucous bit of fun that shows off Pink's throaty voice. Perry's contributions also pay off with Catch Me While I'm Sleeping, straight out of '70s R&B, and Waiting for Love, a haunting piece that none of Pink's peers could pull off without sounding silly.
There are some misfires. God is a DJ is an embarrassingly overblown statement that "life is a dance floor," and Last to Know, though catchy enough, is tiresome pop-star whining aimed at a guy who missed one of Pink's shows.
Still, Try This is a gutsy stab in new directions for a singer who threatens to at least partially cure pop music of its excessive diva trance. B+
- CHRIS TISCH, Times staff writer
KID ROCK, KID ROCK (ARISTA) Once again, the king of narcissism ruins a CD by opening his mouth.
If it isn't bad enough that he claims to perform better than Michael Jordan at 22, the Beatles and U2, consider the second track, a song with a title and lyrics so misogynistic and vile that this newspaper cannot print them. Shame on Hank Williams Jr. for participating in this nasty little tune about Kid's ability to get a woman in the sack.
The songwriting is filled with cliches. It's pedestrian, third-rate stuff at best, pandering to fans who like to hear Kid curse and boast of his badness. His stabs at love songs are pitiful, with the most heartfelt sentiment being that he loves his life, "but it's you I can't live without." Tough choice, huh?
The couple of songs that do rise a cut above were written by others (Bob Seger and Bad Company).
Just when you think it couldn't get worse, Kid Rock actually tries to sing rather than rant and rap. His voice is so weak that he frequently falls back on the dreaded voice box, the device used by dwindling divas Cher and Madonna.
On the upside, the band remains top notch.
This CD will sell millions, just like the Kid Rock releases before it. Don't join the herd. D.