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SONIC REDUCER A mashed-up stock market and credit-crunked fiscal outlook be damned just what does the music industry have to do to make you part with your overly stretched entertainment dollar? Pay you to buy, Joe Deflation? Bookended by the double-B bombshells Beyonce's Nov. 18-released I Am ... Sasha Fierce (Sony) and Britney Spears' Dec. 2-scheduled Circus (Jive) this week is likely major-label ground zero for pre-holiday CD releases ready to tantalize us, peering through Pepto Bismol-smeared turkey goggles, with toothsome collaborations, tempt us with superstar potential, and dazzle with gleaming newness.
I'm taking a cue from a future-focused Kanye West and feeding a few Nov. 24 (Island Def Jam got a jump on the traditional Tuesday release date) and 25 releases to the trusty Micro-Reviewbot, our neutral yet far from neutered critical assessment generator, which will hold these discs up against infuriatingly fuzzy expectations and objectively critique said recordings. The exception: Guns N' Roses' Chinese Democracy (Interscope) because it's hard to review an album when, at press time, the label allows Micro-Reviewbot to listen to only two tracks. But hey, why spoil the shock and awe? Careful now, Micro-Reviewbot can't not tell the truth. Micro-Reviewbot only knows how to speak truth to power and powerless alike. All systems go, Micro-Reviewbot!
Anticipation level: Smokin' high, tempered with likely some ambivalence about Graduation's Daft Punk-Takashi Murakami-Chris Martin alliances. Has West hitched his wagon to one too many trendoids? Still, we are spared the faux drama of a 50 Cent feud with the advance of 808s' release date.
Micro-Reviewbot's pop-psych diagnosis: Frankly, Kanye sounds depressed. I know the self-proclaimed genius of rap is working through some deep shit: he broke up with his fiancée, and his mom died a year ago during cosmetic surgery.
Witness the way West has dug himself so deeply into his Afro-futurist themes and coolly digitized sonic landscape. This space-age ice-cold killer is taking the next spaceship from reality, pronto, while yodeling through a thicket of effects, "See you in my nightmares, suckers!" You wouldn't know that the political/cultural change is breaking out all over this month straight from the 808, a.k.a., native-born Barack Obama's Hawaii, where West recorded this album using, a-ha, a Roland TR-808 drum machine. Instead, Kanye has taken refuge in something he can rely on: the love between a man and his Vocoder or rather, a man and his Auto-Tune plug-in. Still, the songs on the dampened-down 808s and Heartbreak continue to grow on Micro-Reviewbot.
Alternative: Ludacris' take-that, mob-inciting Theater of the Mind (Disturbing Tha Peace) with a guest cast including TI, T-Pain, Lil Wayne, Jay-Z, Nas, the Game, Rick Ross, Chris Rock, Jamie Foxx, and Spike Lee also out Nov. 24. It's as if Ludi hadn't ever abandoned the rap game for the cineplex even if his references tend to ride a pop culture loop of I Hate Chris and Any Given Sunday more readily than anything resembling clichéd gangbanger reality.
Expectations: Fall Out Boy feuds and suits by ex-managers aside, it's hard to gauge, considering their paean to Wal-Mart moms, Sam's Town, surprised everyone by taking a left turn from the guilty-pleasure deca-dance-pop of "Somebody Told Me" toward Broooce-fearing Freedom Rock, a then-untapped '80s retro vein and shocked further by going Putf8um.
Micro-Reviewbot's stays-in-Vegas assessment: are the Killers trying to tell us something by opening with a track titled "Losing Touch"? Somebody told the Sin City band they had to drop that Broooce crush that made them look like the girlfriends they had in February 1983. It's not confidential. They've got potential, so they mixed touches of anthemic melody lines, glockenspiel, and sax appeal with more nods to the dance-pop crowd (the cringe-inducing "Joy Ride"). These new-new rock romantics want to have their epics (thundering "A Dustland Fairytale") and eat, too (U2-y pop hit "Human").
Alternative: Look for further throw-away kicks from English-New Zealand trash pleash Ladyhawke not to be confused with stateside indie vets Ladyhawk and her weird combo of DIY-rock trappings (the new self-titled Modular/Interscope CD sports rough sketches of a head-banded hipster chick and kittens) and slick electro-pop odes to lovers jetting over the Atlantic, whizzing synth details, and artificial hand claps.
Waxy critical buildup: a quiet storm has been building among graying '80s-era fans and young 'uns cognizant of the renewed relevance of the pair's Talking Heads work and their last co-written full-length, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (Sire, 1981).
Micro-Reviewbot's "I Am ... Fierce" take: the ironic-naïf act is wearing thin. Micro-Reviewbot wants to like Everything, but finds its attention consistently drifting, mid-listen. Likely the best Byrne album in years, though the promise of bitingly ironic opener "Home" and the C&W-laced "My Big Nurse" soon degenerates with obvious Radiohead dig, "I Feel My Stuff," a jab at the crit darlings' chilly electronic bricolage, which goes terribly wrong in a Midnite Vultures-style Pro-Tools-is-crack kind of way. Except Midnite Vultures is actually more listenable. Sonically songs like "Everything That Happens" are lovely scattered with plangent piano tinkles and aquatic guitar lines but perhaps it's too much to ask elders like Byrne and Eno to eschew the non-Viagra-like sax and trudging tempos on tunes such as "Life Is Long" and find some genuine energy.
Alternative: Shhh, how about giving Micro-Reviewbot a little quiet digestion time for a change? *