Rihanna / Rated R / Universal
Rihanna does a good job on Rated R of beefing up the ‘so hard’ image she’s been crafting ever since collaborating with Jay-Z. Sure, you never really doubted the girl who sang “Disturbia” was a push over, but on this album, and particularly with songs like “Hard” featuring Young Jeezy and “Rockstar 101” featuring Slash on guitar, she’s making like she’s one of the guys. But that’s just the first layer of the onion that is Rated R, when you dig deeper you see Rihanna has also revealed a more vulnerable side of herself, addressing her much publicized break(s) from Chris Brown, on “Stupid in Love.” Some may find that Rihanna has become a little over exposed as of late, but Rated R proves she’s still talented. And still hot.
Download: “Hard,” “Rockstar 101”
The Bravery / Stir The Blood / Universal
On Stir The Blood, Sam Endicott, singer for New York’s The Bravery and co-producer of this, their third album, swaggers and wails like Morrissey in a leather jacket. Theirs is a frantic, impassioned new wave (“The only thing that I ask / love me mercilessly,” Endicott insists on “Hatefuck”). His frank emoting makes momentary tangents into gimmicky posturing, but generally sounds sincere. The band fits expertly in the pocket behind the singer, driving the synth and bass when he’s mopey and cranking up the drums when he’s really pissed off. Listen close to “I Am Your Skin” and you can hear the vocal melody they ripped off Mobile’s “Out of My Head.”
Download: “Song For Jacob,” “Hatefuck”
Lady Gaga / The Fame Monster / Universal
What was originally going to be just an add-on to a re-release of Lady Gaga’s debut, The Fame, has become an eight-song stand alone album of its own centered on the ‘darker’ side of fame that “Paparazzi” apparently didn’t already get to the bottom of. Getting drunk and laid seem to be the real overarching themes, not fame, but Gaga tackles them in true space disco fashion and makes them all rather enjoyable. “Speechless” and “Teeth,” a ballad and a Motown number, respectively, show that she’s got some soul and it’s not all computers and crazy costumes. I take exception to “Telephone feat. Beyonce,” however, for being about a girl getting texts and calls from a guy she doesn’t want to talk to while she’s at a club. Does this topic really need to be addressed in a pop song? How long have these two known each other? But I digress. The Fame Monster is not all that substantial as an album but there are some singles worth your attention, however briefly.
Download: “Bad Romance,” “So Happy I Could Die”
50 Cent / Before I Self Destruct / Universal
The odd combo of hardcore gangster violence and ‘sweet’/graphic love tracks that Fifty puts on his albums always sort of confuses me – in the same way that I was always baffled why Pearl Jam’s Ten had eleven tracks. Luckily, Before I Self Destruct is mainly the former – darker tales of killing his enemies, (the aptly named “Death To My Enemies”) and more than a few disses to his peers (the equally aptly named “So Disrespectful”). Fifty, who produces, writes, directs and stars in a feature film called “Before I Self Destruct” that is included with the album, is quite the renaissance man these days. A sequel, to be included with his next album (Before I Self Destruct Pt. 2) is already in the works. Recently a director himself, it seems like he’s also begun to appreciate the avant garde in film making, as he based the video for the first single (“OK, You’re Right”) on a short film directed by Swedish filmmaker Adam Berg called “Carousel.” Berg’s film, that, like the Fifty video features cops doing battle with clown-masked thugs, won the Film Grand Prix at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival. Who would’ve ever thought a crack dealer from Queens could make it this far?
Download: “Psycho ft. Eminem,” “OK, You’re Right”
Motley Crue / Greatest Hits / Universal
These words of wisdom come from Denis Leary’s 1992 comedy album No Cure For Cancer from the track “More Drugs”: “Every time you hear about some famous guy overdosing on drugs, it’s always some really talented guy. It’s always like Len Bias, or Janis Joplin, or Jimi Hendrix, or John Belushi. The people you want to have overdose on drugs never would! Like Mötley Crüe would never fucking overdose man, never! You could put them in a room with two tons of crack. They would come out a half an hour later, “Rock on man!” Shit, they’re still alive. Fuck! They’re probably going to make another double-live album now, God dammit!” It’s not a double-live album, but it is a fairly comprehensive greatest hits compilation including every Mötley Crüe song you can think of and some you thought had been written by some other stereo-typical 80’s hair metal band.
Download: “Too Young To Fall In Love,” “Dr. Feelgood”