Album Review: Britney Spears "Blackout"

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"'Blackout' can easily be considered one of the most noteworthy records of Spears' career. But that is not because of Spears' assured delivery, lyrical involvement or breathtaking vocals. It is first and foremost a record that spotlights the ingenuity of its producers. The folks turning the knobs on the soundboard truly deserve all the credit for the brilliant sonics on this album. In reality, they treat Britney's vocals as a glorified sound effect that is as important as the big, fat beats and catchy synth riffs that make up the record."

Read my entire review on BRAVO's OutZoneTV.com


Review: Timbaland "Shock Value"

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After being bombarded with Timbaland productions (and plenty of knock offs) last year, I wasn't expecting much new from Timbaland's own artist album. But he proved me wrong. "Shock Value" is a compelling collection of 17 songs that pushes his signature soundboard-driven sonics into exciting new directions.

Of course, Timbaland didn't do it all by himself on this disc. He received help from a bunch of familiar heavy hitters such as Justin Timberlake, Nelly Furtado, Elton John and Fall Out Boy. He also introduces us to some new talent, including sweet-voiced R&B singer Keri Hilson and the adult rock crooners of One Republic.

First-half of "Shock Value" primarily serves up Timbaland's regular fare: big beats, distorted basslines, melodic synth grooves and cocky rhymes. The production feast kicks off with the high-energy "Oh Timbaland," which contains a sample of Nina Simone's "Sinnerman." It flows neatly into the diss track "Give It To Me" with its hypnotic percussion and Timbaland, Timberlake and Furtado on lead vocals. "Bounce" is a grinding tune that follows with Missy "big ole butt" Elliots' hilarious rap. Timbaland's brother Sebastian gets to shine for a moment on the '80s drone "Miscommunication."

But the record doesn't truly peak until it reaches the semi-experimental "Bombay." Its fusion of wild Southeast Asian beats with Amar Dhanjan's authentic Indian vocals is stunning and further expands Timbaland's muscial horizon. The song clearly demonstrates Timbaland's knack for cutting and pasting elements from different sources and blending it into something that has a universal appeal. In other words: no matter how the odd combination seems, Timbaland knows how to turn knobs and make it work.

He also shows that he is a fan of rock music, soliciting the help of indie rockers The Hives and She Wants Revenge. What he delivers with She Wants Revenge on "Time" is somewhat reminiscent of the musical territory he ventured into with Justin Timberlake on the rocked up outro of "Love Stoned." One Republic's terrific pop ballad "Apology" follows and is unmistakably a single candidate with its dramatic piano riff and melodramatic delivery. The last track on the disc is "2 Man Show" that features Elton John on piano and Timbaland as a conductor throwing around his baton.

The self-confident "Shock Value" is hardly the big shocker it pretends to be but the record does hold plenty of exciting surprises that make this a very accomplished and entertaining effort. (Click to purchase the album on iTunes or Amazon.)

Sample Timbaland & Amar Dhanjan "Bombay" [Buy]
Sample Timbaland & She Wants Revenge "Time" [Buy]
Sample Timbaland & One Republic "Apologize" [Buy]


Album Review: The Killers "Sam's Town"

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You either love or hate The Killers. You either think they are some superficial posers from Las Vegas, or you believe they put their own spin on modern rock unquestionably influenced by the rock gods from the past. I happen to be a believer. I adore The Killers and so my review of their new record  "Sam's Town" is absolutely biased.

I first met foppish singer Brandon Flowers early 2005 to chat with him for his first (and possibly only) significant interview addressing the gay rumors surrounding his persona and lyrics.  Remember the eyeliner? Andy? The boyfriend who looked like a girlfriend? We had a lot to talk about. Since then, I’ve seen the group blow up in front of my very eyes. 

There was a time I could call Brandon's cell phone to hustle him for concert tickets. But times have changed. He is no longer answering my calls. And that's understandable. The group has hit the big time and is moments away from the mainstream. I'm pretty sure that The Killers will launch their third record on NBC's Today Show. Well, maybe not. But you get my point.

"Sam's Town" is a majestic achievement with a bigger, bombastic sound. After the new wave of "Hot Fuss," the group went desperado while looking for their American roots on "Sam's Town." The guys shot for a sound that was authentically American and Las Vegas sans the make-up and glitter.

Largely overlooked is the fact that the disc is a more personal record than "Hot Fuss." Flowers matured as a songwriter, telling stories about his caring father ("Bling"), his troubled uncle ("Uncle Johnny"), his wife ("My List") and his childhood memories of growing up in a small Utah town ("The River Runs Wild").

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Review: Fergie "The Dutchess"

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Forget all that you know about Fergie. Forget about her trampy sense of fashion, her wet pants, her recovery from drug addiction and all that plastic surgery. Just listen to her solo debut "The Dutchess" and be pleasantly surprised by a whole new Fergie. Introduced by the brassy big beats of  "London Bride," the disc is a collection of 14 slick and infectious tracks that makes it easily one of the most noteworthy pop records of the year. Who would've thought?

Yeah, sure. Most of the tunes on the album are rip offs that borrow from every sound, production trick, genre and vocal style that is in vogue right now. But savvy production mastermind Will.i.am deserves kudos for skilllfully recycling existing ideas to create pure pop perfection. His efforts actually help to to popularize many underground sounds. In fact, I'm convinced that without Diplo and M.I.A., "London Bridge" would have sounded a whole lot different.

"The Dutchess" features a range of different styles and moods. One of my favorite songs on the album is the jazzy "Clumsy" that includes some kicky electro grooves. She continues the bold street vibe of "London Bridge" on the next single "Fergalicious" that is based on Afro Rican "Give It All You Got" and JJ Fad's "Supersonic." She goes pop on the delicate "Glamorous," which is Fergie's take on Gwen Stefani's "Luxurious." The singer also daringly incorporates some reggae and even ska on "Voodoo Doll" and "Mary Jane Shoes" (that features Rita Marley).

Previously, I have not been impressed by Fergie's vocal range. But on heartfelt ballads like "All That I Got" and the John Legend produced "Finally" the singer tears it up Celine-style. The mid-tempo, acoustic "Big Guys Don't Cry" also prominently features her vocals and should definitely be a single contender.

Fergie's strongest lyrical stand is "Pedestal" that supposedly attacks gossip bloggers and other celebrity hounds. "Record sales are on the mark. And that's about the time the rumors start," she sings. "Who are you and what do you do that makes you think you're above me. But have you walked in my shoes?"

"The Dutchess" is by far one of 2006's biggest guilty pleasures. And even though sales are lagging in its second week of release, I'm convinced that "The Dutchess" will be around for a while.