Music reviews for March 27, 2014

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Gazette wire services
Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Elton John, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (40th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition)”

It's time to dig yet again into the Elton John archives. Ten years have passed since the release of the “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road 30th Anniversary Deluxe Edition.”

Happily, the four-CD, one-DVD set to commemorate the album's 40th anniversary is more than mere record label recycling. Included are a CD of “GBYBR” songs covered by contemporary artists, two discs of a 1973 concert with John and his band in top form, a handsome 100-page hardcover book and a DVD of a long out-of-print 1973 documentary by the British filmmaker Bryan Forbes.

The artists performing the covers are younger than the original album, a testament to its durability. Best is English singer Ed Sheeran, who transforms “Candle In the Wind” into strummy folk, and Irish musician Imelda May, who applies rockabilly zeal to “Your Sister Can't Twist (But She Can Rock 'n Roll).” Alas, Fall Out Boy reduces “Saturday Night's Alright (For Fighting)” to a pep rally, and an R&B/rap remake of “Bennie and the Jets” by Grammy winner Miguel and Wale fizzles.

John's album has been remastered yet again and sounds better than ever. The loud-to-soft contrasts are remarkable for a pop record, rewarding owners of quality sound equipment. Dee Murray's underrated bass work, Nigel Olsson's angelic high harmonies and Davey Johnstone's seven guitar parts on “Saturday Night” can be appreciated as never before.

Like the dynamic range, the range of material remains impressive. A musical sponge from childhood, John was at his prolific peak when the two-disc LP, 17-song set was written and recorded in a span of just two weeks. Bernie Taupin's cinematic lyrics become Technicolor tunes, and “GBYBR” is an unsurpassed distillation of rock's golden era spanning both sides of the Atlantic. John draws on the Beatles and the Stones, the Beach Boys and the Band, Bob Marley, “Soul Train,” Jerry Lee Lewis and Liberace, and he makes it all his own. It helps that he's in the best voice of his career.

The lyrics are surprisingly dark, given the sunny melodies, and by the end of what used to be Side 3 we have a dead bootlegger, a dead lesbian and a dead Marilyn Monroe. The album is a funeral for one friend after another, and much more. It's electric music, solid walls of sound, cocky, campy, lovely, naughty, silly and, 40 years later, still fun.

—Steven Wine, Associated Press

The Hold Steady, “Teeth Dreams”

The Hold Steady is a garage band at heart, but it's a two-car garage in a nice neighborhood, and there might be a Mercedes inside.

Singer Craig Finn and his mates have always come across as upper-middle-class products who are usually the oldest, smartest guys at the party—and thus the ones who tell the most interesting stories. “Teeth Dreams,” the Brooklyn band's sixth album, is filled with Finn's characteristically compelling characters, mostly female, as he sings about bad company, simple minds, night moves, life in the fast lane, dancing the night away and Pink Floyd. Rock doesn't come much more classic.

To help keep the '70s alive, the Hold Steady doubles down on the guitars, and recent addition Steve Selvidge teams with band co-founder Tad Kubler—a Janesville native—to frame the songs with dense, shimmering sound. It's often pretty, and it always packs plenty of punch. Horns? Strings? There's no need when you're a garage band.

—Steven Wine, Associated Press

Shakira, “Shakira”

Shakira forged a bold, distinctive career in pop long before she reached the mainstream as a judge on “The Voice.”

Her last album, “She Wolf,” was a wild experiment in dance pop that stretched boundaries at every turn, pulling together world beat, synth pop and whatever else fit in her unique musical view. On her new album, “Shakira,” however, she is more focused than ever on charming those who have heretofore been unmoved by her truth-telling hips.

She starts with the megawatt duet with Rihanna, “Can't Remember to Forget You,” that simply screams smash and follows with one clever pop twist after another. Sometimes, she recaptures new wave, especially in “Chasing Shadows,” which sounds like a Latin Pat Benatar fronting the Pet Shop Boys. Sometimes, she goes after the Pitbull market, especially in the stomping “Dare (La La La),” which is already in an ad for Activia yogurt and could be a theme for the upcoming World Cup in Brazil.

But Shakira doesn't stop there. She teams up with fellow “Voice” judge Blake Shelton on the country-tinged pop of “Medicine,” which works out far better than anyone would expect. She heads into Taylor Swift acoustic confessional territory in the lovely “23,” though T-Swizzle would never try a line such as, “I used to think there was no God, but then you looked at me with your blue eyes and my agnosticism turned into dust.”

—Glenn Gamboa, Newsday

Kylie Minogue, “Kiss Me Once”

When Kylie Minogue signed Jay Z's Roc Nation as her managers, many wondered if she would be remade in Rihanna's image. Her new album makes it clear: Kylie don't play that.

Pharrell's help on the disco-fied “I Was Gonna Cancel” certainly raises the stakes, while the EDM-tinged single “Sexercize” will raise temperatures as she coos about bouncing and getting it. However, while so many dance divas feel the need to reinvent themselves, Minogue sticks with what she does best—cranking out one dance anthem after another.

—Glenn Gamboa, Newsday

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