Music reviews for Oct. 10, 2013

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Gazette wire services
Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Miley Cyrus, 'Bangerz'

For all the antics that Miley Cyrus has demonstrated in the last few months—the wardrobe selections (or lack thereof), the outrageous quotes, the awkward twerking and the rest of her wild child behavior—she could easily grab attention if she did one thing: Let her music speak for itself.

Cyrus' “Bangerz,” her fourth album, is a collection that marks the 20-year-old's musical breakthrough. The former “Hannah Montana” star kicks off the 13-track set with “Adore You,” a downbeat song about love. Other tracks that follow with that energy—“Wrecking Ball,” “My Darlin'” and “Somewhere Else”—capture a more mature, nuanced side of Cyrus that we haven't seen much of, and that's a welcome change. When she explores the different emotions of her character and doesn't play the caricature that she's become, you're able to appreciate Cyrus as an artist.

If using the phrase “artist” and Cyrus is shocking, it follows the theme of “Bangerz”—which surprises you, in a good way. When Cyrus teased the album with the radio-friendly party anthem “We Can't Stop”—a song originally created for Rihanna—and said producers would include Pharrell, Dr. Luke and will.i.am, the album seemed like it was going to be a hit machine in the vein of Rihanna or Katy Perry. But Cyrus' jams don't sound like insta-hits; some tracks even feel experimental as she blends elements of alternative, upbeat pop, soft rock with hints of R&B and hip-hop.

The Britney Spears-assisted “SMS (Bangerz)” and the Pharrell-produced “#GETITRIGHT” are addictive, feel-good, up-tempo pop tunes; “FU”—guess what it stands for—has Cyrus semi-angry over a dramatic beat, and it makes for an overall punchy and amazing track; and “4x4,” featuring Nelly, is a pop-twang adventure.

Even “Do My Thang”—where Cyrus isn't too convincing as a rapper—sounds good thanks to the groovy hook that she sings, and will.i.am's Southern hip-hop-flavored beat.

Cyrus' outlandish behavior is helping her get attention. She's become a social media queen, the talk of every news program and music's “it” girl, even stealing thunder from new releases by Perry and Lady Gaga. It's good for the Pop Star Cyrus, but for Artist Cyrus? Not so much. Aside from everything that made headlines after her MTV Video Music Awards performance, vocally she was horrific.

When less is happening onstage, Cyrus sounds better. Check out her strong singing in a gritty rendition of “Wrecking Ball” on this past weekend's “Saturday Night Live.” If Cyrus would concentrate more on showcasing her music than trying to become the latest shock queen, perhaps we wouldn't be shocked that “Bangerz” is a good album.

—Mesfin Fekadu, Associated Press

Sting, 'The Last Ship'

Ambitious but unalluring, Sting's first collection of new music in a decade is in fact the score to a musical of the same name slated to open on Broadway in 2014. It tells the story of a seafaring man who returns to his homeport, Wallsend in northern England, just as its storied shipyard is closing.

Sting, born Gordon Sumner in that same Tyneside town, pours on the local flavor, often singing in a pronounced Geordie accent. But “Dead Man's Boots,” “The Night the Pugilist Learned How to Dance,” and other numbers work better as stories than as songs. The tone is largely somber, with only “What Have We Got?” naturally suitable to song-and-dance.

At times evocative, “The Last Ship” is marked by musical intelligence. But it resists easy boarding.

—David Hiltbrand, The Philadelphia Inquirer

Nelly, 'M.O.'

Nelly's seventh studio album isn't a total waste of time if you have the patience to get through the first half.

“M.O.” starts with the most boring, ear-numbing collaborations, including the first two singles—the somewhat catchy “Hey Porsche” and the smooth, yet derivative “Get Like Me,” Pharrell's only puzzling contribution. The better tracks flourish when Nelly doesn't require serious vocal backup from other artists such as Trey Songz, 2 Chainz, Nelly Furtado and Nicki Minaj.

“IDGAF,” featuring T.I. and Pharrell, takes off to the dance floor perfectly and the seemingly self-effacing “Rick James” is an ebullient hymn to the party life in bass steps. “Shake Whatever” is a time-bending track blending arcade game sounds with tribal drums, while “Mo's Focused” grinds slowly and smolders the airwaves.

“Maryland, Massachusetts” is the one track that echoes Nelly's earlier work and showcases his distinctive vocals—otherwise he sadly tends to hide behind his guests' voices and styles.

Nelly, who had a massive hit this year with “Cruise” alongside Florida Georgia Line, collaborates with the country duo again on “Walk Away.” It bounces and rounds off the genre mix of the album with an upbeat country hook.

“M.O.” is not a Sunday float parade to leave the house for, but it does have entries worth looking at.

—Cristina Jaleru, Associated Press

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