Feb 6, 2007

New Music Review

By Kurt B. Reighley
Special to MSN Music

The word of the week is "mature." As in, youngsters growing up, established stars stretching their boundaries ... and one surprise entrant wooing listeners into adult situations.

No new releases this week from the "American Idol" stable, but the nation's other talent factory, Disney Channel, takes up the slack as Ashley Tisdale of "High School Musical" graduates to the big leagues with her debut full-length, "Headstrong" (hear album). The first single, "Be Good to Me" and fan favorite "So Much for You" are gleaming specimens of up-to-date tween-pop, a la Hilary Duff's recent "Play With Fire," while the title tune suggests that 21-year-old Tisdale and her writer/producers (who include hit-makers the Matrix and Scott Storch) were not deaf to the appeal of Gwen Stefani's "Hollaback Girl."

Jiminy Willikers! A new Fall Out Boy just landed in town -- and there's something different about it. "Infinity on High" (hear album), the fourth full-length from the breakout emo-rockers, includes cameos from members of Panic! at the Disco and New Found Glory, and pop-punk riffs aplenty. On the first single, "This Ain't a Scene, It's an Arms Race," funky urban beats alternate with explosive rock. And that's not the only surprise. The 14 selections include productions courtesy of Jay-Z and Babyface; some arrangements incorporate strings, piano and -- attention band buddies -- even euphonium.

U.K. postpunk outfit Bloc Party has grown up, too. Singer Kele Okereke pussyfooted around the topic of his sexuality during the media maelstrom over the group's 2005 debut, "Silent Alarm." Now, he addresses the love that dare not speak its name on two different songs ("Kreuzberg," "I Still Remember"). But sex is only one aspect of "A Weekend in the City"; paranoia and public transport, loneliness and late nights all pop up in its metropolitan musings, too. Without jettisoning the percussive pulse that has made them modern-rock faves, the group diversifies its timbres and tempos under the direction of producer Jacknife Lee (U2, Snow Patrol), with impressive results.

The kids are alright, but the old-timers are even better this week. Idiosyncratic iconoclast Yoko Ono reiterates her powerful influence over modern music with "Yes, I'm a Witch" (love that title). ONO-philes, including Le Tigre, the Flaming Lips, Cat Power and Public Enemy affiliate Hank Shocklee, were given access to her back catalog and permission to do whatever they wished with -- or to -- their favorite songs, retaining as much or as little of the original as they liked. The results are "Walking on Thin Ice," "Kiss Kiss Kiss," "Death of Samantha" and 14 others as you've never heard them before.

Rickie Lee Jones is back this week, too, delivering "Sermon on Exposition Boulevard," a set of songs inspired by the words and teachings of Jesus Christ. If you prefer your hipster patois and jazz/blues/country mix rendered with more of a full-bodied vocal delivery, check out "Children Running Through," the strongest effort yet from multiple-Grammy Award nominee Patty Griffin. This is a versatile singer in her prime, one who can comfortably share a spotlight with no less a veteran than Emmylou Harris ("Trapeze").

Lastly, tuck into "A Date With John Waters." As a special Valentine, the notorious moviemaker compiled 14 of his favorite, um ... well, they ain't love songs, but they'll get your blood pumping. Tina Turner tears up "All I Can Do Is Cry"; Josie Cotton dares to ask "Johnny, Are You Queer?" and Mildred Bailey rallies the troops with "I'd Love to Take Orders From You." Listen to this with that special someone nearby, and you may find yourself re-enacting a scene or two from Waters' sin-sational "A Dirty Shame." (Hey, better that than the climax of "Pink Flamingos").