Linkin Park: Living Things
1 1/2 star (out of four)
What does Linkin Park mean, if anything, 12 years after the release of its debut, "Hybrid Theory"? More specifically, what does the marriage of rap and metal mean now that its immediate milieu has passed?
The answer is, sadly, it means what it meant all along: not much. The marriage of metal and rap was, at its best, an interesting hybrid, and at its worst, a cloyingly transparent gimmick, a blend of seasonings that never quite gelled. Linkin Park, as the most commercially successful of the rap-metal bands to have emerged in the late '90s, is stuck with the medium, like it or not. And because the hybrid is a bit of a parlor trick, that fact can be more blessing than curse.
"Living Things" attempts to offer, in capsule version, new takes on the band's proven successes. Along with the by-now extremely tired rapped verse/sung or screamed chorus formula comes an obvious fascination with newer developments in electronic music. Where in the past metal power chords and bass drums with emphasized sub-lows handled the ooomph factor, "Living Things" relies on gritty synths for its low-end movement. Opener "Lost in the Echo" sounds like a mash-up between Skrillex and the Linkin Park of "Hybrid Theory," as the rap/vocal duo of Mike Shinoda and Chester Bennington do their light/shade to-and-fro, and electronics gurgle away in the mix. New outfit, same old body.
Thus, the template is laid, and most of the Rick Rubin-produced "Living Things" follows that template. There are a few exceptions. "Castle of Glass" introduces mild elements of indie-rock and pop, and "Roads Untravelled" is a grandiose ballad. Both provide some welcome relief from the formulaic goings-on, but sadly, neither is a particularly remarkable composition. "Skin to Bone" is better, but is so blatantly indebted to both Depeche Mode and Skrillex that it's tough to take too seriously.
The group doesn't sound so much cynical here as it does desperate to update a formula in a manner that resonates in the present day. Bless them once for trying, and again for attempting to be creative within what seems to be somewhat limited skill sets. Sadly, this experiment in fusing forms has not aged particularly well.
-- Jeff Miers
Glen Hansard: Rhythm & Repose
Though most of the world met Glen Hansard after his role in the indie-film runaway success "Once," the Irish troubadour had already been around the block a time or two by that point. (This fact is what lent his character in "Once" a certain emotional verisimilitude.) As leader of Ireland's the Frames, Hansard spent a long time on the cusp of a breakthrough. When it finally came, it came minus his bandmates. Such is the bittersweet nature of the music business.
As "Once" made more than plain, Hansard is most effective in stripped-down and intimate settings. He conjured and cultivated those settings with "Once" co-star Marketa Irglova in the band Swell Season. And for the first album to be released under his own name, Hansard wisely follows the same course. The instrumentation here -- Hansard's acoustic guitar, unobtrusive bass and keys, restrained drum kit -- unfailingly serves his singing, vocal melodies and lyrics.
It's a voice that can woo you and draw you into its two-days-without-shaving, slightly bummed out, wistful and possibly a touch hung-over setting. It's also a voice that sounds an awful lot like early Cat Stevens this time around, most likely because Hansard has forsaken the occasionally bombastic tendencies of the "Once" material in favor of a consistent desire to under-sing and subtly emote. This approach serves him remarkably well.
"Rhythm & Repose" is beautiful in the way that Jackson Browne's "Late for the Sky" or Ron Sexsmith's debut are beautiful -- it is gently ruminative, achingly melodic, smartly observed, and not afraid to feel a little bit sorry for itself. A perfect album for Sunday morning.
-- Jeff Miers
Kiri Te Kanawa
Verdi & Puccini arias
With the London Philharmonic Orchestra, John Pritchard, conductor
3 1/2 stars
If Leontyne Price was opera in the 1970s, Kiri Te Kanawa was opera in the '80s, with her big hair and big gowns, complete with shoulder puffs. She was beamed all over the world singing Handel's "Let the Bright Seraphim" at Lady Diana's wedding. And wasn't she the one singing "O Mio Babbino Caro" in that commercial for wine, or whatever, that made that aria a big crossover hit?
Nostalgia is part of the appeal of this disc. Te Kanawa's warm lyric soprano is showcased well in these 1983 recordings from Verdi's "Don Carlo," "Il Trovatore" and "La Traviata" (with tenor Laurence Dale) and Puccini's "Le villi," "Tosca," "La rondine," "La Boheme," "Manon Lescaut," "Gianni Schicci" and "Madama Butterfly." (You get only one aria per opera.)
To me, she sounds best when the music capitalizes on the brightness of her voice -- in "Traviata" and in the Puccini. "Musetta's Waltz Song" in "La Boheme" is glorious. The little song from "La rondine" is a delight. And the famous "Vissi d'arte" from "Tosca" is poignant, with Te Kanawa projecting that vulnerability that helps make her such an affecting heroine of Richard Strauss as well as Puccini.
And yes, "O Mio Babbino Caro" is here, too. Also, that is a great shot of Kiri on the cover, with that vexed look she always seems to have.
-- Mary Kunz Goldman
The Time Is Right
2 1/2 stars
Since everyone who reviews jazz discs in America these days seems to be on perpetual female-singer patrol, one could certainly do far worse than encounter a female singer who learned enough from the extraordinary Andy Bey to record Jule Styne's gorgeous tune "Never Never Land" and the great 1930s anthem "Brother Can You Spare a Dime?" Unfortunately, the tunes got through to Faith Harris, but not Bey's powerful delivery of them. The result is that she does far too much embellishment on both -- especially "Brother Can You Spare a Dime," in which she virtually throws out the power of Yip Harburg's lyrics for some uptempo scat singing and cheery pleas to the suffering to take heart. (Bey's irony is a lot more savage.)
It's great that Harris is so positive about the world, but she'd be doing so much of this music a service by trusting the power and lustiness of her voice to carry the day sometimes, rather than jazz scatting and R&B calisthenics.
When she was Ann Faith Harris and living in Buffalo, she was much praised by audiences and critics as part of the Imani Music Workshop. Now that she's living in Atlanta, she dedicates "Compared to What?" to her old "homeys" in Buffalo, and it's impossible not to understand that her religious faith and desire to serve others are both quite real.
She's potentially a great jazz singer -- her voice is three-quarters of the way there already, and so is her taste in what to sing -- if only she'd let the songs carry her a little more. There is some first-rate playing here by trumpet player Joe Grandsen and guitarist Rod Harris.
-- Jeff Simon