Kings of Leon, Icona Pop and Cher Lead This Week's New Releases
Album Of The Week: Drake – Nothing Was the Same (OVO/Young Money): It's more incredible that Drake has monopolized the thinkpiece circuit than the rap charts. Listen dorks, rap's been soft for a while now. From Ja Rule's J. Lo fluff to Mariah Carey's various duet partners, only someone who remembers that Stillmatic got five mics in The Source could possibly be surprised by the success of a quotable dope who marries the softest elements of rap, emo and R&B to the smoothest beats of the moment. From the sexist "Ni**as talk more than bitches these days" to the Wu-Tang interpolation on the same song, the only thing surprising on this mostly guest-less showcase is that it's the titan's best album. It starts archetypal ("Furthest Thing" sounds like everything the guy's ever done) before a winning streak from track 7 on and barely quits. The haunting "From Time" into the unnerved car ride ("Hold On, We're Going Home," disturbingly wedded to sublime '80s disco) and the creeping "Connect" all earn their place with his unspooling ambience and disgusting persona. Who says there's no life in a black hole?
Icona Pop – This Is…Icona Pop (Big Beat): No one's more sick of synthesizers than me, which is a pain when you're constantly looking for iconic pop. So the year's dark-horse biggest hit "I Love It" and — its instant classic "You're from the '70s/ But I'm a 90s b*tch" envoi — buys Aino Jawo and Caroline Hjelt some time, and the candy-like 2Pac repurpose "Girlfriend" sticks another minute on their fifteen at least. But except for the minor-key closer "Then We Kiss," surprises are in short supply on this half-hour of unit-moving pop. It makes the most of the two-girl-shouting-in-unison gimmick that will certainly go down as their sonic signature no matter what they pull next to leave it behind. It's no fun to point out a good pop album needs more shots of genius. But they have it in them; the first three songs show no seam from "I Love It" to the springy "All Night" to the sports-cheer "We Got the World."
Kings of Leon – Mechanical Bull (RCA): The Coldplay effect: A band of unfathomable lameness decides to stop boring themselves and earns artistic legitimacy just for sticking around so long. Aside from the early aberration Aha Shake Heartbreak (which was the weirdest album in the world for one week there in 2005), Kings of Leon trafficked in sound-not-songs, a stadium "rock"-not-rock that slowed arenas to a waving crawl and makes the excellent "Don't Matter" here and its ripping solo all the more shocking. Like Chris Martin and co., the Followill brothers didn't have to write catchy songs to make millions when a voice and a feel would do, and the fact they did here means they've chosen to enjoy their unlikely success. Good.
Cher – Closer to the Truth (Warner Bros.): Is it possible for dance music to be inert? Just ask the many pop stars of yesterday who've reinvented themselves with it to mixed results—Kylie sure, Bowie nah—and you can tell Cher hasn't done a record in 12 years because she entrusts Paul Oakenfold with the bland first single "Woman's World" (followed unironically by "Take It Like a Man," a phrase better heard in the glitterball light of Heather Small or Toni Basil). Her famously androgynous voice is by far the most interesting thing up until the banjo-laden first of two Pink co-writes. "My Love" and "Red" almost have tunes, but the best tune here is the sweet, if list-y reminiscence "Favorite Scars." Still, it's hard not to dream of what Taylor Swift would do with the conceit. And it's hard to imagine what would be left of this album if you drained it of the now-accursed Autotune she invented slightly more than 12 years ago. See who else made the list.
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