Map of the Soul: Persona
(Big Hit/iriver/Columbia/Virgin ***½)
What, never heard of the biggest group in the world? We’ll see how long that remains possible; Map of the Soul: Persona marks the reigning boy band’s third number-one album in 52 weeks, the first time that’s happened since, yes, the Beatles. To say nothing of the many records they’ve set for a Korean act, or their graceful, synchronized swimming-like choreography, or their Jungian lyrical concepts, which Korean speakers say largely deal with mental health.
So even in the neon wonderland of K-Pop this seven-piece is like nothing else, a point driven home when their tightest set yet opens with a tune equally built on “Whole Lotta Love”-style riffs and Kanye-style chipmunk voices. Then Halsey and Ed Sheeran fortify two instant smashes you won’t be able to escape this summer, with the gorgeously Tears for Fears-derived “Mikrokosmos” in between. Translates to “microcosms,” while the closing tune is dubbed “Dionysus.” Have you heard a boy band like this before? Yes, but not since the Beatles. —Dan Weiss
Honky Tonk Time Machine
(MCA Nashville ***)
The title song of George Strait’s 30th studio album (one of only four he didn’t have a hand in writing) is about an old-timer who monopolizes a bar’s jukebox: “And it’s off like a rocket in a neon haze/ Spinning them back to the good old days.”
Such a concept of time, however, doesn’t really apply to the music of the country superstar. Strait has been doing essentially the same thing for four decades — tastefully balancing country traditionalism with radio sparkle — and doing it with a remarkably consistent level of quality. The streak continues here.
To be sure, Honky Tonk Time Machine does have some throwaways. “Codigo” is little more than an ad for a brand of tequila, and “Blue Water” strays too close to Kenny Chesney territory with its longing for the beach. But “Every Little Honky Tonk Bar” gets the set off to a terrifically rollicking start, while the title song is the buttoned-down Strait cutting loose at his most rocking. And “Sing One With Willie,” featuring Nelson himself, has some fun with the fact that the two Texas legends have never duetted before. (Which is astounding, considering Willie’s willingness to guest with just about anyone.)