Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

I wish I could get as revved up about Alicia Keys as Bob Dylan is.

I wish I could get as revved up about Alicia Keys as Bob Dylan is.

I wish I could get as revved up about Alicia Keys as Bob Dylan is.

On "Thunder on the Mountain," from last year's Modern Times, the Bard found himself "wondering where in the world Alicia Keys could be," and later told Rolling Stone, "There's nothing about that girl I don't like."

Kinda creepy, but for her part, Keys, whose new album As I Am (RCA **1/2) comes out today, seemed more impressed than distressed. "We are kindred spirits," she told the Times of London. "He writes from the heart, he writes from the soul - so do I."

That may well be true, but on As I Am, Keys isn't exactly revealing insightful truth from deep within. Her third album and first since 2003's Diary of Alicia Keys is, in fact, not so much Dylan-esque as Linda Perry- and John Mayer-esque. Those are the two songsmiths with proven radio-hit track records who have helped make sure that As I Am is the most pop, and least R&B, release by Keys to date.

It also edges the Grammy-grabbing keyboardist toward the generic. "Superwoman," one of three tracks cowritten with Perry - the ex-4 Non-Blondes singer and song doctor who has had chart success collaborating with Christina Aguilera, Pink and Gwen Stefani, among many others - is an update on Helen Reddy's "I Am Woman." It's an anthem that never evades predictability. Similarly, the I've-fallen-down-but-I'm-gonna-get-up rallying cry of "Lesson Learned," cowritten by Mayer, leans toward Hallmark cliches.

When Keys turned up at Live Earth this summer tearing it up with Keith Urban on a cover of the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter" she seemed ready to remake herself as a rock chick. At times here, as on "Sure Looks Good to Me," she pushes herself to raspy near-extremes. But that Perry collaboration is also cliche-ridden ("Don't rain on my parade/Life's too short to waste one day . . . ").

As I Am is a classy, tuneful package, and it even gets a wee bit wild on the heavy-petting "Teenage Love Affair," which is about running home after school for a frantic tryst. But Keys has referred to this album as "Janis Joplin meets Aretha Franklin," and for the most part, it's far too timid to evoke that company.

nolead begins The Hives
nolead ends nolead begins The Black and White Album
nolead ends nolead begins (A&M/Octone **1/2)

nolead ends The Black and White Album hurtles out of the gate with four nearly perfect, breathlessly rambunctious tracks, all of which recall the Hives' signature hit from 2000, "Hate to Say I Told You So." The harkening back is no problem, though, because "Hate to Say" was itself an exercise in reclaiming the garage rock of '60s bands such as the Seeds or the Standells. The era's simple, fuzzed-out guitar riffs and brash, shouting-to-be-heard vocals still thrill.

But everything rides on those riffs, and while "Tick Tick Boom" (already ubiquitous in Nike and NFL TV spots) and "You Got It All . . . Wrong" sound immediately classic, when the Swedes let keyboards rise to the forefront ("Won't Be Long") or try to be funky ("T.H.E.H.I.V.E.S.") later in the album, they're merely ordinary.

But B&W's sustained opening salvo, plus the later "Return the Favour," are irresistible.

- Steve Klinge

nolead begins Boyz II Men
nolead ends nolead begins Motown - A Journey Through Hitsville USA
nolead ends nolead begins (Decca **)

nolead ends If Michael McCary has left Boyz II Men, who is covering the bass parts on their remake of their old hit, "End of the Road"? This, and many other questions, most of them more existential in nature, come up when listening to the Boyz' latest disc.

Overall, the feel of the record ranges from the sublime to the mediocre. Produced by American Idol judge Randy Jackson, Hitsville covers some of Motown's finest – the Four Tops, Stevie Wonder, the Temptations, the Miracles.

A couple of these hits are home runs. "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)," one of Marvin Gaye's most underrated hits, is nailed by the Boyz. Nate, Shawn and Wanya all take their choruses to high levels over a sleek, sophisticated arrangement that evokes the Funk Brothers at their best; even the wood block, glockenspiel, and shimmering guitar figures live up to the Motown legacy. Too bad little else does.

- Kevin L. Carter

nolead begins Duran Duran
nolead ends nolead begins Red Carpet Massacre
nolead ends nolead begins (Epic ***)

nolead ends Someone else's success does crazy things to people. Take Duran Duran. The quintessential '80s Brit hitmakers haven't ever needed anyone outside its snug-fit circle to make slick smashes. But invite Justin Timberlake and Timbaland to the party and Duran go from bespoke to off-the-rack. (JT and Tim take the reins on a few of these new DD tunes.)

Simon LeBon & Co. didn't need the favor. Especially when you find that Tim and JT tried to turn the Duranies into a high-pitched Depeche Mode rather than "SexyBack" sorts.

Whether it's their co-production of "Nite-Runner," Tim's "Skin Divers" or Justin's "Falling Down," the duo provided little but cut-rate tunes and Tim's trademark mumbles. Thanks for nothing.

The point is Duran doesn't need to sound like anyone but Duran. While the piano-tickled "Box Full o' Honey" features the richest of melodies, the most ruminative of lyrics and a softly assured LeBon vocal, "Dirty Great Monster" is grandly brassy in the band's usual campy 007 fashion.

LeBon says it best on the contagious title track: "Maybe you think you're above this/but baby we know that you love it."

- A.D. Amorosi