PHILLY'S MOST popular vocalizing Men and Britain's coolest piano rock players lead the new album parade today.
Marking Ten and Twenty: Boyz II Men look both backward and forward with "Twenty" (MSM Music, exclusively at Walmart, B+).
Marking 20 years in the biz, the harmony legends are celebrating with their first set of new material to surface in a decade. Plus they're nodding to the past with a bonus disc of bygone-era hits ("Motown Philly," "On Bended Knee" "End of the Road").
This former quartet spawned here at CAPA has long been a threesome - Nate and Wanya Morris and their high-profile tenor Shawn Stockman. Original fourth "Boy" Michael McCary retired with back problems and personal issues, couldn't even be persuaded to sit in for a few "20" tunes. A Teddy Pendergrass-emulating trouper, he ain't.
But the bigger change - for better and less - is that the three singers have also taken over primary songwriting chores, claiming credit on most of the album's dozen songs.
First time I heard this album, I thought there was way too much over-singing. That suggested the guys didn't have much confidence in their own material, didn't think romantic piners like "Will You Be There" and "So Amazing" really were. (And, um, they're not.)
But the globally-embracing, "change is gonna come" opener "Believe," which they largely wrote, and the even stronger anthemic closer "One Up For Love" (most prominently crafted by their ex-songwriting mainstay Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds) serve as strong bookends.
And there's some prime-grade meat in between - the quiet storm "Slowly," the nuevo, nervy, Motown-flavored "Benefit of a Fool" and Earth, Wind & Fire-evoking "Refuse to Be a Reason."
Babyface's craft also colors the set's most psychologically intriguing romantic notion "I Shoulda Lied," wherein the narrator fears he's just too bland to keep his lady. "My honesty has just become my enemy." Soon a major motion picture?
Coldplay Heats It Up: Their name notwithstanding, Coldplay serve no tunes before their time, before the music's been seasoned to perfection and heated to a rapid boil.
So it goes on the British drama kings just out "Mylo Xyloto" (Capitol, A-), a project which presumes that ALBUMS are still IMPORTANT works of ART, meant to be savored in one sitting.
Every song has a big picture attitude and production to match, as pining vocalist Chris Martin empathizes with listeners about the struggle for self-identity in a cold world where "Every Teardrop is A Waterfall" and relationships go "Up in Flames."
Special faves - the oddly meowing voiced, cartoon-hearted stoner tune "Charlie Brown," also featuring a catchy, Who-like keyboard hook; the shimmery guitar and celeste-scored "Hurts Like Heaven" (a full meal unto itself); the intimate, folky-guitar-strummed "Major Minor" (think Beatles' "Blackbird") and their pumping, thumping rouser "MMX."
"Mylo Xyloto" (the title is exotic gibberish) is sure to be one of the most popular albums for gifts this holiday season. Early birds can pick it up dirt cheap this week, priced as low as $8 to ensure the album's chart-topping debut at No. 1.
Another Biggie: The rarely idle Kelly Clarkson is nothing if not "Stronger" (RCA/19, B). She's oozing self-confidence and content to be sleeping alone on dance pop pumpers like "What Doesn't Kill You" and the revelatory kiss-off "Einstein."
Indie Corner: Hawaiian reggae band (who knew?) The Green get some classic grooves on with "Ways and Means" (Easy Star Records, B+).
Deer Tick go for a rustic barroom brawl of a rock sound with raggedy upright piano, stomping guitar lines and party-hearty notions on "Divine Providence" (Partisan, A-). Infectious in an NRBQ kinda way!
A less-is-more theme also works for the jangly rocking Hurricane Bells on "Tides and Tales" (Invisible Brigades, B). Check out music and offer support at http://www.pledgemusic.
Twang Time: Vince Gill shows off his good time honky-tonk and Southern gospel/bluesy groovin' self on "Guitar Slinger" (MCA Nashville, B+).
Choice picking for fans of Eric Clapton and Lyle Lovett. John Prine devotees will be delighted - and maybe a bit shocked - to hear how he used to sound in his youth on "The Singing Mailman Delivers" (Oh Boy, B+)
The two-disc set, one a radio studio performance, the other a concert set, both date from 1970 and were recently uncovered by Prine while cleaning his garage. He also was a postman back then, and claims to have crawled into an oversized mailbox to escape the Chicago wind and write classics like "Illegal Smile," "Hello In There" and "Your Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven Anymore."