Sound Advice

Posted Dec. 24, 2009, at 5:13 p.m.

BDN staffers write about new albums from across the musical spectrum

The Clipse

“Til the Casket Drops”

(Columbia)

You have to feel for the Brothers Thornton.

Comprising the rap duo Clipse, older brother Gene (aka Malice) and younger brother Terrence Thornton (aka Pusha T) have come out with “Til the Casket Drops,” only their third studio album this decade.

That’s not ideal from a marketing standpoint, but it’s the price Clipse paid for their steadfast independence. The duo from Virginia Beach burst onto the scene with their playful 2002 debut album, “Lord Willin,” propelled by the hit “Grindin.” But battles with their first label led to a move to Jive for the 2006 album “Hell Hath No Fury,” which was filled with stark stories of the drug trade. Creative differences with Jive resulted in another three-year gap until “TTCD” arrived.

Their previous collaborators, The Neptunes, return to produce, supplemented by new voices DJ Khalil and Sean C & LV. The result is a broader sonic palette upon which Clipse spins their lyrics.

The new album samples the moods from both of the brothers’ first two albums, which makes “TTCD” kind of a schizophrenic experience. But, unlike “Hell Hath No Fury,” it shouldn’t be considered a novel, but rather a series of vignettes.

Some have blasted Clipse for being derivative and selling out, especially with multiple guest spots, including Kanye West and Cam’ron. But another way to look at it is that their latest release is more accessible, which is a good thing. It’s no crime to have a hit, or actually enjoy some album sales. “Hell Hath No Fury” may have been a masterpiece, but you couldn’t dance to it, which affected its crossover appeal.

“Til The Casket Drops” has some memorable numbers, although no two listeners likely will agree on which of those are (here’s votes for “Popular Demand (Popeyes),” “There Was a Murder” and “Counseling,” three very different numbers).

Let’s just be glad Clipse is back, and hopefully they will return sooner next time. Their fans, old and new, are more concerned with that than content consistency.

— Dale McGarrigle

Harry Connick Jr.

“Your Songs”

(Columbia)

Over the past couple of years, an alarming number of performers have decided to remake songs that were big hits in the 1970s, with varying success.

Harry Connick Jr. has joined their ranks, also with varying success.

“Your Songs” is a curious collection ranging from the well-known “Smile” composed by Charlie Chaplin to “Your Song” by Elton John. Produced by the legendary Clive Davis, who picked most of the songs, Connick arranged and orchestrated the lot with guest performances coming from the Marsalis brothers, Branford and Wynton, who add their horns impeccably to several of the arrangements.

The song choices seem odd, sometimes jarring and downright random. Connick tries, he truly does. But his style is so much better suited to big band and jazz pieces that things feel a little off with those ’70s era hits that include Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are,” Roberta Flack’s “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” and The Carpenters’ “(They Long to Be) Close to You.”

Connick’s vocals, which rarely have the depth of range you truly wish he could achieve, make the biggest impression in the Tony Bennett classic, “Who Can I Turn To (When Nobody Needs Me).” Its intimate opening seduces you and then builds to a satisfying conclusion, with some smooth trumpet from Wynton Marsalis along the way.

Trailing a close second is the surprise “Besame Mucho,” a seamless combination of vocals and orchestration that works on every level. Every time I hear this, I like it more.

Another winner is “Smile,” with swinging big-band sound that lifts it out of the sadness that permeates the lyrics.

The thing is, if those 1970s hits had been left off the album, it really would have been my songs. Too many of these are “Your Songs,” Clive Davis.

— Janine Pineo

John Mayer

“Battle Studies”

(Columbia)

Three years in the making, Mayer’s fourth studio album is out. The seven-time Grammy Award winner’s new offering, which was recorded at a private home in California over a six-month period, is billed as “confessional, relaxed and liberated.”

The lead single, “Who Says,” is a challenge to conventional wisdom and conjures up a Jason Mraz-Howie Day kind of mellow sound. Selections that should appeal to Mayer devotees include the mournful “War of my Life,” the more uptempo “Assassin,” and a cover of “Crossroads,” but the high points on this 11-song set are batting leadoff (“Heartbreak Warfare”) and No. 3 (“Half of My Heart,” featuring a Taylor Swift cameo).

Astute or eclectic listeners may notice hints of sound reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac or even Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in spots. The central theme is hard to miss as Mayer opines about the painful, combative and warlike nature of love.

“Battle Studies” has no problem measuring up to previous Mayer albums and will likely accomplish the difficult feat of maintaining the sound that fans associate with their favorite artists while also giving those fans a slightly different listening perspective. The ultimate measure of a CD is how quickly you play it again after the initial listen. This was a quick replay.

— Andrew Neff

Annie

“Don’t Stop”

(Smalltown Supersound)

Norwegian electro-pop starlet Annie’s second album, “Don’t Stop,” has had a long and tangled gestation.

After a rapturously received debut in 2004 with “Anniemal,” a collection of lovable and quirky dance songs that quickly became the pop album it was OK for indie-rock kids to like, Annie was set to release her follow-up on Island Records in 2008.

An early version of “Don’t Stop” even leaked on the Internet before Annie and Island abruptly parted ways, leaving the album in limbo. Annie went back and recorded a few more songs, changed the tracklisting, and finally released the new “Don’t Stop” this fall.

The wait was worth it, as Annie delivers a mostly upbeat set of addictive bubblegum pop, sort of like a more demure, less attention-hogging Norwegian Lady Gaga.

The three new tracks she recorded this year with genius Brit producer Paul Epworth (known for his work with Bloc Party and Maximo Park, among others) are all worthy additions: “I Don’t Like Your Band” features Annie dissing a suitor whose music doesn’t live up to the hype, title track “Don’t Stop” has a pleasingly minimal feel to it, just a few synths and a pounding beat, and “Hey Annie” takes the cheerleader chant approach of Gwen Stefani’s “Hollaback Girl” in a more complex, melodic direction.

Add to those songs a solid crop of standouts from the original, leaked “Don’t Stop,” like the sassy “My Love Is Better” (featuring Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand on guitar), the acoustic-guitar-led lament “Bad Times” and the epic electronic heartbreak of “Songs Remind Me Of You,” and you have a pretty perfect modern pop album, one that’s thoughtful and diverse enough to hold up to repeated listens.

Put on “Don’t Stop,” nod your head, dance around your living room and let the winter blues melt away.

— Travis Gass

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