RADIOHEAD "In Rainbows" (www.inrainbows.com) 3 ½ stars
A new album by Radiohead is always a big deal, but the way the British art-rock band is releasing "In Rainbows," its seventh studio effort, is making history.
Fans can download the album from www.inrainbows.com. Cost? Your choice.
Early results show most fans aren't greedy moochers, as only about a third have opted for the freebie. Average sale is $8.
Radiohead has always been a polarizing musical force. Many find the group's experimental noise-rock side cold and impenetrable, and some of it is. But fans cite originality and creative complexity when declaring Radiohead the most important band in the world.
"In Rainbows," by tapping the howl-at-the-moon epic style of 1997's majestic "OK Computer" and the electronic touches of 2000's "Kid A," then adding the bite of raw garage-rock, immediately jumps into the pool for rock album of the year.
Thom Yorke's unmistakable soaring falsetto, both fragile and a bit twisted, is as strong as ever on the ghostly, elegiac "Nude" and the plaintive "Reckoner," which recalls the heartbreakingly beautiful nonsense of Icelandic rockers Sigur Ros. There's also plenty of amped-up muscle: The playfully sloppy garage-rock guitars of "Bodysnatchers" capture T-Rex's swagger, and the careening, downhill drumming of "Jigsaw Falling Into Place" is balanced by Yorke's stream-of-consciousness lyrical style.
Yorke's lyrics largely abandon familiar alienation and nihilism in favor of more straightforward rock themes that tackle actual human relationships. On "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi," he admits, "I'd be crazy not to follow/Follow where you lead," before the song evolves into a typically gorgeous cacophony. The blues-y, meandering "House Of Cards" finds Yorke pleading, "I don't wanna be your friend/I just wanna be your lover/No matter how it ends/No matter how it starts."
But it's an odd touch in the skittering opening track "15 Step" that perhaps sums up Radiohead's continual brilliance - throughout the song, random groups of children scream "Yay!"
Pod Picks: "Nude," "Weird Fishes/Arpeggi," "Bodysnatchers"
JENNIFER LOPEZ "Brave" (Epic) 1 star
The only thing brave about Jennifer Lopez's new English-language dance-pop album "Brave," beyond its title, is releasing an album this bad after dropping a dud earlier this year (her poorly received Spanish-language debut, "Como ama una mujer"). If it weren't for her box-office-friendly tour with husband Marc Anthony - three nights in Miami alone - Lopez might have no career at all if she continues along this path.
At least that Latin CD, derided for having too many ballads from a singer whose voice wasn't up to the task, had a riveting single in "Que hiciste." "Brave," however, is an album aimed at clubs, ala Madonna's `80s music or the more recent "Confessions on a Dance Floor," but it's a dance album devoid of rhythm, style, vocal prowess or life.
Lopez, even thinner of voice than usual, sounds disengaged, even when, on the title tune, she's channeling early Madonna. The mechanical songs lack musical fills, interesting hooks or bridges. Even the CD cover looks cheap.
This isn't the only rotten album to come out recently - Deborah Harry's latest mess comes to mind - but for an artist of Lopez's contemporary stature, "Brave" is shockingly inept.
Pod Pick: Buy a Madonna download instead.
THE TEMPTATIONS "Back To Front" (New Door/Universal) 2 stars
Back in February of 1965, the Temptations (Otis Williams, Paul Williams, Eddie Kendricks, David Ruffin, Melvin Franklin) released "The Temptations Sing Smokey." Forty-two years later, the Temptations (only Otis Williams is still living) release what might as well be called "The Temptations Sing Karaoke." Which is to say, they're covering iconic pop songs.
"Back To Front" is not a bad collection, as far as it goes. It is crisply played by live musicians. It's energetically sung. Bruce Williamson, the sixth heir to the primary lead singer spot vacated by Ruffin in 1968, is a capable front man, though he's hardly Ruffin.
But here's the question: Do you really have a burning need for a new version of "Wake Up Everybody," "Minute By Minute" Or "How Deep Is Your Love"? Especially considering that the Tempts bring absolutely nothing new to these renditions? To the contrary, the aim here seems to have been - with the exception of a few background vocal frills - to ape the originals as closely as possible in arrangement, execution and feel.
For instance, Williamson does an eerie imitation of Barry White on "Never, Never Gonna Give You Up." The thing is, if you have the original, why do you need the photocopy? If you want a great covers CD, pick up Aaron Neville's "Bring It On Home," highlighted by a meditative new take on a ditty called "My Girl." That CD is a must-buy. "Back To Front" is a could-buy, at best.
Pod Picks: "(Every Time I Turn Around) Back In Love Again," "Let It Be Me."
-Leonard Pitts Jr.
LUTHER VANDROSS "Love, Luther" (Epic/J Records/Legacy) 4 stars
Quite a few greatest hits collections have feted the "baby-making music" of R&B superstar Luther Vandross.
Now comes "Love, Luther."
Beyond merely recalling the eight-time Grammy winner's chart hits, this box set is a complete embrace of the life and legacy of the late singer, songwriter, producer and arranger.
The diverse selection on the four-CD, 56-track set ventures from his early days singing in session bands to his hit-making years with Epic from 1981 to 1996 and then J Records.
It includes some previously unreleased material: Demos for the pensive "I'm Ready for Love" and dance ditty "If You Can't Dance" and recordings from a low-key 1986 session in Montserrat, West Indies. Listen closely on "Jump to It," a hit for Aretha Franklin in 1982; he wrote it and sings background.
The set closes with a magical live version of "A House Is Not A Home" (from his first solo album "Never Too Much") that was recorded at Radio City Music Hall in 2003, two months before the stroke that ended his career and hospitalized him until his death in July 2005.
Pod Picks: "A House Is Not A Home (Live)," "Superstar/Until You Come Back to Me (That's What I'm Gonna Do)."