5 - 1
The Electric Lady
Janelle Monáe‘s The ArchAndroid could very well be THE best R&B/pop record in the last ten years. With her impressive vocal acrobatics, impeccable production, and all of it being tied together with a narrative that tightroped the line between silly and fascinating, Monáe’s debut record was off-the-charts amazing. There was just no way she could exceed expectations after it, so, The Electric Lady was doomed to be a disappointment. And it kind of is. It could either have been a retread of ArchAndroid, which would not have shown much breadth for an artist who just spent an entire album proving her breadth, or she could have gone for something completely different. The Electric Lady is a combination of both those things, extending the narrative she began way back with Metropolis, but with 25-plus tracks describing this narrative, there is surprisingly little development.
Charli XCX began her career as a singles artist. Although there was one full (and forgotten) LP swimming out there in the annals of music history, once signed to Atlantic, she began putting out snippets of long players and singles that could fill their own record. “Nuclear Seasons” is amazing, and “You (Ha Ha Ha)”, the album’s lead-in single, is addictive. However, with exceeding anticipation to hear a full-length release, True Romance didn’t make the splash that many of us were hoping it would. It doesn’t help matters that the album begins with Charli’s best track, ever, which sets the album to go downhill from there. While not completely a wash, it sure wasn’t the bang that had a three-year build up.
My Bloody Valentine
m b v
Let the fanatic Valentiners defense of m b v commence. While not my cup of tea, My Bloody Valentine‘s return to music after 22 years was destined to either floor everyone, or disappoint. It succeeded in doing both these things for various reasons. Let’s face it, My Bloody Valentine was canonized as being the forefathers of noise pop. You can’t really deliver to expectations once that happens and while for their fans, m b v was a formidable reuniting, it didn’t pack that same punch that people remember from the divine Loveless. See, that’s the thing with a 22-year gap between albums—it gives fans enough time to snowball your last release into something that transcends beyond its initial intentions, leaving you in a place where you can’t do anything else, but disappoint… until your next release 22 years from now.
The Weeknd did something pretty unprecedented: he released his tripartite debut completely free online with minimal promotion and managed to get himself noticed by some of the biggest players in R&B and hip-hop, played on the radio, and a major label record deal. Some feared that the snagging of a brilliant musical mind funneled through the creative suck of a major label would diminish the Weeknd’s je ne sais quoi—those people are what I like to call right. Kiss Land is a depressingly banal effort from a promising R&B artist that defied traditional success. What made him so great in Trilogy is almost nowhere to be found on his major label debut. Whether it was a case of artistic fatigue or having too many cooks in the kitchen, hopefully his team of execs will leave him be long enough for him to get those creative juices flowing again.
Arcade Fire‘s highly revered 2010 effort The Suburbs, while vacillating at times, ended up in a characteristically good spot upon completion. It drove you to places that were fairly unexpected, and leaving you unsure of where you were being led, it managed to be a pretty great record, one of the best of its kind. Unfortunately, though co-collaborators Win Butler and Régine Chassagne attempt to steer the listener in an entirely new direction with Reflektor, the end result lacks considerable control and effect—compacted with needless dramatics, the album attempts to emulate its stellar predecessor with disappointing effect. It boasts overbloated track lengths, a bizarre premise, and music that is more feels unfinished and kind of rushed, while that whole bobblehead thing they were doing to promote the record is very out of place. The promotional efforts may have been an attempt to position the album in a mysteriously “quirky” manner, but I suspect that it served more as a distraction from an album that is noticeably disappointing, considering their last solid effort.