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Album reviews

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Country pop

Keith Urban

Fuse (Capitol Nashville/Universal)

It's been three years since Get Closer, and for his eighth studio outing, Urban's teamed up with eight different producers who've worked with everyone from Eric Church to Fall Out Boy to Katy Perry.

Stocked with more hooks than a Cabela's store on opening day of fishing season, Fuse has a contrived paint-by-numbers feel -- insert oh-oooohs here, wailing lead-guitar licks there, thumping dance beats here...

There are exceptions. We Were Us offers a breath of fresh air with assistance from Miranda Lambert on one of the album's few "country" songs. Another track that rises above is Raise 'em Up. Not only does it feature Eric Church, but the track's simple message urges the listener to raise their arms, glasses, voices and ultimately their kids.

Fuse might be catchy overall, but me thinks Mr. Urban's American Idol gig is influencing his music a bit too much. HHH

Download this: Raise 'em Up

-- Bruce Leperre

Rock

Arctic Monkeys

AM (Domino)

It's easy to understand why Arctic Monkeys are so prolific. Preternaturally clever frontman Alex Turner announced himself as a major songwriting talent while still in his teens and everything he's done since suggests a restless talent bursting with ideas. He doesn't stop, and he doesn't stop getting better.

In 2006, the band members were hair-in-face, hoodie-wearing kids. These days they're slicked-back model/actress-daters and their music has similarly grown up. Turner's still writing about the bitterness of romance, but these aren't the songs of a cynical, lovelorn teen. Now he's a wary young man, more than familiar with the vagaries of the adult world, yet romantic enough to declare he'll be "waiting here, ever so patiently, for you to snap out of it."

Musically, AM is a sexy, sinuous beast. The Monkeys are still a guitar band, but they're a guitar band in the way QOTSA is -- the angular corners have been rounded off in favour of groove and mood. Indeed, these are the sort of fluid, funky rhythms that actually help people look good on the dance floor. There's even room for a couple of call-and-response croons. It'll be fun to see what Turner and co. do next. HHHH

Download this: Do I Wanna Know?

-- John Kendle

Ministry

From Beer To Eternity (AFM Records)

Remember when earnest folk singers like Bob Dylan used to sing about how The Times They Are A-Changin'? Well, they changed, and as per his wont, de-facto Ministry leader Al Jourgensen is here with his new "final" album to tell us about how screwed up we are on this planet. Opening with the rather unceremonious and moody Hail To His Majesty, the album then caroms forward at an almost insanely rapid pace, from grindingly hyper-tense industrial metal to dubby side trips all aimed at driving home Jourgensen's socio-political message. It works... and it will get your attention fast.

Tracks like Permawar, Perfect Storm and The Horror drill deeply without sonic remorse and Jourgensen finds new ways to slice spoken word and found sounds into his intense bombast. It's no mean feat to have the band churning at a rocket's pace and then have your synapses snapped to attention by Big Al bawling, "I feel like s--t!" or a television commercial voice-over dryly stating, "Your depression worsens... thoughts of suicide... experience a world of freshness," on Side FX Include Mikey's Middle Finger.

It may make you a bit edgy but Jourgensen's points are made well even within his over-the-top presentation. Can't take it? Jump to the Thankx But No Thankx and sink into its bass-driven, dub reggae-like morass and enjoy the quiet. HHH

Download this: Fairly Unbalanced

-- Jeff Monk

Jazz

ALEXIS CUADRADO

A Lorca Soundscape (Sunnyside Records)

Alexia Cuadrado joins the ranks of crusading jazz bassists Charles Mingus (Fables of Faubus) and Charlie Haden and his Liberation Music Orchestra with his protest album A Lorca Soundscape.

Barcelona-born, New York-based Cuadrado references Poeta en Nueva York, Spanish playwright and surrealist poet Federico Garcia Lorca's 1930 take on the inequalities of the Great Depression, its cultural shock and loneliness, for his own protest art in the wake of more recent economic meltdown.

You don't need to understand the Spanish lyrics gracefully sung by Claudia Acu±a to recognize the severity of their meaning since Cuadrado's music, equally graceful but firm, delivers a powerful message using Spanish and African modes and flamenco rhythms.

The music -- at times rousing, as in New York (Oficina Y Denuncia), at times contemplative as in Vals En Las Ramas -- expresses the tumult of the economic upheaval and injustice that led to the Occupy movement.

Bassist Cuadrado, alto saxophonist Miguel Zen�n and pianist Dan Tepfer are standouts throughout the recording, and Acu±a's evocative singing gives voice to lyrics most listeners will not understand.

Time will tell if Cuadrado's work will stand up to his predecessors', but it is a fine piece in the tradition of jazz protest. HHH 1/2

Download this: Vals En Las Ramas

-- Chris Smith

Singles

BRITNEY SPEARS

Work Bitch (RCA)

Britney's message is pretty clear: you want a hot body? You want a Bugatti? You want a Maserati? You better work, bitch! Also pretty clear: will.i.am had his dirty little fingers all over this one. It's catchy, it's energetic, but it's also fairly moronic. Disposable, profanity-laden fun that falls short of previous dancefloor smashes like Til the World Ends or I Wanna Go. HHH

AVICII

You Make Me (Universal)

The latest from Swedish DJ Avicii's polarizing new album True is slightly less cheesy sounding than inexplicable mega-hit Wake Me Up, but only by the thinnest of margins. With the shouty/squeaky vocals, honky-tonk piano, and pogo-stick synths, he really wants you to label this cutting-edge, experimental EDM, but in the end, it's a bit of a dog's breakfast. HH 1/2

REDFOO

Let's Get Ridiculous (Universal)

The title essentially tells you everything you need to know about this heavily auto-tuned, heavily obnoxious club track from the former one half of LMFAO. Listening to this while jumping up and down like a maniac on a packed dancefloor in a haze of sweat and J§gerbombs is probably acceptable. Listening to it almost anywhere else, though, and you're risking a slap in the head. HH 1/2

-- reviewed by Steve Adams

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 19, 2013 ??65532

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