-- intro: This week, Snoop Dogg reconnects with his roots while expanding into new territory, Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler makes his solo debut, the new “Ghostbusters” movie gets a soundtrack, singer-songwriter Michael Kiwanuka releases his second album, pop-punk band Good Charlotte returns and Dirty Heads release another collection showcasing their signature sound, fusing rock, reggae and hip-hop. After last week’s triumphant batch of releases, this week returns us to earth, but there are still some true gems waiting to be discovered.
quicklist: 1 title: Snoop Dogg’s “Coolaid” **** text: To a certain degree, Snoop Dogg sounds reinvigorated and revitalized on “Coolaid” which arrived digitally July 1 and on disc on July 15. From the opening one-two punch of “Legend” and “Ten Toes Down,” this sounds like the re-emergence of the rapper who brought you “Doggystyle” in 1993 after the reggae-infused Snoop Lion side-step and the mellow funk of “Bush.” This is an fire-fueled rebirth of old-school Snoop with hard-funk beats and hardcore energy, while at the same time he is also incorporating newer sounds into the mix. “Coolaid” is an expansive 77-minute set packed with guests like Too Short, Wiz Khalifa, Swizz Beats, Jeremih and more.
Considering he’s spent the last few years reinventing himself as mellower, more cuddly figure, the banging “Super Crip” brings back a “gangsta” energy that brings to mind the elements of his Death Row work. This is an unapologetic set that brings back Snoop’s rough edges. Considering he’s someone usually rapping with a mellow-vocal tone, it’s great to hear him rap with aggression and drive in his voice over “Let Me See Em Up.”
It’s hard to tell what caused this restatement of purpose. Perhaps it was last year’s N.W.A. biopic “Straight Outta Compton,” but this is Snoop’s most significant statement in a while. He is reconnecting with his roots and blending elements of modern hip-hop into his sound.
This is a really diverse record, from the Gary Numan-sampling “My Carz” to the sly funk of "Two Or More." Most importantly, this is probably the album most Snoop fans have been waiting for him to release. This is a banging, eclectic party record that well earns its parental-warning sticker. It’s a set packed with funky synths and jagged edges.
“Coolaid Man” Rapping over a flute-fueled beat, Snoop slyly gives himself a new nickname and gives himself props at the same time. It’s a weirdly low-key iconic moment.
“Super Crip” Over a beat that sounds like a far superior update to Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy,” Snoop raps about becoming “Super Crip,” some sort of gang-affiliated superhero. On this album, he gives a lot of shout-outs to the Crips. That being said, last week he did team up with The Game to help organize an unprecedented march with the Crips and the Bloods to LAPD headquarters. This was all done as a peaceful statement to end the violence across this country and to stand with the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Kush Ups” (Featuring Wiz Khalifa) If you expect a Snoop album not to have a song about herbal substances, you don’t know Snoop. This track is made into a highlight by its slightly eerie sitar-fueled beat.
quicklist: 2 title: Steven Tyler’s “We’re All Somebody From Somewhere” **1/2 text: Steven Tyler’s solo debut is said to be a country record, but it really isn’t very country. Sure “Somebody New” has a fiddle and “Red, White & You” has the kind of patronizing patriotism that is injected into a lot of modern country, but mostly, “We’re All Somebody From Somewhere” finds the Aerosmith singer exploring acoustic folk and blues. Also, structurally it finds him not exercising the rock muscles that made him famous but exploring more ballad-territory akin to Aerosmith’s divisive smash-hit, “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing.”
This album is better and more concrete than expected but it still is an awkward move. The title track seems like a blatant stab at modern funk-infused Nashville-fare while there is little need for the whispery, acoustic re-reading of the Aerosmith masterpiece “Janie’s Got A Gun.”
Considering this album counts T. Bone Burnett as one of its producers, it’s almost as if Tyler is going for a swampy trip into “O Brother Where Art Thou” territory. To a certain degree, Tyler can pull it off, but given his rock pedigree and the legendary status he earned in the seventies, it is a letdown to hear him sing formulaic anthems like “Love Is Your Name” and the surprisingly twee “I Make My Own Sunshine.”
This isn’t an unlistenable album. Tyler’s natural charisma still elevates these sometimes bland offerings, but this definitely isn’t the album that Tyler needed to reignite the fire. It’s a diversion. Tyler is still gifted but he is blatantly pandering to a new audience when what we really need is a back-to-basics Aerosmith record.
“My Own Worst Enemy” No, this isn’t the famous Lit song, but it does begin the album on a quiet, soul-searching note. Maybe if Tyler had kept this somber tone throughout this album would have worked. Again, this isn’t all that far some of Aerosmith’s past territory.
“The Good, The Bad, The Ugly & Me” This is an enjoyable blues workout with an admittedly obvious but funny title.
“Red, White & You” As much as I stand by my above criticisms of this song for sticking to Nashville formula and for its forced lyrics, Tyler goes above and beyond to actually turn this song into a success. The Tom Petty references are an interesting touch. I wonder what Petty thinks about this song.
quicklist: 3 title: “Ghostbusters” Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (2016) ** text: First off, let me say this is not an evaluation of the new “Ghostbusters” movie from Paul Feig, which I saw this past weekend and enjoyed quite a bit. This is an evaluation of the accompanying soundtrack, a collection which tries way too hard to impress and mostly ends up falling flat.
Out of the 14 tracks here, five are either direct versions or new interpretations of Ray Parker Jr.’s classic “Ghostbusters” theme. Walk The Moon’s version is somewhat of an innocuous, almost pointlessly straight-forward reading, while Pentatonix’s vocal version is both a mighty display of vocal talent and a beast that truly shouldn’t exist. Just because something takes skill, doesn’t mean it should be done. Fall Out Boy suck all the life out of the song and inexplicably bring Missy Elliott down with them, and Mark Ronson joins forces with A$AP Ferg and Passion Pit to bring us “Get Ghost,” yet another version of sorts no one really needs. One or two renditions would have been enough. This isn’t even counting ZAYN’s “wHo” or G-Eazy and Jeremih’s “Say It Coming,” which both have lyrics that repeat “Who you gonna call?” The soundtracks for the first two "Ghostbusters" movies, yes, tied themselves firmly to their respective movies, but that was more organic and seemed less blatant.
There are also a couple saving graces here. Elle King’s “Good Girls” is a standout and so is Wolf Alice’s rocker, “Ghoster.”
Elsewhere the soundtrack has 5 Seconds Of Summer trying their hands at formulaic party funk with “Girls Talk Boys.” Then we get two random older classics with DeBarge’s “Rhythm Of The Night” and a clean version of DMX’s “Party Up (Up In Here).” While the movie, in my book, succeeded in rebooting the franchise, the soundtrack for the most part fails to impress.
“Good Girls” (Elle King) Elle King’s “Love Stuff” was a well-earned surprise hit last year and she continues to show why on this track which plays during the film’s credit sequence. Combining a retro-rockabilly energy with modern pop, King commands the room with a distinctive rasp. “Saturday Night Live” has a strong presence in the “Ghostbusters” universe. The original was co-written by Dan Aykroyd and starred both Aykroyd and Bill Murray. Three out of the four new Ghostbusters (Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones) have all been cast members on "Saturday Night Live." King’s inclusion here is also an extension into the "SNL" family of sorts considering her father is Rob Schneider.
“Ghoster” (Wolf Alice) The shoegaze and guitar-wall filled sound of Wolf Alice’s excellent “My Love Is Cool” album from last year is also on display here. This track also stands out like a gloriously rocking sore thumb on this soundtrack.
quicklist: 4 title: Michael Kiwanuka’s “Love & Hate” ****1/2 text: After the quiet triumph of 2012’s “Home Again,” British vocalist Michael Kiwanuka ups his production considerably by recruiting Danger Mouse, Inflo and Paul Butler to each helm tracks on his sophomore effort, “Love & Hate,” a powerfully soulful set of introspective socially-aware laments. Danger Mouse makes his presence especially known on the dramatic 10-minute opener “Cold Little Heart,” which possesses an expansive instrumental intro that almost works like an overture.
Kiwanuka’s style is even more developed than it was on his excellent debut. On “Black Man In A White World” he sounds like a cross between Nina Simone and Bill Withers. Few singers emerging today have that kind of gravitas, but Kiwanuka has a vintage, effortlessly grounded sense of delivery that defies his mere 29 years. This is an old-school, timeless record. It will leave you in awe between the sweeping title track and the funky groove of “One More Night,” which almost brings to mind the groove of Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good.” It’s a shame that we’ll never hear a duet between Winehouse and Kiwanuka. They might have actually made ideal duet partners.
“Love & Hate” is a gripping record. It is the kind of album we need right now in this challenging social climate. Michael Kiwanuka deserves some tremendous mainstream love. With passionate songs like “I’ll Never Love” and “Father’s Child” he has surely cemented himself for the ages. This is the kind of record everyone should hear.
“Black Man In A White World” Sounding like a vintage Civil Rights Movement anthem, this is also sadly a song for our times as Kiwanuka confronts racial injustice head-on. This is also a strong descendent of Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)."
“I’ll Never Love” This is the shortest song on the set but it also is one of the most immediately gripping and melodic. This melancholy ballad is the kind of song that would have made a career in the seventies.
“Love & Hate” This is an expansive record with a few tracks clocking in over the seven-minute mark. The title track is a good example. Again, Marvin Gaye is a strong reference as Kiwanuka bares his soul, asking for “no more pain and no more shame and misery” while later repeating “You can’t take me down. / You can’t break me down.” Again this track’s built-in defiance and resilience really connects.
quicklist: 5 title: Good Charlotte’s “Youth Authority” **1/2 text: Green Day and Blink-182 cornered the market on catchy, excellent, sometimes juvenile, sometimes poignant pop-punk, but they also spawned a lot of imitators who didn’t quite get the balance right. On their first album in six years, Joel and Benji Madden of Good Charlotte make a strong stab at maturity. While “Makeshift Love” sounds like it may play well next to Blink-182’s latest album “California,” “40oz. Dream” sounds sonically like a cousin to something 5 Seconds of Summer would try to release. The irony is that the latter track is lyrically about the decline of both modern punk and hip-hop. But with the polish of the production and the forced anthemic elements they are in a way demonstrating part of the problem.
“Life Can’t Get Much Better” is catchy, but it sounds like the blandest offerings from pop radio at the same time. If you are going to release an album on which you decry the decline of punk, you should make it your most raw album to date in response.
Every now and then this record stumbles onto gold, like the slightly unhinged “Keep Swingin’” or the charging “War,” but mostly this shows Good Charlotte as a pop group with slightly rock-ish instincts. Unlike Blink and Green Day, the members of Good Charlotte have never been able to consistently, effectively merge these two sides into something lasting and solid. They have always shown promise and they still do, but “Youth Authority” still falls slightly under the bar even with a few key highlights.
“War” This song has real drive and actually has a tense, pensive energy that brings to mind Jimmy Eat World. If they could have summoned this kind of power for the entire collection, maybe they would have been onto something.
“Keep Swingin’” (Featuring Kellin Quinn) This song succeeds because it takes some unexpected turns as the Madden’s are joined by Sleeping With Sirens’ Kellin Quinn.
“Makeshift Love” Here they achieve the rock and pop balance. This was a single last November and you can see obviously why.
quicklist: 6 title: Dirty Heads’ “Dirty Heads” *** text: Huntington Beach, California’s Dirty Heads deliver a stronger set than their 2014’s “Sound Of Change” with their new self-titled set. With their mix of alt-rock, reggae and hip-hop they are obviously following in the footsteps of 311 and Sublime, although they lack the uniqueness of the former and the surprising depth of the latter. Their close association and repeated collaborations with Rome Ramirez of Sublime speaks volumes about their Sublime associations.
With each record they are growing. “Doesn’t Make You Right” begins with rapped verses about high school art class and ends up breaking into a soulful chorus with a bombastic horn section and a flute. They are evolving into something more sophisticated and the interplay between co-vocalists Jared “Dirty J” Watson and Dustin “Duddy B” Bushnell definitely helps give the group their own unique sound. “Under The Water” and “Red Lights” both would fit nicely on the earthier side of modern pop-rap, while the electric piano solo that anchors “Oxygen” has a vintage appeal.
This isn’t a set without issues. Even though they are finding their groove this is still a slightly gimmicky record which will probably get most of its spins in college fraternity houses, and some of the verses on the rap-fest, “Too Cruel” work better than other, while the groove of that track owes a slight debt to Beck’s “Emergency Exit.” In addition, the electro-vocoder effect on the “Smoke & Dream” distracts from an otherwise semi-decent song. Still on this set, Dirty Heads show some real growth.
Focus Tracks: “Doesn’t Make You Right” This track really works. As stated above the horn section and the flute really add a great deal of excitement to the track, as do the backing vocals. “Moon Tower” This is a warm, welcoming summer anthem about being carefree and young that hits all the right nostalgic marks.
“Oxygen” That opening keyboard riff really sticks its landing and propels the track to another level.
Next Week: New music from Fountains Of Wayne’s Chris Collingwood’s new project Look Park and more.
Missed last week's? Find out which musicians released two of the best albums of the year thus far.