Feature

Review of reviews: Music

Bruce Springsteen, Kate Royal, The Pipettes, and Dashboard Confessional

Bruce Springsteen
Magic
(Columbia)

***

Bruce Springsteen’s strongest, most enduring albums always have a theme, but Magic is “simply a collection of songs,” said Ben Greenman in The New Yorker. His 15th studio album reunites the Boss, who’s quickly approaching 60, with his old rabble-rousing friends the E Street Band. It’s a welcome reunion, yet Magic “feels inert and calculated, full of stormy guitar, gelatinous keyboards, and melodramatic strings.” Springsteen just sounds like he’s playing Springsteen. I heard something different: an artist who knows his strengths, said Stephen Deusner in Pitchforkmedia.com. Magic successfully recalls Bruce at his best: “The River with its heartfelt populism, Darkness on the Edge of Town in its small-town scope, and Tunnel of Love in its mature take on love and sex.” Throughout his 40-year career, Springsteen has tirelessly told the stories of the same characters: the blue-collar worker, the veteran, the soldier’s widow, the girl next door, the hometown hero—ordinary people living ordinary lives in the heart of America. This time, he “turns his tales into rituals,” said Ann Powers in the Los Angeles Times. There is a “sadder and wiser willfulness” to Magic that is “deeply embedded in lyrics that examine what happens after illusions are shattered and life just goes on.” Springsteen has instilled an air of disbelief and discontent into his “American Bible stories,” giving this album real weight and a lasting relevance.

Kate Royal
Kate Royal
(EMI Classics)

***

Kate Royal’s debut solo recording is one of the most enjoyable I can recall, said Andrew Clark in the London Financial Times. The 28-year-old British soprano has an ability to “blur the line between innocence and sophistication.” A winner of both the 2004 Kathleen Ferrier and John Christie awards, Royal has already proved herself as a vocalist. Here she makes a claim as an artist. She presents an ambitious selection of pieces, from Canteloube to Strauss, to announce her entrée into the classical-music big leagues. The material is “so well chosen, so subtly contrasted, so consistently engaging.” Royal demonstrates her understanding of all the favorites she covers, said Geoff Brown in the London Times. Together with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, under the direction of Edward Gardner, Royal is “at her finest riding the waves of Debussy’s sorrow, basking in Rodrigo’s sunburnt Four Madrigals of Love, and thrilling our ears in the wordless flow of Ravel’s demanding Vocalise en Forme de Habanera.” Yet the most compelling piece is the folk song The Sprig of Thyme, said Patrick O’Connor in Gramophone. The first verse features Royal alone, her voice naked and ascending with the utmost clarity. She sounds so “direct and eloquent” that we can only hope she decides to sing nothing but English on her next album.

The Pipettes
We Are The Pipettes
(Interscope)

***

Of course, the Pipettes are a put-on, said Mike Powell in Stylus. RiotBecki, Gwenno, and Rosay “dance in unison and don’t blink, but they’re not campy.” From Brighton, England, the Pipettes are a true girl group, less sexy than the Pussycat Dolls, but less saccharine than the Spice Girls. Their knack for great hooks, combined with the album’s heavy Motown bass lines and dramatic strings, instead give the Pipettes more of a Shangri-Las style. Their catchy, unavoidably kitschy U.S. debut offers “14 tracks of perfectly executed pop that nod as easily to Belle & Sebastian as they do Phil Spector,” said David Greenwald in Billboard. The cheeky threesome doesn’t fall victim to the heartache and distress that plagued girl groups of the past. The sweet little sexpots may be retro, but they are shamelessly raunchy. On “Your Kisses Are Wasted on Me” and “Dirty Mind,” they sing of love affairs that begin and basically end on the dance floor. The shimmy-shaking “Pull Shapes” and “One Night Stand” make “delicious dessert treats, aspiring to little more,” said Josh Modell in Spin. As the former song says: “I just wanna move / I don’t care what the song’s about.” The Pipettes aren’t looking for much, nor should you. They’re just a few good-time gals who want to sing doo-wop and dance.

Dashboard Confessional
The Shade of Poison Trees
(Vagrant)

*

You have to feel sorry that “emo’s dewy poster boy” hasn’t matured yet, said Adrienne Day in Entertainment Weekly. After all, Chris Carrabba is 32. Carrabba, who records as Dashboard Confessional, is fighting the same puerile demons on his fourth album, The Shade of Poison Trees, as on previous, best-selling albums. Aching hearts, trust-fund babies, and the ambiguity of love all once plucked at the heartstrings of teenagers everywhere, said Caryn Ganz in Rolling Stone. Carrabba needs to move on. Instead, he has safely retreated “back to the stripped-down sound that first made him a star.” This album is all “hard-strummed acoustic guitar” reminiscent of the passionate singalongs his fans have come to know and love so well. Amid the album’s “fervid little love songs full of spite and sentiment,” a few stand out, said Kelefa Sanneh in The New York Times. “Little Bombs” is a pointed protest song and “Fever Dreams” is “150 addictive seconds of falsetto and drum machine.” The material, enjoyable emo but second-rate rock, makes us suspect Carrabba is keeping his best work for the next full-band Dashboard Confessional album. Fans can only hope.

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