Noteworthy: A roundup of recent pop releases
Neil Diamond sheds the schmaltz; Lenny Kravitz – inspired throwback or tired mimic?; Madonna delivers on dance; Santogold's belated debut.
Neil Diamond – Home Before DarkSkip to next paragraph
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Music-business stalwart Neil Diamond again teams with Rick Rubin, überproducer of Johnny Cash's career-capping quintet of awesome American records, and together they create Diamond's most melodic, mature, and reflective album to date. Gone from this largely down-tempo effort is the "Jazz Singer"-era schmaltz and nostalgic pandering to the retired ladies in the front row; instead, the two consummate pros jettison big orchestration in favor of warm, stripped-down acoustic guitar and piano arrangements. From the epic lament "If I Don't See You Again" to the beautiful duet (with Natalie Maines) "Another Day (That Time Forgot)" to the bare-honest, tear-bringing title track, "Home Before Dark" is the perfect poetic bookend to Diamond and Rubin's gorgeous 2005 "12 Songs."
– Robert Newton
Def Leppard – Songs From the Sparkle Lounge
What could be a better fit for a glitter-rock disc than the words "Sparkle Lounge"? Def Leppard sticks to its big-chorus guitar-pop anthems on the band's new CD, bolstered by arena-ready stomper "C'mon C'mon" and the Queen tribute "Love," a dexterous shift between soothing layered vocals and roaring guitars. First single "Nine Lives," a crossover collaboration with Tim McGraw, sounds like Def Leppard with a Tim McGraw vocal added to the first verse. Not a lost cause, but no cause for hysteria, either. Still, longtime fans will find plenty to like here with straight-ahead glam rockers ("Gotta Let It Go," "Hallucinate") galore. Maybe there is life after Mutt Lange, after all. So go ahead: Pour some sparkle on me.
– Erik Spanberg
Lenny Kravitz – It's Time for a Love Revolution
Endlessly retro rocker Lenny Kravitz returns with a disc that celebrates his '60s and '70s heroes yet again. Depending on your point of view, this makes him an inspired throwback or a tired mimic. There is no doubt of Kravitz's multitasking: He plays drums, bass, lead guitar, sings, and probably handles the catering, too. Like Paul McCartney's solo work, Kravitz spreads himself too thin, winding up with half an album of strong songs – and the rest serviceable if uninspired. The obligatory Beatles homage ("Good Morning") and Aerosmith-styled power ballad ("I Love the Rain") fit the latter category. An endless bittersweet tribute to his late father fizzles, as does lead single "I'll Be Waiting" with its requisite string section. Kravitz cooks on hippie-happy scorcher "Love Revolution" and blends Chili Peppers funk rock with Zep-ready stomp on killer cut "Love Love Love." He also delivers a Stonesy shimmy on "Dancin' Til Dawn" and a slow-build blast on "If You Want It." No revolution here, but, then, who expected one?