CD REVIEWS: AC/DC, Ryan Adams & the Cardinals, Jenny Lewis, Keane, and Marillion
Maturing rockers doing what they know best, a rootsy songster with an audible ache, a British trio adding guitar, and more.
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The track list of the first new AC/DC album in eight years includes tantalizing titles such as "Skies on Fire," "War Machine," and "Smash 'n' Grab." Could it be that these now-mature musicians are turning their attention to global warming, the Iraq war, and Wall Street greed? Of course not. Even Wayne Newton changes his act more often than AC/DC. Once again, the antipodal rockers have stuck to the template of three-minute songs with three chords and double-entendres. When the band isn't writing songs about girls, it traffics in rock 'n' roll clichés (no less than four songs have "rock" in the title). To be fair, nobody buys an AC/DC album for the lyrics. What you want are stompers that are both primal and primordial. Those elements are best exemplified by the opening track, "Rock 'n' Roll Train." It starts with a lone Angus Young guitar riff. The drums enter with the force of a horse kick. And Brian Johnson's snarling rasp is still dry enough to suck up all the humidity in a concert arena. "Black Ice" has its share of simple pleasures. But, apart from "Anything Goes" – almost a pop song by AC/DC standards – the unvarying tempos and over-familiar formula will give your ears ADD by the time Track 15 rolls around.
RYAN ADAMS & THE CARDINALS: Cardinology (Lost Highway)
Credit "Cardinology" for saving Ryan Adams. For years, the songwriter struggled to live up to the promise of his talent by veering between musical genres, seemingly unsure what sort of artist he wanted to be. His reputation was further diminished by a tendency to release several uneven albums a year rather than marshaling his best material for one killer disc. But Adams found a more even keel with a new band, The Cardinals, on 2005's "Cold Roses." The band's subsequent releases haven't always equaled that of Adams's former alt-country band, Whiskeytown, but he seems more focused now, and the group's blend of country rock and garage rock suits him. "Natural Ghost" exemplifies the beauty of "Cardinology": Adams's voice switches from earthy baritone to weightless falsetto as lap steel guitars sigh in the background. The musicians occasionally turn up their amps – "Magick" has a glam-rock guitar riff – but most songs are pastoral in feel. The quieter moments allow one to appreciate imagery such as Adams's description of a neighborhood that's "just the dumps/ with cars iced up/ perfect for writing on if you're wearing gloves." Overall, "Cardinology" makes a strong case for Adams's musical redemption.