The princess and the KING

Rihanna can’t seem to get from under that ‘Umbrella’, while Cirque du Soleil extends Michael Jackson’s legacy with ‘Immortal’

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STRAIGHT TALK | Rihanna returns with her strangeways in her sixth album ‘Talk That Talk.’

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

Rihanna is a workaholic, pumping out albums faster than Black Friday shoppers busting out the pepper spray.

She was still finding her voice after 2009’s forgettable Rated R, but 2010’s Loud was a success.

She’s back in fine form with Talk That Talk, her new CD. But there’s more potential than perfection here; perhaps it could have been better if she took more time between releases.

Rihanna sings of naïve love with clichéd perspectives on this, her sixth album.

And while the lyrics work, the delivery doesn’t. Starting with “You Da One,“ she takes a page from Beyonce’s book a la 4.

There’s no onslaught, but instead a chill groove with some reggae touches on this decent opener. Although it instills an (unannoying) earworm, it gets messy in its structure.

Energy courses through Talk with “Where Have you Been.” It begins as a dance tune but veers into weird, house music tones. After discovering “da one,” she’s asking where have you been all my life. But producers Dr. Luke and Cirkut (Ke$ha, Flo-Rida) ruin the beat with a mish-mash of breakdowns pulling the song off its trajectory.

The album’s lead single, “We Found Love,” is addictively produced by writer Calvin Harris. The tone, while strong, feels like it would be more at place in the early ‘90s … but that’s not so bad. The keyboards are refreshing and even though the lyrics don’t stray far from the we-found-love-in-a-hopeless-place center; it’s the album’s strongest early offering.

Jay-Z doesn’t add much other than ego to the title track, but it’s here where Rihanna switches from blind love to an assertive woman eager to please. She submits to her lover with tell me how love to you, tell me how to hold you / I’mma get it right on the first try for you. The dancehall groove works and continues into “Cockiness (I Love It),” which leaves little to the imagination with lyrics like suck my cockiness / lick my persuasion. But she starts trying too hard, like Christina Aguilera on Bionic. It doesn’t help the song is poorly constructed.

The songs balance out Talk starting with “We All Want Love.” As straightforward pop, it adheres to a clean structure, which is a reprieve from the schizophrenia before. The lovey idealism returns more so with “Drunk on Love.” Feeling  hopelessly romantic, she’s also creepy-weird. When she moans about craving love, you think if you got in a relationship with her, a restraining order is not out of the question.

Still, the track stabilizes the album, as does “Roc Me Out,” the CD’s best track. Rihanna brings the intensity of her bigger hits. She may never have another “Umbrella,” but this one comes close.

She channels some Janet Jackson in the sexified flirtation “Watch n’ Learn,” but closes with the gorgeous ballad “Farewell.” She’s in broken-up stalker mode with lyrics like even though it kills me that you have to go / I know I’ll be sadder if you never hit the road. Talk about a no-win sitch. But it ends this chapter of Rihanna on a high note.
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Speaking of Jacksons, Michael makes a sort of return with Immortal, the soundtrack to Cirque du Soleil’s newest Vegas-style show celebrating the King of Pop. The album recalls his work from the Jackson 5 up to 2001’s Invincible, his last solo album. (Thankfully, none of the 2010 embarrassing posthumous release Michael is in this mix.)

While the majority of the songs are still by Jackson, they have been reworked, remixed or reimagined by Rihanna producer Kevin Antunes. The double disc of 29 songs is a gloriously clean listen to some of the biggest hits in music.

Where this could easily have been an exploitation of his work (and maybe it is), it only feels like respectfully updated versions of pop classics. When Fergie and Kanye West did their remakes for Thriller’s 25th anniversary, they were almost blasphemous; here, they are merely amplified with tweaks that never take away from that Jackson hit-making magic.

The subsequent tracks of “Gone Too Soon” and “Childhood” display his tender voice in crystal clarity and are tear inducing because they remind he’s no longer here. The added spoken word could have come across as cheesy, but it works.

Immortal reads like a greatest hits with all the obvious inclusions. “Smooth Criminal” retains its power but in shorter time; the “Beat It/State of Shock” coupling is just short of brilliant; and the “Immortal Megamix: Can You Feel It/Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough/Billie Jean/Black or White” belongs more on the dancefloor than onstage.

Given all the hits on here, there is a surprising omission with “Rock With You.” As big of a song as that was, it doesn’t get its own redux. But Antunes clearly has a love for Jackson and this collection lifts the singer far above any controversy or strangeness that plagued him and instead reminds of both his genius and his legacy.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 2, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Heart and beat

David Guetta delivers the same ol’ dance shtick while Chad D surprises

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

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1 out of 5 stars
NOTHING BUT THE BEAT
David Guetta
Capitol Records

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DJ and producer David Guetta is smart at handling hip-hop and rap artists on top of dance beats. He creates a flow that is easy to dance to and the songs aren’t anything more than a party in the space of three to four minutes. But that formula repeats itself in Nothing But The Beat, which shows no real imagination.

Nicki Minaj and Flo Rida bring their talents to the opener, “Where Them Girls At.” The beat is distinctly Guetta but that formula is already showing. Minaj comes up short here, ripping off a TLC flow and playing more as an accessory.

That changes with “Turn Me On.” Minaj goes into Rihanna territory, singing and rapping. There’s no surprise that she can carry a note, but she proves she can hang with any singer out there. This ends up being one of the better tracks.

With “Sweat,” Guetta re-imagines Snoop’s “Wet” single against a sampled beat to amazing effect. Guetta shines here — not with hip-hop generics over a disco beat, but working magic with Minaj and Snoop to create something exciting. His innovation is off the charts.

It’s too much for the last track to save the album, but it’s a glorious attempt. Guetta teams with Sia on “Titanium.” Collaborative lyrics elevate this song to a higher level than any previous track, as Sia brings her clever writing to the table and ends up with as much a voice in this song as Guetta does.

But so much is wrong with Beat that it ends up being a beat down. What Guetta is good at is producing listenable disco. It’s never too obscure or techno, but it’s always the right sound to get a good jog to or sweat it up on the dance floor.

His collabs with Taio Cruz, Chris Brown and Usher are fine but forgettable. He handles Cruz and Ludacris well in “Little Bad Girl,” and Brown and Lil’ Wayne’s skills make “I Can Only Imagine” work as a song and not just a mix. Although Guetta did help Usher lose a lot of R&B cred on “Without You,” it’s embarrassing to hear Usher reduced to this Coldplay/Keane/OneRepublic styled track. This is where Guetta’s mistakes happen. He keeps masturbating to hip-hop and R&B stars, and he’s missing vital aspects that would make his own songs sound better.

He remembers his gay boy listeners with equally unimpressive diva-esque tracks save for Sia. You would think that wouldn’t happen with Jennifer Hudson on “Night of Your Life,” but the song is amateurish and never lives up to her talent. Guetta gives Jessie J the chance to shine in “Repeat;” she doesn’t.

When Guetta isn’t embarrassing himself, he goes way obnoxious on the Will. I. Am track “Nothing Really Matters,” which is more of a yawner than the Black Eyed Peas’ last album. And “I Just Wanna F” with Timbaland and Dev is an exercise in stupidity.

Even with the stronger tracks, this Beat is a dud.

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2.5 out of 5 stars
THE HUMAN LINK
Chad D
Independent

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Chad D is an indie musician based out of New York who’s 2011 release The Human Link garnered him two OutMusic Award nominations. He’s party pop and rap with a message — a whole lot of them. But his ambition makes up for the rough edges.

In the first four tracks, D lays down energetic beats with different stories. “The Story Begins” opens the album in high-energy synth mode with one of the deepest bass beats. The lyrics could graduate a level, but D throws in surprises such as a guitar solo that comes out of nowhere.

“The Human Link” and “Ask and Tell” lean more to his rap stylings, which need some fine-tuning. In “Link,” he’s choppy, but gets more fluid with “Ask.” I don’t even think he’s trying to be Eminem, but he’s clearly the white-guy rapper and a much better singer. “Ask” seems to be the epitome of his intentions with an in-your-face tune about gay issues. But the platitudes are a bit obvious which makes the song miss its mark.

It would be easy to dismiss “T.G.A. (The Gay Anthem)” as drivel. He raps quickly over what sounds like a sampled “Under the Boardwalk” beat. His Michael Jackson “whooos” are misguided and yet he creates a reliable hook and runs with it.

He hits his stride in “Ocean Blue Love.” The song is crazy catchy and his vocals overlap with note maturity. While I don’t mind his rapping so much, “Ocean” is proof that vocalizing is a better forte for him. He could still refine his voice, but he’s more emotive when singing.

D lost me at the title of “Life is a Ride,” which reminded me too much of “Life is a Highway,” a song I loathe. I muddled through rap stanzas like dance with me/ touch my body/ getting’ naughty but OK, my head bopped along. The chorus burst in and Chad D pulled me in. I don’t get into intentionally cheerful songs but the chorus earwormed its way into my head and I was fine with that.

Chad D isn’t afraid to give his strong queer perspective. As he matures, his songwriting should become more refined, but it’s his heart that drives The Human Link and he’s put all of it here.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 23, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens