A "letter," according to lead vocalist Win Butler, "from the suburbs" of Houston by a band now ensconced in Canada, and, as if that conceptual pedigree weren't convoluted enough, the music adds convolutions of its own. Futuristic roots-pop here, Moody Blues meets the Stooges (and maybe Abba) there-a more sonically kaleidoscopic long player hasn't topped the charts in years. What it all means is rather vague, of course, but "City with No Children" ("You never trust a millionaire / quoting the Sermon on the Mount") offers tantalizing clues.
If you can put aside the controversy over the authenticity of these 10 posthumously completed tracks and ignore the bad taste Jackson left in the mouths of anyone with taste buds by winding down as he did (good luck with that), you'll find this album surprisingly enjoyable. It's certainly no less enjoyable than any other album Jackson released after Thriller. It's even conceivable, what with its typically effervescent hooks and danceability, that it's as good as or better than the next album Jackson would've released had he lived.
This unabashed celebration of all things hedonistic will strike anyone familiar with Perry's Christian upbringing and her 2001 CCM album (under the name Katy Hudson) as a particularly meteoric fall from grace. Even Sex-era Madonna might've thought twice about a song as flagrant as this album's "Peacock." Still, old habits die hard: "It's never easy to be chosen," she sings in "Who Am I Living For?," "never easy to be called. . . . / So I pray for favor like Esther. / I need your strength to handle the pressure."
Camille Paglia spent an entire column accusing this album's creator of representing the "exhausted end of the sexual revolution." But The Fame Monster, released in 2009 but resuscitated in a "deluxe" two-disc edition in 2010, seems too slight to herald the end of anything except maybe music with a detectable human presence. Catchier than it is sybaritic (although it is that), it sounds like what computers might crank out were they fed the last 30 years of pop and disco and told to go forth and multiply.
Now 61, Bruce Springsteen has come to represent Big Entertainment liberalism, shilling for labor unions and tax-raising politicians without realizing, apparently, that both are at least partially responsible for the plight of the downtrodden with which he sympathizes in his best songs. But for the first dozen years of his career, he belonged to everybody. And The Promise (Columbia), a two-disc set of previously unreleased material, hails from that period.
Written and recorded in the years after Born to Run made him a superstar and litigation kept him in limbo, The Promise's 22 songs not only comprise the missing link between his first three albums and Darkness on the Edge of Town, but they also find Springsteen and his E Street Band drawing upon a more richly varied musical palette than he or they ever would again. "Because the Night" and "Fire" were even covered by female acts, a not insignificant phenomenon given Springsteen's legendary identification with the "common man."