Bowie has now been releasing “comeback” albums for longer than he released the albums that defined wherever it is he’s coming back to. But this much-ballyhooed effort is impressive. Musically, it sounds like a logical extension of the impressionistic-yet-hooky art-rock of Lodger (1979) and Scary Monsters (1980). So why does the cover art paste over the cover art of “Heroes” (1977)? More important, why are three of the session’s catchiest tracks available only to those who purchase the limited-edition Japanese deluxe edition?
The title track of what’s arguably Cocker’s best album since 1982‘s Sheffield Steel proves that anthemic brotherhood rock, done right (i.e., soulfully and guilelessly), still has a place in the jaded, over-saturated communal SoundCloud. The rest proves that the individual strands of a done-right anthemic brotherhood-rock anthem, lovingly extracted and incubated, can, in their own right, push emotional buttons worth pushing. As for the salubrious effects of Cocker’s 35 years of sobriety on a voice that once seemed destined to blow out, they’re palpable.
After 16 successful years in the crossover-CCM game, Tiffany Arbuckle Lee doesn’t need to prove her modern-rock bonafides. Yet prove them she does. Whether beginning “Say Your Name” by asking “When does a scar become a tattoo?” or judging the judgmental in “Unlovable,” she cuts to the quick. And, as if to prove that sometimes good intentions pave heavenly roads, she has named the album Need You Now not to confuse Lady Antebellum fans but to help bear the burdens of the Sandy Hook Elementary community.
This album isn’t a “comeback.” That distinction, such as it was, belongs to 2009’s Murder by Pride. Rather, it’s a “flashback,” an opportunity for the most famous and successful Christian heavy metalists ever to re-record cuts from their back catalogue with renewed vigor and aplomb. So how does refurbished, evangelical ’80s metal sound 30 years past its sell-by date? To quote the title of Track One, “Loud n’ Clear.” Of course, then as now, “Deep n’ Wide” would’ve been preferable. But obviousness has its place.
Forget Justin Bieber. When it comes to contemporary pop, the Justins who matter are Timberlake and Hayward. Not that either of them matter much. Although the former’s latest album, The 20/20 Experience (RCA), has debuted atop the Billboard album chart and is not without its Michael Jackson–channeling, R&B-genre-mashing charms, it’s ultimately shallow. And although the latter’s latest album, Spirits of the Western Sky (Eagle Rock), extends his legacy as the Moody Blues’ cliché-prone, symphonically inclined lead singer with dignity, it’s ultimately dull.
What makes them interesting to consider together is what they have in common: cutting-edge recording technology as audio steroids. Send Timberlake back 40 years, and he’d be dismissed as a flimsy sail in the tempestuous winds of disco. Send Hayward back, and there’s no way he could’ve managed the two dance-club remixes of the Moody Blues’ “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere” that end his new album with a bang.