It’s hard to say whether this synthpop confection picks up where 2011’s Celestial Electric left off or vice versa because there’s a time-traveler quality to Lee’s infusion of AM-friendly hooks into the music of the spheres. That’s “AM,” incidentally, as in “radio”—“Two Times” and the cover of “Steppin’ Out” practically beg Alan Parsons to roll over and tell Joe Jackson the news. But Lee is just as friendly to AM the singer, whose easygoing vocals are as nondaft as they are nonpunk.
This “dreampopster”’s having grown up listening to Amy Grant may explain the melodic flexibility of her dulcet voice and her knack for crafting confessional lyrics to which believers and unbelievers at particularly vulnerable moments in their lives can relate, i.e., the pop part. But it doesn’t explain the dreaminess. Curtis has married into that by exchanging vows with the electronics maestro Jamie Hill. And not since Agnetha Fältskog and Frida Lyngstad married Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson respectively has a musical marriage sounded so made in heaven.
After 16 years of trying to become the world’s most popular techno-dance act in particular, Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo now find themselves the world’s most popular pop act in general. How else to refer to the makers of an album that debuts at Number One in 20 countries? Eschewing samples and Auto-Tune for live drums, vocoders, Nile Rogers, and Giorgio Moroder, these two Frenchmen set out to take the ’70s and ’80s pop they grew up loving into the future. They’ve succeeded.
His CCM producer-performer accomplishments notwithstanding, it’s for singing Kansas’s final hit 31 years ago that Elefante will most be remembered. Appropriately, he has invited the Kansans David Ragsdale (violin) and Rich Williams (guitar) to contribute to this album’s lead track and made every song expressive of the heartland progressive hard rock for which Kansas became famous. True, the cover art recalls Yes, but the lyrics don’t. They’re as explicitly Christian as anything written by Kerry Livgren. And Elefante’s age-defying 55-year-old pipes do them justice.
A generation ago, the 13 profanities that pockmark the otherwise smooth road traveled by the veteran rapper Aceyalone on his latest album, Leanin’ on Slick (Decon), would’ve stigmatized him as transgressive. Nowadays, when most rappers pack at least 13 profanities into every song, Aceyalone (pronounced “A.C. Alone”) seems like a Goody Two-shoes. Furthermore, he auto-tweaks his expletives, making them radio (if not family) friendly, and 10 of his 13 latest songs contain no cussing at all. Such steps in the right direction should be encouraged.
What he uses his vulgarity-free syllables to say should be encouraged too. “Greener grass don’t mean no stress,” “If you don’t work, then you don’t eat,” “Life ain’t fair but just don’t sit there”—all atop a hard-swinging, pre-disco funk so infectiously lively that even listeners who don’t ordinarily consider rap to be music will prick up their ears. And the Ray Charles cover is clean fun at its best. —A.O.