Returning efforts offer few inspired moments
J Mascis — ‘Elastic Days’
THE GOOD: Singer/songwriter/guitarist and Dinosaur Jr. frontman J Mascis goes the folk-rock route (again) on another solid solo effort.
THE BAD: Nothing.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Ever since Lou Barlow returned to Dinosaur Jr. in 2007, the band has become more of a democracy as opposed to its ’90s version, which saw Mascis calling all the shots. So if J wants to get a little “mellow,” he has to do it on his own. That’s why his solo records hail from a very different place.
On “Days,” the drums don’t punch or kick quite as hard, the electric guitars don’t make your ears bleed, and both acoustic guitar and piano are much more prominent. However, these are Mascis songs through and through. From those slightly melancholy melodies to the distinct vocals, only the settings have changed.
Given a little more volume, tracks such as “See You at the Movies” or “Drop Me” COULD belong to Mascis’ main band. But the treatments they get here are just as effective.
BUY IT?: Yes.
Richard Ashcroft — ‘Natural Rebel’
THE GOOD: British singer/songwriter and former Verve frontman Richard Ashcroft offers up his fifth solo effort.
THE BAD: Same as it ever was?
THE NITTY GRITTY: It’s tough to hate an Ashcroft album, but it’s also not easy to LOVE one. The man always delivers the dramatic hooks, sweeping strings and right amount of fierce guitar. His singing remains rich and expressive; Ashcroft always is the consummate frontman.
However, calling his records formulaic is an understatement. “Rebel” is the first Ashcroft album without long-time producer (even going back to the Verve days) Chris Potter. But other than a slight uptick in tempo, you’ll barely notice the difference. “Birds Fly” and “Surprised by the Joy” are the token pop-rockers. “That’s How Strong” is the epic ballad. “Money Money” is the edgy slice of anger.
We’ve been here before. The pattern is unchanged; the song remains the same. Thankfully, none of the new stuff is disagreeable. “Rebel” is a decent enough record. We’ve simply already heard it.
BUY IT?: Your call.
Muse — ‘Simulation Theory’
THE GOOD: British alt-rockers Muse come back with a glossy eighth.
THE BAD: On the one hand, this is the band’s first album in a while not bogged down by an oppressive concept. On the other hand, this record swings too far in the OTHER direction.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The band teamed up with a bevy of producers and cranked out what is essentially a bunch of singles, now cobbled together in album form. So “Theory” feels a little over-produced and directionless. But there are still slamming moments here.
Tracks such as “The Dark Side,” “Pressure” and “Something Human” are prime examples of Muse’s seamless, sparkling operatic pop/rock. Frontman Matt Bellamy’s vocals soar (as usual) while the band rides big rhythms and weaves layered synths right alongside the guitars. There are definite heavy ’80s influences here that go way beyond the “Stranger Things” style cover art. None of it is necessarily disagreeable, but these guys’ most inspired music is probably behind them.
BUY IT?: Still … why not?