Returning favorites deliver effective sequels

Suede — ‘The Blue Hour’
THE GOOD: British indie rock group Suede comes back with its eighth, and third since the 2013 “rebirth.”
THE BAD: No complaints.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Produced by the legendary Alan Moulder (Nine Inch Nails, U2, Foals), “Blue Hour” is Suede at its most dynamic and dramatic. Still the modern kings of mid-tempo glam-rock swagger, frontman Brett Anderson and the guys once again embrace layered atmospherics and grand string arrangements, using them to great effect against the standard guitar-bass-drums rumble.
Songs such as “Wastelands” and “Don’t Be Afraid If Nobody Loves You” are equal parts blue melancholy and glorious sunshine — sad yet hopeful at the same time. Savor this record; the payoff is worth the effort. The individual parts shine, but when put together, the songs become all the more effective. The album builds to an early crescendo, followed by a final downward spiral meant to send us drifting after all the thunder and lightning. The extended anthem “Flytipping” makes for the perfect nightcap. When the music’s over, the emotions linger.
BUY IT?: Yes.

James — ‘Living in Extraordinary Times’ 
THE GOOD: British indie legend James comes back with an accomplished 15th.
THE BAD: Not really.
THE NITTY GRITTY: At this point, the band could stick to the winning ’90s Britpop formula that helped bring about its biggest commercial success. Or, it could go off on weird tangents and be a bunch of crazy, middle-aged men. Better yet, how about a happy medium?
That’s where “Extraordinary Times” lands. Frontman Tim Booth and his crew still possess massive pop chops, and they slather them all over big, soaring, melodic bits such as “Coming Home (Part 2)” and “Better Than That.” Then you get the more experimental (but NOT self-indulgent) stuff, such as biting, aggressive opener “Hank” and the buzzing, crackling political rant “Heads.” Booth never gets TOO comfortable, and nor should you.
James isn’t afraid to pull its music in a myriad of directions. That’s why we keep coming back after all this time. Quality and unpredictability maintained for over 30 years — you have to respect that.
BUY IT?: Yes.

Paul McCartney — ‘Egypt Station’
THE GOOD: Legendary rocker Paul McCartney treats us to his 24th post-Beatles studio effort.
THE BAD: Hey, it’s a McCartney record. There are both brilliant tunes and lesser moments. Thankfully, we get more good bits than bad.
THE NITTY GRITTY: The main collaborator this time is pop/rock producer Greg Kursten (Adele, Sia, the Bird and the Bee), who brings a modern polish to the proceedings.
At 76, McCartney could be accused of falling into some nostalgic trappings. “Happy with You” is a snappy little acoustic ditty about contentment. “Confidante” is yet another tune about (probably) John. However, this slightly sappy stuff has always been one of McCartney’s many musical fortes.
Other tracks on “Station” find the man rocking out (“Come on to Me”), getting topical (“People Want Peace”) and tossing us a few ascending ballads (“Do It Now”). None of it is very surprising, yet none of it is cringe-worthy, either. “Egypt Station” is what it is — McCartney being McCartney. We’ll take it.
BUY IT?: Sure.