Paul McCartney, “New” (Concord)
Anyone fortunate enough to see McCartney in concert in recent years knows that he has lost very little of his stride and has perhaps even gained a renewed pep. That sense of purpose is reflected on his first album of original material in six years, following his sweet-natured trip into the pre-rock era with last year’s “Kisses on the Bottom.”
A mix of sounds and styles, “New” has echoes of Macca’s brilliant past — especially in the instant earworm title track with its happy high-stepping groove, irresistible melody and falsetto coos — as well as a recognition for contemporary production that favors bent and woozy electronic bits.
This is in part thanks to a host of simpatico co-producers and co-songwriters including Giles Martin, son of famed Beatles producer George, Ethan Johns, Mark Ronson and Paul Epworth (best known for his work with Adele). His terrific touring band also lends heft.
Most crucially, the tunes are here, especially on the slinky, fuzzed-out “Appreciate,” the winsome acoustic swinger “Everybody Out There” and urgent opener “Save Us.” McCartney also allows some raw emotion to spill out on the poignant Beatles remembrance “Early Days.” While there are a few silly love songs in the batch, some of us still haven’t had enough.
Sarah Rodman, Boston Globe
Cage the Elephant, “Melophobia” (RCA)
It’s hard to think of many peers for Cage the Elephant. They’re a young Kentucky rock band riffing on Zep and garage-punk without retro nostalgia; whip-smart songwriters un-beloved by hipsters; rock-radio hitmakers who play with the unhinged mania of a warehouse set. On “Melophobia,” they’re in a class of their own among big, unit-shifting rock bands who can play with the scrap and imagination of van-tour vermin.
“Melophobia” is bit more stoned and mellow than the band’s raucous breakthrough, “Thank You, Happy Birthday,” but daydreams suit them just fine. “Spiderhead” is a great blast of paranoia, and “Teeth” comes the closest of any contemporaries to evoking to ghosts of Jack and Meg White. “Take It or Leave It” breaks ESG’s punk sass down to its parts and rebuilds it as a loopy, fractured funk.
How do you peg all this? Who knows. Let’s just be glad to have such imagination on our drive-time rock radio again.
August Brown, Los Angeles Times
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, “Unvarnished” (Blackheart)
One of Jett’s targets in the new tune “TMI” are those who “make a fashion of passion.” The contempt is not surprising. When it comes to music, Jett has always come across as someone for whom “I Love Rock ’n’ Roll” is more than just a hit song lyric — it’s a statement of purpose.
Her fire remains undiminished on her first album in seven years as she continues to make no concessions to fashion. Sure, strings turn up on two numbers, but otherwise it’s Jett doing what she has always done so well — crunchy riffs, catchy choruses and attitudes that run the gamut from snarling to reflective.
Nick Cristiano, Philadelphia Inquirer