Post Malone, “Beerbongs & Bentleys” (Republic)
The Dallas rapping singer who made his bones with the swaggering 2015 hit “White Iverson,” has come a long way since lyricizing about the famed NBA star. Each track and album since has benefited from rugged guitar lines, trap-ish rhythms, woozy melodies and that warble-rap of Malone’s, with this winter’s “Rockstar” defining his intentions and repositioning rap-rock beyond its ’90s heyday.
Sonically lighter and more playful than its earlier model, Malone’s vision of the rap-rock ethos is weirdly whiny and disillusioned, like a proud drunk at night’s end who won’t leave the bar, but can’t go home. Take “Rich & Sad,” where our hero is so disgusted with his moneyed, romantic lot in his life that he acts out in macho-moron fashion. Malone rope-a-dopes dumbly through a tale of love-em-and-leave-em emo-hop. Luckily, Malone doesn’t linger on the morose or the malignant, and instead rhapsodizes thoughtfully and sensitively about heartache on the acoustic guitar-driven, Beatles-ish “Stay” and the delectably odd and contagiously melodic “Otherside.”
With that brightness and goofiness, Post Malone crafts a winning, multigenre-dabbling, hip hop-infused sound for his retinue of honky-tonk losers and cash-carrying wiseguys.
A.D. Amorosi, Philadelphia Inquirer
Keith Urban, “Graffiti U” (Capitol Nashville)
Watch Urban play guitar in concert and you see an artist transported by the music he makes. Listen to Urban sing, though, and he seems more restrained, especially on his new album. That’s not to say “Grafitti U” isn’t well crafted, or that his goal of weaving pop, rock and dance music into country isn’t worthy.
The current single, “Coming Home,” shows how it all works, with Urban sampling a bit of Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried” to put some twang in the dance groove. When pop singer-songwriter Julia Michaels joins in, it becomes a sweetly effective combination of styles. On “Never Comin’ Down,” Urban moves from funky verses to a banjo-picking, good-time chorus and even takes an Afrobeat detour in the bridge.
However, sometimes you can sense Urban’s anxiety as he leaves his comfort zone. He’s trying hard to keep up on “Way Too Long,” struggling to hit notes in the poppier keys and tempos that co-writers Michaels and Nate Ruess use. On “Parallel Line,” co-written by Michaels and Ed Sheeran, Urban seems wary of the sparseness of the song and fills all the space with countermelodies and echoing vocals that detract from the immediacy and rawness of Sheeran’s best work. Similarly, the impact of Urban’s MeToo anthem “Female” is blunted by the torrent of images in the chorus while the stark verses made his point so powerfully.
Trying new things is admirable. But when Urban is on familiar ground, as he is on the future singalong “Steal My Thunder,” he shows how far his experiments have to go to reach his usual stellar level.
GLENN GAMBOA, Newsday
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