Big Sean, "Hall of Fame" (Def Jam)
Big Sean is working very hard. You can hear it in the deliberateness of his rhymes, which sound labored and dense, rarely smooth. And you can hear it in the content of the rhymes, too: On "Hall of Fame," his second album, he's continually reiterating just how much effort his career takes: "I'm even working half days on my day off." On "First Chain," he raps about achieving his dreams: "I'm on the highway to heaven; look at all the tolls I paid."
It's very much like Big Sean to rap so eagerly about success that he doesn't stop to think about the potential awkwardness — or, for that matter, the potential richness — of likening that success to slavery. He's a rapper obsessed with syllables and trickery and structure, but not much more. "Hall of Fame" is full of rhymes like this — intricate on paper, but grating on the ear. Partly that's because Big Sean has a bouncy, gum-snapping voice that makes him sound as if he were teasing someone on the schoolyard, and partly it's because he sounds impressed with his own cleverness.
Where Big Sean ends up being right about his wit is when he turns his attention to the opposite sex — there's an unprintably titled track with Nicki Minaj, rapped as if to the child of his lover, that's hilarious and classless. And "Ashley" addresses the opposite problem, with Big Sean timidly accepting his role in the dissolution of something that had once been beautiful.
"Ashley" features bracing guest vocals from the elegant young R&B star Miguel, and it's one of several lush songs. Apart from Drake, no other modern rapper has as firm a grip on the central role that melody has taken in hip-hop as Big Sean does. "Fire" recalls early Kanye West productions; "10 2 10" rumbles with menacing thunder, and "Toyota Music" has an ethereal charm. "Hall of Fame" is beautiful more often than it's interesting. Big Sean's ear is working smarter than his mouth.
JON CARAMANICA, New York Times
Franz Ferdinand, "Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action" (Domino)
It has been four years since Franz Ferdinand released an album, and eight since the Scottish dance-rock foursome sounded as vigorous and entertaining as it does here. When last heard from, on 2009's sluggish "Tonight," torpor was setting in. But this time around, FF is on again, making music for the correct reasons. The guitars are razor-sharp, and locomoting tunes such as "Treason! Animals" sport jagged grooves and lacerating self-criticism. "I'm in love with a narcissist," Alex Kapranos sings as he gazes into a mirror of self-awareness. Add a knack for melody to the band's trademark rhythmic flair, and this album amounts to a stylishly energetic comeback. FF performs Oct. 9 at the Skyway Theater in Minneapolis.
Dan DeLuca, Philadelphia Inquirer