Lil Wayne, "Rebirth" (Cash Money/Universal)
Sure, Lil Wayne's rock album is a misfire, the kind of thing that happens when a star overestimates his skills. But if Kid Rock can rap, why can't Lil Wayne try being a rocker?
"Rebirth" is a detour in a hip-hop career that was phenomenally prolific up to the triple-platinum "Tha Carter III," the best-selling album of 2008. After the very premature release of the rock single "Prom Queen," "Rebirth" was repeatedly delayed, finally arriving just a week before Lil Wayne is to be sentenced to jail after pleading guilty to weapons possession.
"Rebirth" often trades away Lil Wayne's bugged-out wordplay and brilliantly flaky delivery -- with its pauses, chants, rushes, leaps, wheezes and slurs -- for annoyingly Auto-Tuned singing, although he can't resist rapping now and then. The lyrics stay on topic, while the music has power chords, crashing drums and more riffs than melodies, along with some shaky jabs of lead guitar probably played by Lil Wayne himself.
What makes the album interesting, though not exactly good, is how it reveals a rapper's view of rock. For Lil Wayne, rock is bombast and cliché in which high-school traumas are avenged, heaven and hell are frequently invoked and existential predicaments are taken seriously. This is rock at its most humorless, as learned from the grim-faced grunge bands, self-absorbed pop-punks, wounded macho rap-rockers and earnest U2 imitators of modern-rock radio.
Lil Wayne and his producers mimic an across-the-board assortment of styles, among them new wave ("Get a Life"), power ballads ("One Way Trip") and, most vigorously, the Beastie Boys ("Ground Zero"). The songs might have been better as parodies than as imitations, although "Knockout" -- a Coldplay homage backing a raunchy lyric -- comes close to being both.
JON PARELES, New York Times
Magnetic Fields, "Realism" (Nonesuch)
There are few albums that would rhyme "gyroscope" and "kaleidoscope" (in a song called "The Dada Polka") but such is the Magnetic Fields' territory, where wide-eyed wonder is buttressed against a conceptual art movement and a pervasive sense of arch camp. "Realism" is a folk album that aims to test the ideas of authenticity and sincerity. The experiment sometimes rewards but too often struggles for urgency and warmth. In the album's 13 songs, genteel instrumentation tiptoes around stiffly polite vocal performances mostly from frontman Stephin Merritt and Claudia Gonson. There are times where the detachment works. The closing number, "From a Sinking Boat," is a gorgeously sorrowful resignation. It's an instance where Merritt's disinterest sounds like self-protection, as if he were steeling himself for the impending loss.
MARGARET WAPPLER, LOS ANGELES TIMES