New Pornographers, "Together" (Matador)

Chiming pop choruses and verbal conundrums are the essence of this songwriters' alliance forged in Vancouver. Its albums are tucked amid the solo careers and other bands of its eight members. The New Pornographers are effectively led by A.C. Newman, who, as usual, wrote most of this album's songs, nine of them. Dan Bejar wrote the three others. The songs they bring are their pluralistic ones, made to be shared by men's and women's voices. Newman, Bejar, Neko Case and Kathryn Calder pass around and share the lead vocals and join in chorales of oohs, whoas, bum-bums and la-las. And they're upbeat, at least on the surface, with hearty guitar strums, sinewy cellos, pumping horns and even some whistling.

The New Pornographers' previous album, "Challengers," let misgivings surface in music that hollowed itself out. But through nearly all of "Together," the New Pornographers sound like a smiley, tambourine-shaking united front, revisiting Merseybeat, Motown, folk-rock, the Beach Boys and Electric Light Orchestra.

The fractured, nonlinear lyrics don't share the euphoria. The album title is the theme: The word "together" appears in two song titles, "Your Hands (Together)" and "We End Up Together," about a younger brother. The idea of togetherness runs through the album's songs, suggesting that we're all together in a worldwide calamity and tenuously together, on a smaller scale, in romances and families.

The music is hearty and sure of itself. It's the kind of pop that, a few decades back, might have sneaked into the Top 40. Now, the New Pornographers treat their retro pop-rock as the one thing they love without second thoughts, as long as they can lace it with complexities.


"Glee: The Music, the Power of Madonna" (Sony)

It sounds like a formula for disappointment: Take TV's "Glee" club -- whose records so far haven't fared particularly well without the visual accompaniment -- and have them cover the music of the quintessential video artist. That's music twice denatured.

But "Power of Madonna" is a pleasant surprise -- at least initially. The first couple of tracks, "Express Yourself" and a tandem "Borderline"/"Open Your Heart," have sonic punch and polish. Of course, it doesn't hurt that "Glee's" Lea Michele has a far better voice than Lady Madonna herself.

But things go downhill as soon as Jane Lynch starts camping up the spoken portion of "Vogue." By the time you get to "Like a Virgin" and "4 Minutes," the songs sound overproduced and melodramatic, more show tune than disco.

Hey, "Glee" kids, next time you take on a tribute album, you might want to pick an artist with a richer catalog. Such as ABBA.