Britney Spears, “Glory” (RCA)
Coupled with her Las Vegas residency and this fun and fizzy dance-pop album — a welcome improvement after 2013’s desultory “Britney Jean” — the recent MTV Video Music Awards were supposed to be a platform for Spears’ big comeback. It didn’t quite work out that way. She was stiff onstage and awkward in her exchanges with lanky rapper G-Eazy. The performance also made the 34-year-old Spears seem bland and passe compared with Beyoncé, Rihanna and Kanye West.
But her dearth of personality isn’t as much of a liability on recordings as it is onstage. On the best of “Glory” — the hot and bothered “Do You Want to Come Over,” the spaced-out “Man on the Moon,” the cleverly crafted “Clumsy” — Spears sounds engaged rather than vacant, as committed to concocting winning pop trifles as she has been in a decade.
DAN DELUCA, Philadelphia Inquirer
Wilco, “Schmilco” (dBpm)
After a few years devoted to side projects, Wilco re-emerged last year with “Star Wars,” a surprise album that sounded scruffier, rougher and more off-handed than anything the Chicago sextet had done in a decade.
Now “Schmilco” arrives, a product of the same recording sessions that produced “Star Wars” but a much different album. Though it’s ostensibly quieter and less jarring than its predecessor, it presents its own radical take on the song-based, folk and country-tinged side of the band.
The key sonic element is the space between notes, the ambience of the room as an element in the arrangements, the lack of clutter or any hint of excess. Acoustic guitars, hand percussion, brushes and a tinge of chamber-pop emerge as the primary sonic building blocks.
“Quarters,” a small song about a small post-adolescent moment that emerges through decades of memory, is barely there at the start, just a voice and fingerpicked guitar. It’s one of many tracks on the album that evoke the difficult years that precede adulthood. They measure how much — or just as often, how little — has changed in the years since. In these songs frontman Jeff Tweedy recalls the disorientation he felt, the anger and hatred he directed at things that he could not understand. The music, on the other hand, conveys this turmoil quietly, sometimes with a whiff of nostalgia.
“I know a good Armageddon might have made my day, that day,” Tweedy sings on “We Aren’t the World (Safety Girl).” “If I Ever was a Child” blows in like a soft breeze, masking the self-doubt that saturates the lyrics. “Shrug and Destroy” rises barely above a whisper, even as it wrestles with a violent longing.
Alienation is an attitude that teenagers have for breakfast every morning, and one possible interpretation of the narrator’s mind-set in these songs is that those feelings never really go away, we just get better at managing them. Hence, the bare-bones music, a perfect mood-setter for a night of contemplation and contrition, a sign of self-control. But as comforting as this album can sometimes sound on the surface, it’s also strange and unsettling. There is “Locator” with its haywire guitars and paranoid narrative, and the chafing guitar in “Nope” and “Common Sense.”
Wilco has made a weird little folk record.
GREG KOT, Chicago Tribune
• Jason Aldean, “They Don’t Know”
• Wilco, “Schmilco”
• The Head and the Heart, “Signs of Light”
• M.I.A., “A.I.M.”
• Nick Cave, “Skeleton Tree”
• Gavin DeGraw, “Something Worth Saving”
• Teenage Fanclub, “Here”
• Grouplove, “Big Mess”
• Daniel Lanois, “Goodbye to Language”
• Bastille, “Wild World”
• Okkervill River, “Away