THE PICK OF DESTINY (2 1/2 stars)
Pick effectively re-creates the arena-rock bombast introduced on 2001's eponymous debut, as J.B. and K.G. pile on the classic power riffs ("Destiny," "Master Exploder"), proggy, sputtering falsettos ("Classico," Black's nonsensical nod to "Fur Elise") and acoustic-folk strummery ("Kickapoo"). The D are also once again joined by Foo Fighter Dave Grohl, who this time around is forced to share the cameo spotlight with the likes of Meat Loaf and Ronnie James Dio. Yet for all the theatricality, the overriding story of how the band meets, commences to rock, defeats the devil and continues to rock never dives in deeper than fratboy-shtick shallows.
The (comparative) sweetness of "Wonderboy" and "Fuck Her Gently" are no more. It's destiny for the duo to rock harder, and more outrageously, than ever. But it's also destiny for the joke- particularly when it's eternally one-note-to wear thin.
Release Therapy (3 stars)
Ludacris has a lot on his mind. Like being responsible for 19 lives as chief executive of his company. And evening the score with potshot-taking rappers who refuse to mention him by name. And setting the record straight about the departure of protégé Chingy from his Disturbing tha Peace label.
We hear all about it on his fifth album, Release Therapy, packaged as his most open and honest. Underneath, however, isn't so much a new Luda as a slightly more mature one-that is, if maturity can be marked by letting the world in on your problems being young, black and rich. Some call that narcissism.
Snippets of the fun-loving, sex-capading rapper who commanded $80,000 for 16 bars are present throughout Release-on the Pharrell-assisted-but-weak "Money Maker," completely useless "Girls Gone Wild" and "Woozy," with the worst chorus R. Kelly has ever penned. But they're what dooms it, cratering Luda's attempts to be rap's top dog.
Five albums into a career defined by acerbic wit, club-banging choruses ("Move bitch, get out the way") and absolutely murdering guest appearances is too late to introduce a tough-talking, proselytizing and battle-rapping persona. Always possessed of the skills to pay the bills, Luda lacked only consistency-capable of making hot tracks but not a hot album through and through.
Release Therapy is a slight retreat in his desire to claim the No. 1 spot. He'd have been better off releasing more of himself lyrically and restraining his baser impulses.
... AND YOU WILL KNOW US BY THE TRAIL OF DEAD
SO DIVIDED (3 1/2 stars)
Like Boston, The Violent Femmes or Liz Phair, Austin, Texas, indie rockers ... And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead seem destined to serve out their musical career under a canopy of fortunate misfortune, fashioned from a cherished early album to which the band can't seem to measure up.
Compared with 2002's urgent, epic masterstroke Source Tags & Codes, last year's proggy Worlds Apart was slagged almost universally as a fiasco when, judged on its own merits, it was far from terrible. Likewise, count on new disc So Divided to draw a scalding barrage of flames even though, coming from most other acts, it might be hailed as a home run.
Though Trail of Dead's latest lacks the reckless temperament of Source Tags, listen without prejudice and you can't help concluding that nearly all 11 tracks have some redeeming value, from the radio-ready rock of "Stand in Silence" to the Elephant Six pop of "Eight Days of Hell" to the dusty balladry of "Witch's Web" to the melodic zigzagging of "Wasted State of Mind," "Naked Sun" and the title cut. Only a flimsy cover of Guided By Voices' "The Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory" feels entirely pointless on what's destined to be one of 2006's most unfairly underrated releases.
When Your Heart Stops Beating a(3 stars)
This album blasts off with big guitars and bigger drums and an opening melody reminiscent of Yellowcard's "Way Away." The lyrics of this first song, "Lycanthrope," are anything but cheery. Sample line No. 1: "And we'll be beaten down without mercy or meaning." Sample line No. 2: "And sometimes at night, I feel like a broken vessel."
Yeah, former Blink-182 bassist/singer Mark Hoppus and totally badass drummer Travis Barker have left the smart-ass Beavis and Butt-Head vibe of their former band and gone all emo! In the process, they've created a punchy album about loss and regret and how everybody in the world except for your one special lady can go to hell.
But let's be clear: This is Get Up Kids emo, not Dashboard Confessional emo. These songs rock hard (well, except for the bizarre vocal-less "Interlude" and the goth-level-depressing "Weatherman"), especially title track "When Your Heart Stops Beating," which fans of Fall Out Boy are really gonna dig. "I'll be there when your heart stops beating," Hoppus sings. "I'll be there when your last breath's taken away." This song sounds about 15,000 times happier than Death Cab For Cutie's much-hyped and similarly minded "I Will Follow You Into the Dark," but it's no less romantic.
Also romantic: "Make You Smile," with guest singer Carol Heller playing the part of a more grown-up Jenny Lewis. Not at all romantic: "No, It Isn't." Both songs are good, though.
Army of Anyone
Army of Anyone (2 stars)
Like a poor man's Audioslave, Army of Anyone brings together members of two of the bigger second-stringers of '90s alt-rock: brothers Dean and Robert DeLeo, former guitarist and bassist, respectively, for Stone Temple Pilots, and former Filter singer Richard Patrick. Unlike Audioslave, though, which combines elements of its members' former bands in a creative and exciting way, Army of Anyone merely sounds like a tired retread of the least interesting aspects of STP and Filter.
While Patrick's band, at its best, trafficked in the intersection of hard rock and electronica, Army of Anyone is straightforward all the way, with nary a drum loop or keyboard flourish. The DeLeos-who write the bulk of the music-are competent enough journeymen players, but without an eccentric vocalist and lyricist like Scott Weiland to shape them, their songs lack any spark. And Patrick's musical value was never his talent as a singer, anyway-his vocals are passable but entirely generic, and the band ends up sounding like particularly uninspired STP ripoffs (especially on "This Wasn't Supposed to Happen," with a riff straight from STP's "Creep"), or perhaps like Talk Show, the equally unremarkable side project the DeLeos embarked upon in 1997 when Weiland was languishing in rehab.
YOUR MOM'S FAVORITE DJ (4 stars)
For once, it's not a put-down: Kid Koala is indeed your mom's favorite DJ. If he isn't, that's because your mom hasn't yet heard the master turntablist at work-hasn't yet heard his lurching take on the Big Easy standard "Basin Street Blues," his many goofball scratch operas ("Music for Morning People," "Emperor's Main Course in Cantonese") or his shimmering-there is no other way to describe it-cover of Henry Mancini's "Moon River." To Koala-born Eric San-the turntable isn't a rhythm instrument; it's a piece of brass, a piano or one of the woodwinds. He does by-ear pitch adjustments on the fly, creating notes-wobbly, faltering notes, but notes nonetheless. Frankly speaking, there may be no one else on this planet who can do what Kid Koala does with a turntable.
Your Mom's Favorite DJ doesn't really break any new ground for Koala-it's largely in the same silly vein as his previous record, Some of my Best Friends are DJs. There are the same addictive grooves wrapped around melodies lifted from children's records. There are the same goofy, sampled-to-vinyl voices pondering what it means to mix records together. This record could begin where the last one ended, and that's not such a bad thing at all. All that changes in Koala's sound from one record to the next is that he becomes more proficient at making it. "Lunch With Pavlov," "Party at Eric's" and "Slew Test 2" find Koala's gifts as a DJ-his fast fingers, his sense of humor, his seemingly innate ability to keep the beat-moving closer to the perfect music he's likely hearing in his head as he works the decks. No wonder your mom loves him so much.