June 30, 2016

Various Artists - Rhyme Syndicate Comin' Through (1988)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Hip-Hop
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© 1988 Warner Bros. Records
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Korn - See You On The Other Side (Special Edition) (2005)

*Contains a second disc with 5 bonus tracks.
Country: U.S.A
Genre: Alternative Metal
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              *****
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© 2005 EMI, Virgin Records
AllMusic Review by Johnny Loftus
Korn first talked reinvention with 2003's Take a Look in the Mirror. Self-produced, it was a muscular, effectively brief record that nodded in some intriguing new directions. After that they talked celebration -- 2004's greatest-hits set looked back on a decade of influence and intensity. And yet, it's 2005's See You on the Other Side that's Korn's real reinvention celebration. It's their first album as a quartet after getting left behind by born-again guitarist Brian "Head" Welch. It's also their first venture for new label Virgin. But really Other Side is Korn's acknowledgement that their life isn't all that bad, and it's time to party. It's a heavy record that swings, an album that takes Korn's rap-metal template toward the red-light swagger of the Dirty South's rap revolution. Is it really surprising that Lil Jon plays Jonathan Davis in the video for "Twisted Transistor"? That song's one of eight on Other Side produced and co-written by the Matrix, and it shows. It's Korn all the way, cocky and funky. But it's slick too, concerned more with the shock value of groove than trying to be some poor kid's slap bass confidant, his surrogate therapy session. And it works. It's cool to hear the Matrix getting down with Korn; they keep each other honest, balancing the sheen with the sleaze. Davis, Munky, Fieldy, and David Silveria still bring it, but in a way that's aware of the manufacturing. And that's key, since after ten-plus years, their act was getting a little tired. Why not embrace the cash, embrace the slinkier side of Fieldy's vertical rhythms? The target of "Politics" is obvious, and "Hypocrites" rails against organized religion. But beneath the polemic is the Korn sound stripped, made truly economized and catchy. Diehards are going to gnash their teeth, and clog the message boards with dismissive comments. But isn't it about time for them to move on, too? Other Side is a little too processed at times -- "Love Song" says "Motherf*cker!" just to know it's alive. But then there's "Open Up," running a NIN influence through weird processing, and "Getting Off," which wavers and lurches like Korn chopped and screwed. If rap-metal were ever meant to evolve, See You on the Other Side is the record that does it.

tags: korn, see you on the other side, special edition, 2005, flac,

June 29, 2016

Lloyd Banks - Rotten Apple (2006)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Hip-Hop
Style: East Coast Gangsta Rap
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© 2006 G-Unit/Interscope Records
AllMusic Review by David Jeffries
After a promising debut, G-Unit soldier Lloyd Banks hedged his bets, subdued the hungry, punch line-filled style that defined him, and delivered a so-so effort that coasts on the G-Unit formula. With an EP's worth of heat -- the infectious single "Hands Up" with 50 Cent being the hottest -- Rotten Apple is no disaster, and there's no doubt the G-Unit faithful will get twice as much out of this than everyone else, especially with the G-Unit universe guest list and the numerous raw, freestyle-flavored productions that sound like they fell off a G-Unit Radio mixtape. The long, word-filled flows are here, as are the humorous stingers Banks likes to drop, but his delivery is surprisingly weary, and often on the more street tracks, the production is drab, making it easy to drift away from the words no matter how sharp. Luckily, G-Unit's bag of hooks just keeps on giving, and when Rotten Apple goes for polish, it succeeds. Besides "Hands Up," there's the cool "Help" -- a "one for the ladies" track with Keri Hilson -- and "You Know the Deal" with Rakim, which sounds exactly how Mobb Deep's G-Unit debut should have. Rocking it with a trio of Southern ballers -- Young Buck, Scarface, and 8Ball -- Banks offers the excellent "Iceman" before closing with "Gilmore's," one of those loose, casual, and satisfying numbers G-Unit members always seem to drop at or toward the end of their albums. "Iceman" and "Gilmore's" suggest Banks is the last soldier who should fall into the "I own this/I own that" or "I moved this many units/You didn't move nearly as many" ruts G-Unit is famous for, but he does, too often to ignore. The highlights are way high, but the album as a whole is "fans-only."

The Game - Doctor's Advocate (2006)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Hip-Hop
Style: Gangsta Rap
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© 2006 Geffen Records
AllMusic Review by David Jeffries
While his big rival and former employer, 50 Cent, squandered his success by spreading himself too thin with video games, films, and a whole lot of time devoted to the G-Unit empire, the Game spent his time working the streets with beef-minded, sometimes-epic freestyles landing on mixtapes. Every time the G-Unit versus Game beef was just about to be settled, the Game showed up late to sign the treaty, and then, when he was called out on it, he would retaliate as hard as before, bringing everything back to square one. His mentor, Dr. Dre, told him to lie low, but give the Game good advice and he'll do the opposite, as if he were compelled to do so by some unseen force (probably his mile-high ego). As the release date of his heavily anticipated Doctor's Advocate approached, things got weird. Because of the G-Unit contract, nobody was sure if the album would say Aftermath or Insterscope on the back. In the final moments, it was revealed that the cover art shamelessly references his debut, and then -- towering above it all -- there was Dre's absence from the final product, and yet the album's original, Dre-boasting title sticks like a final "screw you"/"bring it on" pointed right at the haters. As all this drama spills into the actual album and feeds the cocksure rapper's craving for chaos, it becomes obvious the "sophomore slump" wasn't enough of a challenge for the Game, and even more obvious that he's following a career path of his own. Just like The Documentary, Doctor's Advocate is obsessed with the West Coast, especially Dre. The Doctor's name is dropped incessantly, to the point it will drive haters and anyone unfamiliar with the Game's history crazy. The ghost of Dre is there in every instantly grabbing club-banger and fierce street track that arcs up to the key title track, where the Game lays it all on the table with an open letter to the producer. He uses words like "family" and "father" to pay tribute to their relationship before Aftermath and Dre associate Busta Rhymes is brought in as a guest just to amp up the desperation question. On paper, Doctor's Advocate sounds like the blueprint for the most desperate follow-up ever, with the Game treating the universe as his fanboy while constantly referencing people who aren't here and an era of which he's not a part, the golden age of the West Coast. On the crip-walkin' "Da S***" there's talk of bringing back Doggystyle and The Chronic; on "California Vacation," with Snoop by his side, he claims to be previewing Dre's so-far unreleased Detox album; and "Compton"'s old-school bounce is firmly 1993 and produced by will.i.am, who returns to his hood sound after years with the polished Black Eyed Peas. will's transformation back is just one of the magical things that happens around and in spite of the Game's flippant attitude and decidedly one-track mind. Other beat-makers like Kanye West, Just Blaze, Scott Storch, and Swizz Beatz are all on fire, and guests like Tha Dogg Pound, Nas, and Xzibit give their all to an album that doesn't even bother to mention them on the back cover. Course, toying with expectations and respect is the dangerous tightrope the Game walks brilliantly, and while this is nothing new, the fact remains that every track here is as good as or better than those on his debut. There's no precedent for an album that worships a no-show so hard on one hand, flips the bird to hip-hop protocol with the other, and knowingly refuses to push things forward, even flaunts it. What's fascinating is how the Game sets up all these obstacles for himself, just to prove he's unstoppable, and offers a decided placeholder album when most would have gone a different route. The place he's holding is on top, and even without Dre, Doctor's Advocate suggests he shouldn't budge.

June 28, 2016

Lloyd Banks - H.F.M. 2 (The Hunger For More 2) (2010)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Hip-Hop
Style: East Coast Gangsta Rap
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© 2010 G-Unit/EMI Records
AllMusic Review by David Jeffries
Hip-hop sequels were all too common when Lloyd Banks’ 2010 release H.F.M. 2 (The Hunger for More 2) hit the shelves, but besides generating sales, the title does serve a purpose. The satisfying third release finds the G-Unit soldier returning to the fire and punch of his debut album, the first Hunger for More, and making up for the sophomore slump he experienced on 2006’s Rotten Apple. Full-on gangsta numbers like the opening “Take ‘Em to War” -- made even more gangsta by a Tony Yayo appearance -- bring back the mixtape excitement the gruff Banks excels at, while hook-filled yet hard singles like “Beamer, Benz, or Bentley” and “Start It Up” -- which comes with the all-star guests of Kanye West, Swizz Beatz, Ryan Leslie, and Fabolous -- help round out the album, making it acceptable for an aboveground, official release. With names like Styles P and Raekwon also on the guest list, true hip-hop fans will be satisfied, and when label boss and ringleader 50 Cent shows up for the worthwhile “Payback,” the G-Unit faithful are well served. At 13 tracks the album feels right-sized, not overstuffed, and Banks himself is in fine form throughout, delivering stone cold and slow punch lines that are as lethal as ever. When it comes to evolution, there’s really none, but even though he’s been here before, veteran fans will appreciate his return.

Various Artists - Get Rich or Die Tryin' (Music From & Inspired By The Motion Picture) (2005)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Hip-Hop, R&B
Style: Gangsta Rap, Pop Rap
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© 2005 G-Unit/Interscope Records
AllMusic Review by David Jeffries
Lacking the usual G-Unit complete package polish, the soundtrack to 50 Cent's big Hollywood debut is far from perfect, but this sometimes thrilling collection of protégés and slick swagger from the big hustler himself is still worth considering. Since the film is a semi-biopic, it's surprising how non-personal and G-Unit pimping the soundtrack comes off, like Volume 14.5 of 50's G-Unit Radio mixtape series -- just without the interludes that could have helped this disjointed album flow better. Like the mixtapes, the G-Unit roster all get their showcases. Yayo's lackluster "Fake Love" finds the crew's infamous member dryly reading thug lyrics right off the page, while Olivia, Young Buck, and Lloyd Banks fare better with tracks that are hooky but ultimately filler. They fall victim to 50's tendency to throw his executive producer enthusiasm behind the new recruits, who are actually veterans of the game this time out. Mobb Deep have been eased into the G-Unit world with remixes and on mixtapes, but their tracks here are the best yet to come out of the relationship. The rickety beat behind "You a Shooter" suggests 50 is willing to take risks with these Queensbridge legends, while "Have a Party" is the tightest club track yet from the duo, with a perfect Nate Dogg appearance to boot. M.O.P. also get proper handling as 50 provides the hook, then steps aside to let the high-energy crew fly off the handle. As far as the tracks from 50 Cent himself, "Window Shopper" will sit nicely next to "In da Club" and "Candy Shop" on the next greatest-hits compilation, while "Hustlers Ambition" and "What If" are clever numbers that recall the looser moments of his debut, although the latter's AZ diss is a head scratcher and probably a big favor for the under-talked-about rapper. The curveball track that really makes the set interesting is the cold-to-the-bone "I Don't Know Officer" with 50, Banks, Prodigy, Mobb Deep, and surprisingly, Mase all delivering a stark hood tale of no snitching. That the album doesn't even seem aware it's attached to a film is fine, and the "one or two tracks too long" problem is almost a given by now, but this all-over-the-place soundtrack contains enough heat to make it worthwhile for the man's huge fan base.

tags: various artists, get righ or die tryin, music from and inspired by the motion picture, 2005, flac, ost, soundtrack,

June 25, 2016

Korn - Untouchables (Limited Edition) (2002)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Alternative Metal, Nü-Metal
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© 2002 Epic Records
AllMusic Review by Bradley Torreano
After a three-year break that included solo projects and soundtrack work, Korn's re-emergence in the summer of 2002 was met with great anticipation. They delivered Untouchables, an album that shows them building on their previous sound and emphasizing its strengths. The use of melody is more important than ever, allowing Jonathan Davis to utilize his wide palette of vocal tricks. His charismatic voice can now move from a clear-throated wail to a death metal growl with ease, lending the album a manic side that brings to mind King for a Day, Fool for a Lifetime-era Faith No More. The only problem with Davis is his lyrics, which tend to fall into the "am I going crazy" trap that many of Korn's contemporaries perpetuate. This is a shame, because here he often avoids the social issues that he confronted on the first few releases. The band is far more experimental this time out, delivering Helmet-like ringing guitars that melt and morph into each other, a mix of Metallica-esque blastbeats and tight funk drumming from the constantly improving David Silveria, and memorable riffs that take the shape of dark sound structures and offer more than just a collection of chords. In fact, it is the last point where the album sets itself apart from most nu-metal offerings; Korn understand that the overall sound of hip-hop works because of the sonic stew that producers create through samples. The band does the same with instruments, cutting the chugging riffs of the past and replacing them with edgy soundscapes that are equally as menacing. There isn't even a rapped verse here, save for Davis' rhythmic scatting at moments, further distancing the band from the scene it helped create. But by cutting away some of the fat and finding new ways to deliver their trademark roar, Korn manage to offer a strong and lean album that maintains their place as innovators in a genre with few leaders.

tags: korn, untouchables, limited edition, 2002, flac,

Various Artists - Judgment Night: Music From The Motion Picture (1993)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Rapcore
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© 1993 Epic Records
AllMusic Review by Theresa E. LaVeck
Music genres separated along racial divides, like rock and rap, have always borrowed from each other, even if it's bands on the edges of either camp. The soundtrack to the film Judgment Night takes the racial themes of the movie to the soundtrack, pulling together some of the best acts in both genres. Rather than cover existing songs, the bands collaborated on the frequently shared themes of injustice, violence, prowess at the mike, and love of the herb. Every track is exceedingly well constructed and produced, though it's debatable if new ground is being covered. By taking rap acts that already lean toward rock, like House of Pain and Ice-T, and rock acts that dabble in rap, like Faith No More, there aren't many surprises. Two tracks, "Fallin'" with Teenage Fan Club and De La Soul, and "I Love You Mary Jane" with Sonic Youth and Cypress Hill take a decidedly mellow approach. The other tracks feed off each other's rage and rhythm, particularly Slayer and Ice-T's "Disorder" and Helmet and House of Pain's "Just Another Victim." Surprisingly, the only track that really falls flat is the Pearl Jam and Cypress Hill collaboration "Real Thing."

tags: various artists, judgment night, music from the motion picture,, soundtrack, ost, 1993, flac,

June 24, 2016

Various Artists - Pulp Fiction: Music From The Motion Picture (1994)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Pop, Rock, Country
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© 1994 MCA Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
The soundtrack to Quentin Tarantino's darkly funny crime classic Pulp Fiction manages to re-create the film's wildly careening sense of style, violence, and humor by concentrating on the surf music that comprises the bulk of the movie's incidental music and adding a few sexy oldies integral to the film's story ("Let's Stay Together," "Son of a Preacher Man," "You Never Can Tell"). Of course, the inclusion of dialogue and Urge Overkill's seductive cover of Neil Diamond's "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon" doesn't hurt either.

tags: various artists, pulp fiction music from the motion picture, 1994, flac, ost,

June 23, 2016

Various Artists - Belly: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1998)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Hip-Hop, R&B
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© 1998 Def Jam Records
AllMusic Review by M.F. DiBella
The soundtrack from the 1998 debut film from hip-hop visionary Hype Williams consists of a hodgepodge of hip-hop and R&B. The majority of the album showcases the talent of hip-hop's heavyweights in the post-Biggie/2Pac mass-consumption era of hip-hop. The soundtrack also serves as a coming-out party for a promising next wave of MCs. The songs on the album reflect the central theme of the film: the paper chase from the disenfranchised point of view and the treacherous road to the riches that ensues. The opening track, "No Way in, No Way Out" by R. Kelly project Lady, is an R&B rendering of this central theme. The soulful D'Angelo builds poignantly on this theme with his defiant anthem "Devil's Pie," produced by the spellbinding DJ Premier. Aside from two R&B ballads (including a decent remake of Stevie Wonder's "Never Dreamed You'd Leave in Summer" by Bad Boy wunderkind Jerome), the remainder of the album features a number of blazing hip-hop tracks with fierce, sinister beats and hardcore MCs committing verbal murder. On "Grand Finale," the three male stars of the film (DMX, Method Man, and Nas) team up with the growling Ja Rule for a skills exhibition over a fiery composition. DMX gets versatile on "Top Shotter," using his rabid flow over a dancehall rhythm with assists from raggamuffins Mr. Vegas and Sean Paul. Ja Rule goes solo on the icy "Story to Tell." Jay-Z collaborates with his Roc-A-Fella protégés Beanie Sigel and Memphis Bleek on "Crew Love." The Wu-Tang Clan chime in with the eerie "Windpipe" and Noreaga wistfully laments the loss of loved ones on the moving "Sometimes." The LOX and Made Men grab listeners by the throat on "Tommy's Theme" and the final cut, "I Wanna Live" by NAS' entourage Bravehearts, encapsulates the social Darwinistic themes of the film and soundtrack. Overall, a solid album.

tags: various artists, belly original motion picture soundtrack, belly soundtrack, ost, flac, 1998, flac,

June 22, 2016

Eagles - The Best of Eagles (1985)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Rock, Classic Rock
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© 1985 Asylum Records
*No professional reviews available for this reviews.

tags: eagles, the eagles, the best of eagles, 1985, flac,

June 21, 2016

Shakira - Shakira (Deluxe Edition) (2014)

*Contains 3 bonus tracks.
Country: Colombia
Langue: English
Genre: Pop
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© 2014 Sony Music Latin
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Like many eponymous albums, Shakira's self-titled 2014 set marks a new beginning: a new album for a new label after she got a new job. The new job was as a co-host on the hit American televised musical contest The Voice, the new label was RCA, and the new album was her first full-fledged pop album since She Wolf, the rather brilliant, hard electronic dance record that stiffed in 2009. She bounced back in 2010 with Sale el Sol, but that album wasn't made with the U.S. market in mind, something that certainly can't be said of Shakira. Opening up with a duet with Rihanna, and later finding space for her Voice co-host Blake Shelton, Shakira is determined to appeal to all audiences here: don't like the relentless dance of "Dare (La La La)"? Stick around for the reggae collaboration with Magic! on "Cut Me Deep," or maybe the appealing faux-folk of "23" or the full-bore adult-pop assault of "The One Thing," which may be the best cut here. Unlike Oral Fixation, which spilled over with so much ambition it couldn't be contained on a single disc, this is concentrated: every track has its purpose; none has excess. That doesn't necessarily mean that every cut is cohesive but Shakira is the rare pop star who can pull an album together through sheer force of personality. Whatever the setting, she not only sounds comfortable, she sounds powerful, and that goes a long way toward making Shakira a nice state-of-the-art pop album for America and the rest of the world.

tags: shakira, shakira album, deluxe editon, 2014, flac,

Queen Latifah - Black Reign (1993)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Hip-Hop
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© 1993 Motown Records
AllMusic Review by Ron Wynn
Black Reign marked Latifah's move to Motown, and was also a return to the tough-talking, lyrically frank, frequently controversial material that established her as arguably the finest female rapper. "Coochie Bang" and "Weekend Love" were harsh and explicit attacks on would-be hit-and-run lovers, while "Just Another Day" and "I Can't Understand" examined the continuing inequities plaguing inner-city youth, and "Superstar" took a pointedly unglamorous view of her situation and the perils of hip-hop supremacy.

Krispy - From The Country (1999)

Country: United Kingdom
Genre: Hip-Hop
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© 1999 Bomb Hip-Hop Records
Reviewed by Steve 'Flash' Juon for RapReviews.com
No, they're not Goodie Mob, OutKast, or Eightball and MJG - but they are "From the Country" -- of the United Kingdom, that is. Krispy's duo of Microphone D.O.N. and Mr. Wiz have been a presence on the European scene since 1989, when they dropped their first 7 inch single "Coming Through Clear"; but don't call it a comeback, cause they've been here for years. Three EP's, one LP and countless twelve inches later, Krispy is simply following up on their already established legacy. Mr. Wiz provides the beats, Microphone D.O.N. bust the rhymes, and they drop the hip-hop. One of D.O.N.'s most appealing virtues as an MC is the Jamaican flavor he interjects into his rhymes as they "mash it up" on tracks. The autobiographical "Raised in Rhythm" talks about rapping to reggae beats the way New Yorkers would talk about busting verbals to James Brown or Parliament. It's one of the albums most flavorful and moving cuts. Beatwise though, something may have been lost in the translation. Even though lyrics addressing the tension between U.K. rappers and their USA counterparts on "Cross the Border" are on point, the beat causes something less than the requisite head nod. The album swings wildly between these extremes; with the lyricism remaining generally on point but the beats going anywhere from medicore to stellar. "Takin It Easy" has a smooth horn loop worthy of Pete Rock, but "It Ain't All About Rap" suffers from an overly simplistic "back to basics" drum beat that really doesn't pack a punch. "Bad 2 Worse" grooves along to a "Back in the Days" feel with a personal look at urban plight, but "After Dark" feels forced and artificial in it's Roots-like musical flow. The long and short of it is that this certainly isn't a bad album by any means; but that it may appeal more to the chaps overseas who know their legacy. People stateside who are put off by "Country" from our South probably won't be any more patient with the overseas "Country" accent, because the beats don't consistently deliver fatness. For those who feel more adventureous though, Krispy does provide 7 or 8 good songs and excellent lyricism throughout.

Various Blends - Levitude (1999)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Hip-Hop
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© 1999 Baraka Foundation
AllMusic Review by Steve Huey
MCs/producers Friz-B and EBF are Various Blends, an alternative rap outfit formed in 1991 and finally issuing their first full-length, Levitude, in 1999 (minus founding member MC Rasco). It's an impressive record, highlighting the duo's ample lyrical skills and skewed perspective, while featuring a number of mostly West Coast guests: Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, Saafir, the Mystik Journeymen, Pizmo of Burnt Batch, Rashinel of Hobo Junction, and members of the Coup and Invisibl Skratch Piklz.

tags: various blends, levitude, 1999, flac,

June 20, 2016

Petter - Bananrepubliken (1999)

Country: Sweden
Genre: Hip-Hop
Language: Swedish
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© 1999 RCA/BMG Sweden/Bananrepubliken
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Michael Jackson - Ben (1972)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Pop, R&B
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© 1972-1993 Motown Records
AllMusic Review by Lindsay Planer
 Although having just entered his teens, pop prodigy Michael Jackson's star was still very much on the ascent, circa his second full-length release, Ben (1972). This LP should not be confused with the Original Motion Picture Soundtrack from the Phil Karlson-directed "thriller" of the same name, and while blessed with an undeniable visual presence, Jackson was otherwise not involved in the creature feature. Like much of the Motown empire at the time, the title track's multimedia exposure, coupled with strong crossover appeal, insured that "Ben" scored the artist his first Pop Singles' chart-topper. Yet one interesting shift was the lack of participation from the Motown hitmaking machine known collectively as "the Corporation". While the aggregate had dominated most of the Jackson Five's early recordings and contributed their fair share to Jackson's debut, Got to Be There (1971), besides the title track, the only other cut to bear their unmistakable smooth production style is the practically perfunctory midtempo "We've Got a Good Thing Going." The catchy "Greatest Show on Earth" has a cinematic quality that stands out thanks to an excellent arrangement from James Anthony Carmichael -- one of several he scored for the project. While not a cover in the traditional sense, "People Make the World Go 'Round" was actually released within a few weeks of the Stylistics' more familiar hit. Although the reading heard here is equally impassioned, the emotive impact could arguably be greater thanks to the optimism infused with innocence in Jackson's vocals. "Everybody's Somebody's Fool" owes greatly to the Heartbeats' doo wop version, as opposed to Jimmy Scott's earlier classic. Jackson is obviously quite familiar with the former's phrasing while adding an age-defying maturity of his own. Returning back to his Hitsville roots, "My Girl" is updated with a funkier rhythm. The vocalist responds in kind with his own soulful lead that soars over the freshly syncopated chorus. The score includes some call-and-response interaction similar to what he and his brothers had displayed on the Jackson Five's selections "Nobody" and "The Love You Save," among countless others. "What Goes Around Comes Around" is one of Ben's better deep cuts with the vibrant melody perfectly matched to the artist's youthful voice. Of lesser note is the hopelessly dated "message" in the filler track "In Our Small Way." Luckily, a pair of winners conclude the effort with the propulsive and funky "Shoo Be Doo Be Doo Da Day" -- which was co-written by Stevie Wonder -- and the Berry Gordy-penned midtempo "You Can Cry on My Shoulder." Ben -- along with rest of Michael Jackson's recordings for Motown, can be found as part of the excellent and thoroughly annotative three-disc Hello World: The Motown Solo Collection (2009).

tags: michael jackson, ben, 1972, flac,

June 18, 2016

Britney Spears - Britney Jean (2013)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Pop
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© 2013 RCA Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Typically, whenever a self-titled album arrives fairly far into an artist's career it signifies a rebirth, a moment when the musician reconnects to what's real and true. That's the party line on Britney Jean, Britney Spears' eighth album (she already used Britney as the title of her third album, way back in 2001). Prior to its December 2013 release, Britney called Britney Jean one of her most "personal" records, a term that carries a certain weight, suggesting that the brief album -- a mere ten songs and 36 minutes in its standard form and not much longer in its deluxe expansion -- would offer insight into the spectral pop star. As it turns out, Britney Jean is a streamlined approximation of 2011's Femme Fatale, which itself attempted to re-create the producer-driven magic of 2007's Blackout, the album that seems destined to be the apex and turning point of Spears' career. Dr. Luke, the main producer behind Femme Fatale's two big hits ("Till the World Ends" and "Hold It Against Me"), is absent, as is her longtime collaborator Max Martin, who worked on those two Dr. Luke-produced hits. In their place is will.i.am, the Black Eyed Peas leader who happened to be responsible for Femme Fatale's nadir, "Big Fat Bass." will.i.am sports producer credits on seven of the ten songs on Britney Jean and is listed as executive producer, responsible for shaping the sound and direction of the album. Often, this means Britney seems to be playing a role will.i.am created just for her, a situation not unfamiliar to Spears, who has been receding from her own albums since the tumultuous Blackout, but often seems little more than a whisper here. Naturally, the best moments arrive when she's forced to the front, which is usually the case with pop stars: she's the focus on the Katy Perry co-written and Diplo-produced "Passenger," the purest pop moment on the record that finds a counterpart in the album's best ballad, "Perfume"; her bizarre vocal affectations invigorate "Work Bitch" (it's hard to resist her faux British phrasing) and are mildly irritating but memorable on the Jamie Lynn Spears duet "Chillin' with You." Elsewhere, will.i.am, sometimes assisted by David Guetta, puts Britney through Euro-disco paces, not quite caring whether it reveals something personal about Spears or even fits her vocals. As the record progresses, Britney sounds increasingly listless, fading into the synthesizers and bass, and only William Orbit knows what to do with that sad, existential loneliness, placing it firmly in the center on "Alien." As the album opener, it's hard to ignore but it inadvertently sets the tone for the rest of Britney Jean: she's not one of us and doesn't feel comfortable where she's at, and that uneasiness underpins the rest of this vaguely dispiriting album.

tags: britney spears, britney jean, 2013, flac,

June 17, 2016

Mystikal - Tarantula (2001)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Hip-Hop
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© 2001 Jive Records
AllMusic Review by Jason Birchmeier
The coast-to-coast success of "Shake Ya Ass" thankfully didn't tame Mystikal too much. On Tarantula, Mystikal's first album in the wake of his commercial breakthrough in 2000, he's just as wild as ever -- a blunt-smokin', big truck-drivin', ass-slappin' James Brown for his generation with no apologies and few pretensions. One thing has changed with Mystikal over the years though: With each successive album, he's been graced with continuously improved production. Longtime collaborator KLC continues to improve here, crafting many of this album's liveliest moments, songs like "P***y Crook" and "Big Truck Driver" that find Mystikal at his least mannered. The Neptunes return with three excellent productions, one of them, "Bouncin' Back (Bumpin' Me Against the Wall)," attempting to duplicate the energy and appeal of the last song the duo produced for Mystikal, "Shake Ya Ass." Elsewhere, two of the industry's hottest producers of the moment, Rockwilder and Scott Storch, contribute some excellent tracks. Mystikal really couldn't ask for better production, overall -- all the tracks have bouncy, ass-shakin', club-ready beats, and nearly all have quite catchy hooks. And since Mystikal rises to the occasion, delivering rhymes that are just as rousing as the beats, he has recorded his second great album in a row. Like Let's Get Ready, Tarantula realizes the potential Mystikal's early work for No Limit promised -- the potential to be one of the most successful and unique, yet still unrefined and uncompromising, rappers in the game. In fact, this album seems so fully realized it's difficult to imagine Mystikal taking his music to yet another level without changing his style.

June 15, 2016

Steel Panther - Feel The Steel (2009)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Glam Metal
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© 2009 Universal Republic Records
AllMusic Review by Jason Lymangrover
In case you're wondering, despite what VH-1's Behind the Music might have you believe, hair metal is still alive and kicking. Unfortunately, it's more low-brow than ever, thanks to L.A.'s Steel Panther. Taking debauchery to the next level for their debut, Feel the Steel, the band gathers inspiration from Warrant, Poison, and Mötley Crüe as they pretend to be a metal group with two primal desires: rocking faces and scoring chicks. Metal satire is a well-traveled road, with Bad News, Spinal Tap, and Tenacious D all taking their respective turns portraying lunk-headed metalheads. Likewise, one-time L.A. Guns frontman Ralph Saenz (playing the part of "Michael Starr") does his best impression of an egotistical David Lee Roth/Bret Michaels type who dedicates 50-percent of his time on the microphone objectifying women ("Fat Girl Thar She Blows) and the other half boasting about his appendage. It's a convincing act, as is the performance by the rest of the band (drummer Stix Zadinia, bassist Lexxi Foxxx, and lead guitarist Satchel), with their text-book Hit Parader shredding and spot-on attention to '80s production details. Metal references fly out of every corner, with nods to the Def Leppard ultra-processed "Whoa Oh" sound, Richie Sambora's "Bad Medicine" guitar talk box intro, and a slapping acoustic ode to Extreme's definitive power ballad "More Than Words." Steel Panther's ability to create songs that sound like they came from 1987 is commendable, and as ridiculously clichéd and crude as the lyrics are, there are some chuckle-worthy moments. That said, it's not a disc for the easily offended or the faint of heart.

Beastie Boys - Some Old Bullshit: E.P. (1994)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Hip-Hop, Punk Rock
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© 1994 Capitol Records
*No professional reviews available for this release

June 11, 2016

Michael Jackson - Got To Be There (1971)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Pop, R&B
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© 1971-1986 Motown Records
AllMusic Review by Rob Theakston
Riding high on the wild success of the Jackson 5, Motown ringleader Berry Gordy assembled every single notable production team member and songwriter in his arsenal to contribute to the solo debut of the J5's boy wonder, Michael. By the time Got to Be There was released, much had changed in the Jackson dynamic, none the least Michael's voice. But this album launched three chart singles: a cover of the bubblegum classic "Rockin' Robin," Leon Ware's "I Wanna Be Where You Are," and the title track. As a cohesive album, Got to Be There is wildly erratic, and his covers of "You've Got a Friend" and "Ain't No Sunshine" show Jackson's versatility as a singer. It was a world away from the politically charged sound of Marvin Gaye's What's Going On and the introspection that would later grace some of the best works of Stevie Wonder. But Got to Be There kept Gordy as king of the sound of young America -- at least for a few months longer.

tags: michael jackson, got to be there, 1971, flac,

Michael Jackson - Off The Wall (1979)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: Pop, Disco
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© 1979-1986 Epic Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Michael Jackson had recorded solo prior to the release of Off the Wall in 1979, but this was his breakthrough, the album that established him as an artist of astonishing talent and a bright star in his own right. This was a visionary album, a record that found a way to break disco wide open into a new world where the beat was undeniable, but not the primary focus -- it was part of a colorful tapestry of lush ballads and strings, smooth soul and pop, soft rock, and alluring funk. Its roots hearken back to the Jacksons' huge mid-'70s hit "Dancing Machine," but this is an enormously fresh record, one that remains vibrant and giddily exciting years after its release. This is certainly due to Jackson's emergence as a blindingly gifted vocalist, equally skilled with overwrought ballads as "She's Out of My Life" as driving dancefloor shakers as "Working Day and Night" and "Get on the Floor," where his asides are as gripping as his delivery on the verses. It's also due to the brilliant songwriting, an intoxicating blend of strong melodies, rhythmic hooks, and indelible construction. Most of all, its success is due to the sound constructed by Jackson and producer Quincy Jones, a dazzling array of disco beats, funk guitars, clean mainstream pop, and unashamed (and therefore affecting) schmaltz that is utterly thrilling in its utter joy. This is highly professional, highly crafted music, and its details are evident, but the overall effect is nothing but pure pleasure. Jackson and Jones expanded this approach on the blockbuster Thriller, often with equally stunning results, but they never bettered it.

tags: michael jackson, off the wall, 1979, flac,

June 10, 2016

Madonna - American Life (2003)


Country: U.S.A
Genre: Pop
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© 2003 Maverick, Warner Bros. Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
American Life is an album performed by a vocalist who has abandoned the U.S. for the U.K. and co-produced by a French techno mastermind, recorded during a time of strife in America, and released just after the country completed a war. Given that context and given that the vocalist is arguably the biggest star in the world, the title can't help but carry some import, carry the weight of social commentary. And it follows through on that promise, sometimes explicitly and sometimes implicitly, but either way, American Life winds up as the first Madonna record with ambitions as serious as a textbook. It plays as somberly as either Like a Prayer or Ray of Light, just as it delves into an insular darkness as deep as Erotica while retaining the club savviness of the brilliant, multi-colored Music. This is an odd mixture, particularly when it's infused with a searching, dissatisfied undercurrent and a musical sensibility that is at once desperate and adventurous, pitched halfway between singer/songwriterisms and skimming of current club culture. It's pulled tight between these two extremes, particularly because the intimate guitar-based songs (and there are a lot of them, almost all beginning with just her and a guitar) are all personal meditations, with the dance songs usually functioning as vehicles for social commentary. Even if the sparer ballads are introspective, they're treated as soundscapes by producer Mirwais, giving them an unsettling eerie quality that is mirrored by the general hollowness of the club songs. While there are some interesting sounds on these tracks, they sound bleak and hermetically sealed, separate from what's happening either in the mainstream or in the underground. Perhaps that's because she's aligned herself with such flash-in-the-pan trends as electroclash, a hipster movement that's more theoretical than musical, whose ill effects can be heard on the roundly panned James Bond theme "Die Another Day," featured toward the end of American Life. Then again, it could also be that this is the first time that Madonna has elected to rap -- frequently and frenetically -- on a record, something that logistically would fit with Mirwais' dense, house-heavy productions, but sound embarrassingly awkward coming out of her mouth. But that insular feel also comes from the smaller-scale, confessional songs, particularly because Mirwais doesn't give them depth and the songs themselves are imbalanced, never quite having a notable hook in the music or words. Even so, there's a lot that's interesting about American Life -- the half-hearted stabs at politics fall aside, and there are things bubbling in the production that are quite infectious, while the stretch from "Nobody Knows Me" to "X-Static Process" in the middle of the record can be quite moving. But, overall, American Life is better for what it promises than what it delivers, and it's better in theory than practice.

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Janet Jackson - Damita Jo (2004)

Country: U.S.A
Genre: R&B, Pop
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© 2004 Vigin Records
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
"Relax, it's just sex," Janet Jackson murmurs at the conclusion of "Sexhibition," the third song on her eighth album, Damita Jo. Those words were recorded long before Jackson wound up America with her breast-baring exploits at the halftime show at the 2004 Super Bowl, but they nevertheless play like an casual response to the hysteria that engulfed the nation following her infamous "wardrobe malfunction." But, really, they're there to head off any criticism that could be leveled at Damita Jo, yet another album that finds Janet exploring her sexuality, a voyage she's been on for about 11 years (Magellan and his crew circled the globe in a third that time, but hey, who's counting?). While sex indisputably fuels much great pop music, it isn't an inherently fascinating topic for pop music -- as with anything, it all depends on the artist. Prince, of course, found an endless amount of ways to write intriguingly about sex, since it fired his imagination, a quality that has been missing on Janet's albums since 1993's janet.. With its preponderance of slow-tempo, sensual grooves, sexual imagery, occasional up-tempo jams, and endless spoken interludes, it provided the blueprint for every record she made since, from the heavy eroticism of 1997's The Velvet Rope to the bedroom sighs of 2001's All for You. The latter suggested that she was abandoning the explicitness of The Velvet Rope, but Damita Jo proves that she was merely flirting with modesty, since it's as explicit as pop music gets. Actually, it's the aural equivalent of hardcore pornography -- it leaves nothing to the imagination and it's endlessly repetitive. Like a porn star, Janet adopts an alter ego built on her middle name ("There's another side that you will never know: Damita Jo"), provides detailed oral-sex manuals with "Warmth" and "Moist," nicknames her clitoris, and tosses around allusions to a variety of taboo sex acts; in this context, all the interview snippets scattered throughout the record -- "I love curling up with a good book and relaxing by the ocean with my baby," "When you look at me, do you want me?" -- recall nothing less than a Playboy or Penthouse centerfold confessing her turn-ons. Such doggedly literal lyrics lack any sensuality, and weigh Damita Jo down. If the music had its own sensuality or spark, it'd be easier to forgive or overlook Jackson's whispered vulgarities, but the album's slow grooves blend together, lacking rhythmic or melodic hooks. Jackson disappears into the productions, once again largely the responsibility of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, becoming part of the arrangement instead of standing in front of it. And while there are a couple of cuts that do cut through the slow-groove loops -- on the slower side, "I Want You" has a verse that's memorable, while "Just a Little While" is a good dance tune -- they pale next to the hits from All for You; that they stand out on Damita Jo says more about the album than the songs themselves. Ironically, for an album with so much sex on its mind, it's not a good make-out record because its grooves are cold and Janet's ceaseless dirty talk spoils whatever mood the music had struggled to create. Once, Ms. Jackson's sexual obsession was indeed sexy and erotic, but by this point, it's not just tired, it's embarrassing.

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