November 30, 2005

Billboard album reviews: Shakira, Billy Joel..



NEW YORK (Billboard) - In June, Shakira delivered the
instant smash "Fijacion Oral, Vol. 1," her first studio album
in four years. Now comes its English counterpart, which
features new songs as well as English renditions of a couple of
tracks from its predecessor. Lead single "Don't Bother" is a
powerful slab of pop/rock that is fast becoming an anthem for
those who have been rejected in the face of love ("Don't
bother, I'll be fine," Shakira sings in the chorus). On the
feisty "Hey You," she does what it takes to snag a man, while
bouncy, playful beats a la Billy Joel's "Uptown Girl" tug at
her feet. This wonderful disc closes with jagged dance track
"Timor," a political call to arms that manages to recall Cyndi
Lauper's "She Bop."



With his self-titled debut, 16-year-old Chris Brown manages
to stand out amid the sea of young singers vying for the top.
Backed by the infectious lead single and recent Billboard Hot
100 No. 1 "Run It!," the Virginia native proves listeners
should not write him off merely based on inexperience. Though
Brown's sweet songs are set up to appeal to a young female fan
base, the narratives are mature enough to sway some older
folks. The singer plays the sweet-talker on tracks like "Your
Man Ain't Me" and "Is This Love," while the Scott Storch
creation "Gimme That" (much like "Run It!") diversifies this
ballad-heavy album. The pretentious "What's My Name" and the
praise-God "Thank U" notwithstanding, "Chris Brown" makes a
strong case that age really ain't nothing but a number.



Linkin Park's Mike Shinoda flexes his lyrical muscle on
this all-rap album. To ease his transition into the urban
arena, he enlists Common, the Roots' Black Thought and John
Legend. (Jay-Z, listed as Shawn Carter, is the executive
producer and makes an all-too-brief appearance on the album's
intro.) Most songs find Shinoda rhyming over theatrical string
arrangements, brooding pianos and thumping basslines. Aside
from the braggadocious rhymes on "Remember the Name" and the
single "Petrified," he is more often in a pensive mood,
spinning tales about the pitfalls of balancing a relationship
with life on the road ("Where'd You Go") and the exploitative
nature of the music industry ("Cigarettes"). Although the
lyrics tread familiar ground, Shinoda's production acumen makes
this more than worth a listen.



After strong debuts from Mike Jones and Paul Wall, the time
is ripe for newcomer Chamillionaire to capitalize on the
Houston rap movement. While "The Sound of Revenge" offers
something different than the sluggish chopped-and-screwed style
his city typically produces, the rapper does not quite top his
predecessors here. Cham's gruff, rapid-fire flow (a cross
between Andre 3000 and Nate Dogg) is distinct, but his
sometimes simplistic rhymes--as on lead single "Turn It Up,"
featuring Lil Flip -- give little indication of his lyrical
abilities. More refined songs like "Picture Perfect" (featuring
Bun B) prove he is a worthy contender for the Houston crown.
But from the story-tale vibe of "Think I'm Crazy" to his hasty
rapping on the bass-heavy "Ridin," Cham rarely lacks the
confidence necessary to at least challenge his elite peers.



Billy Joel's vast catalog of hits has been well-represented
on numerous compilations, but his demos, B-sides, covers and
pre-fame explorations have gone largely untapped. This four-CD
set focuses on these rarities, tracing a career that began with
forays into psychedelia and heavy metal and is now in a
classical phase. In between is a generation's worth of pop and
rock anthems, many of which are revealed in their formative
stages -- a sketch of "Piano Man," a reggae treatment of "Only
the Good Die Young," an early demo of "The Longest Time." While
these gems appeal to the hardcore fan, casual listeners will
find familiar ground on tracks like "It's Still Rock & Roll to
Me," "An Innocent Man" and "Baby Grand," which appear in their
commercially released versions. "My Lives" also includes a DVD
of a riveting show from the 1993 River of Dreams tour. A
definitive document of a talented, multifaceted artist.



Christian Castro's Universal Music Latino debut is a
continuation of his career as a Latin balladeer with
contemporary touches. But here, as on 2001's "Azul," guitars
are more prominent than strings, and there is less drama to be
found in the vocals. When Castro firmly takes this direction,
as on "Simone" and "Si Ya No Estas Aqui," the results are
pleasantly surprising. For although he has always boasted a
privileged voice and a flair for memorable melodies, his style
had begun to sound a bit old-fashioned. Without resorting to
screams, his singing is subdued and honest on tracks like "Dias
Felices" and well-served by a bare-bones guitar accompaniment.
Because of hackneyed lyrics, the title track/first single is
not representative of this fine album. But placed as it is
toward the end, one gets to sample the improved Castro first.