Monday, October 03, 2005

Critical Condition: Fiona is extraordinary; Phair is a phailure; and Franz is... better?

Gosh, after all the buzz we've been hearing about the new Fiona Apple disc, Extraordinary Machine, it's quite a relief to hear that the album actually lives up to the hype. Stephen Thomas Erlewine raves in a four-and-a-half-star review at AMG:

Extraordinary Machine may be more accessible, but it remains an art-pop album in its attitude, intent and presentation -- it's just that the presentation is cleaner, making her attitude appealing and her intent easier to ascertain, and that's what makes this final, finished Extraordinary Machine something pretty close to extraordinary.

Meanwhile, Liz Phair's new album is getting blasted from every direction. Erlewine calls it "pleasant but dull," and Pitchfork's Amy Phillips gives it a painfully low 2 out of 10:

Rather than weather the storm and stick to her guns, Phair eschews her pop fix completely for Somebody's Miracle, an album that is "adult" in the worst sense of the word-- the sense that gets "-alternative" or "-contemporary" tacked onto it by radio programmers. It's not so much "mature" as is it safe, nice, settled down. These songs are perfectly content to get up every morning, go to work, come home, eat dinner, watch the news, have 10-minute missionary-position sex, and then fall asleep.

Finally, Franz Ferdinand's new disc is drawing mixed reviews; the new issue of Paste gives it a decent-but-not-great score of 3/5; Pitchfork gives it an impressive 8.3; and AMG's Heather Phares-- quickly becoming one of my favorite music journalists-- says it's a slight disappointment:

But, after a year and a half of near-instant acclaim and constant touring, Franz Ferdinand return with songs that just aren't as consistently good as the album that made them so successful in the first place. A lot of You Could Have It So Much Better feels like a super-stylized caricature of the band's sound, with exaggeratedly spiky guitars, brooding crooning and punky-yet-danceable beats. This isn't an entirely bad thing: "The Fallen" begins the album with a wicked, gleeful welcome back that embraces the jaunty mischief running through most of Franz Ferdinand's best moments, while "I'm Your Villain" effortlessly nails the darkly sexy vibe they strived for on Franz Ferdinand. Meanwhile, the famous friends, arty parties and "shocking" homoeroticism of "Do You Want To" -- which feels more like a victory lap than a comeback single -- play like knowing, tongue-in-cheek self-parody. However, too many tracks on You Could Have it So Much Better are witty and energetic in the moment but aren't especially memorable.


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