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Music reviews for Dec. 5, 2013

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Gazette wire services
December 4, 2013

Britney Spears, “Britney Jean”

You want to release a good album? You better work harder, chick.

Britney Spears' latest release, “Britney Jean,” is a total letdown. It's not that we expect Adele-styled songs from Spears—or even Rihanna-like ones—but Spears was once a pop powerhouse who made music considered a must-listen, from “Toxic” to “I'm a Slave 4 U.” Listening to this album makes you nostalgic for those days—nothing on “Britney Jean” would be a contender for any future greatest hits package.

The 10-track set lacks so many things: oomph, swag, sex appeal, as well as addictive, memorable hooks. It's almost like Spears isn't even present. Tracks such as “It Should Be Easy” and “Till It's Gone” are techno misses—and messes—even though David Guetta helmed both songs. The light ballad and second single, “Perfume,” is laughable, with Spears warbling: “And while I wait, I put on my perfume, yeah I want it all over you, I'm gonna mark my territory.” It sounds more like a commercial than an actual song.

“Perfume” was co-written by Sia, the ultra-talented singer who has found success writing Rihanna's “Diamonds” and tunes for Christina Aguilera, Katy Perry and Eminem. Another star, will.i.am, is the executive producer of Spears' eighth album. Are they purposely giving her C- and D-level material?

While “Britney Jean” has its upbeat moments, the album is one of Spears' slowest. The singer said some songs draw from her recent breakup, but she doesn't capture emotion that will make you a believer with this batch of tracks. The album follows in the robotic fashion of 2011's “Femme Fatale,” though that set had more flavor and standout tracks.

Aside from the sexually charged, T.I.-assisted “Tik Tik Boom” and the lead single, “Work B ——,” Spears isn't putting in any real work.

—Mesfin Fekadu, Associated Press

Garth Brooks, “Blame It All On My Roots”

Garth Brooks offers fans a Christmas gift with a discount-priced box set that takes another look back rather than moving forward.

“Blame It All On My Roots” is a massive, eight-disc package. Four CDs are devoted to the Oklahoman covering classic songs from country, rock, soul and acoustic singer-songwriters. Two CDs are a previously available greatest-hits double disc set, and two DVDs present a recorded concert in Las Vegas and most of his old music videos.

The covers lean heavy on songs nearly every listener will know, giving it a Garth-does-karaoke feel. “Heard It Through The Grapevine,” “Sweet Home Alabama,” “Great Balls Of Fire” and “Mrs. Robinson” are among the choices—songs still heard across America daily on the radio. There's not a song among the 40 new cuts that presents a lesser-known song important to Brooks.

As would be expected, Brooks connects best with the country covers: His version of Hank Williams' “Jambalaya” and a duet with wife Trisha Yearwood on “After The Fire Is Gone” deserve airplay.

On the other hand, the soul songs suffer from canned arrangements and from Brooks straining to bring Wilson Pickett-style growls and grunts to vocals that are otherwise serviceable, but never remarkable. The Nashville studio musicians do better at injecting life into classic rock and the songwriter albums, staying exceedingly faithful to the originals.

Brooks' fans, a faithful bunch, will enjoy hearing their hero sing these familiar songs. But will it bring him any new fans or help him find new glory?

That will have to wait for his return to recording original material.

—Michael McCall, Associated Press

Boston, “Life, Love & Hope”

Give Tom Scholz credit for knowing one of the core tenets of business success: If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

On Boston's first album in 11 years, and the first since the tragic death of legendary vocalist Brad Delp in 2007, the band sticks with its tried-and-true sound, one that has come to nearly define the classic rock genre.

From the first time the world heard “More Than a Feeling” in the 1970s, Boston burned its way into rock's DNA with an identifiable sound: layer upon layer of angry guitars, harmonic solos and angelic vocals backing Delp, who could hit notes only dogs could hear.

There's an unreleased Delp track here, “Sail Away,” about the government's response to Hurricane Katrina, and it's the only one of the three Delp tracks on this album that's new. Two others—“Someone” and “Didn't Mean to Fall in Love” appeared on the band's “Corporate America” album, but Scholz was never happy with them and has rebuilt them from top to bottom.

Other songs don't fare as well, including “If You Were in Love” with Kimberley Dahme.

“Heaven on Earth,” with David Victor singing lead could be a hit single—that is, if all the Boston fans who were “Smokin'” in the '70s remain loyal to a group who helped define what rock 'n' roll sounded like for many years.

—Wayne Parry, Associated Press



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