The solo debut from 'N Sync's JC Chasez seeks to establish the singer as someone other than the band's second-cutest member. Like bandmate Justin Timberlake, Chasez wants to be taken seriously as an artist (he co-wrote all but one of the disc's 16 songs).
Of course, it's a difficult task for a former Mouseketeer whose claim to fame is bubble-gum pop. And Chasez doesn't help his case on Schizophrenic with major missteps. He tries so hard to shed his clean-cut image with repeated sexual references that it's almost laughable, making him sound like a horny teenager rather than a sexually confident adult.
And unlike Timberlake, who mainly ripped off Michael Jackson for his solo debut, Chasez borrows too heavily from too many sources, from Jackson to Prince to George Michael and even Donna Summer, leaving him without a sound of his own.
Like its title suggests, the album is full of different styles, from the techno, throbbing dance beats on "All Day Long I Dream About Sex" to the tender, lush ballad "Lose Myself," to the acoustic guitar-driven ditty, "Something Special." Sometimes those ideas flop, like on "If You Were My Girl," an '80s-sounding rock song. But there are a few bright spots, such as "Some Girls (Dance With Women)," a hypnotic, sensual dance groove that recalls a tropical feel, and "She Got Me," which shows Timberlake isn't the only 'N Sync member who can do an expert Jackson impression.
At its core, there is engaging material to be found in Schizophrenic, but it takes a determined listener to stay with it long enough to find it.
Nekesa Mumbi Moody,
The Associated Press
He's been called the hottest newcomer of 2004. But Kanye West is no musical rookie.
In a day when the cats behind the studio board are as crucial to hip-hop as the MCs at the mic, the twentysomething Chicago native was already a star. His productions for artists such as Alicia Keys, Ludacris and Jay-Z have left West's trademark all over the radio. What his album reveals is a gifted artist with something new to say. Like much of Eminem's work, West's rhymes set themselves apart from the broader hip-hop domain by taking aim at the rapper himself. Sometimes confessional, often self-deprecating, he sticks himself out on limbs where most MCs dare not tread.
But West isn't West's only target. Throughout the album, he pokes fun at bling-bling culture and phony materialism while knocking pedigreed university types who never earned lessons from the street.
Alas, none of it makes him a stellar rapper. West is no tongue-twisting acrobat, and despite his sing-songy delivery, there's not enough charisma in the vocals to match the sizzle of the rhymes.
That puts a lot of weight onto the beats and production, and that's where West soars. It's an instantly identifiable sonic signature that includes a penchant for pitched-up samples - old soul and funk done Chipmunks style - and an ear for melodic hooks. Distinct and infectious, it's a style that spells s-m-a-s-h, and virtually every "Dropout" cut sounds like a potential hit.
The best of the lot - "Jesus Walks," "Two Words," the club hit "Through the Wire" - are Kanye West showcases, packing all the elements into one place: wry humor, a catchy chorus, and a rhythm that keeps feet moving.
Brian McCollum, Detroit Free Press
The Dark Horse Years, 1976-1992
Ever the quiet one, George Harrison didn't make many solo albums. But when he did, they were usually worth checking out, and The Dark Horse Years, 1976-1992 provides an overdue opportunity to review a significant portion of Harrison's post-Beatles career.
Harrison endorsed the digital remastering of the six albums he made for the Dark Horse label over 17 years. Many of the releases have been unavailable on compact disc.
Taken as a whole, the discs help make the argument that Harrison was underrated as a solo performer.
While he never reaches the heights of his first effort, 1970's All Things Must Pass, there are songs on these releases that can stand among the best of any solo Beatles effort.
Chief among those is "All Those Years Ago" from 1981's "Somewhere in England." An homage to John Lennon, who was murdered the prior year, the song includes backing by Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney.
The box set also comes with a DVD that includes promotional videos and other archival footage. While there are six bonus tracks total, they do little to enhance the original releases.
Scott Bauer, The Associated Press
Robin and Linda Williams
Red House, $17.98
Robin and Linda Williams' move to Red House Records for Deeper Waters, their 17th recording , and the change has done them good.
The disc features 11 originals that play to the strength of their vocals. As always, they are centered lyrically on country life - its charms ("Home No. 235," "Old Plank Road") and bitter fruit ("Leaving This Land").
The album has a warm and modern feel without sounding overproduced - rock-ribbed in places, as comfortable as well-worn jeans elsewhere. The close harmony is spiced with guest vocals from Mary Chapin Carpenter, Iris DeMent and actress Sissy Spacek, who lives near the couple in Virginia.
For a couple celebrating 30-plus years together, the Williamses are very much in midstride.
Rich Harris, The Associated Press
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