“Martinis & Bikinis”
* * * 1/2
Phillips and producer-husband T Bone Burnett have been accused of trying to channel John Lennon, and they’re unapologetic enough in that quasi-psychedelic power-pop regard to wrap this one up with a surly, muted version of Lennon’s spiteful “Gimme Some Truth.” It’s an appropriatecapper, given the high level of social protest already registered through “Martinis.”
But where Lennon lobbed most of his Molotov cocktails at militarists and squares, Phillips has it in for the hedonist pop culture. She’s a bitter enough former fundamentalist to rail against “the political church” but saves a lot more broadsides for the secular status-seeking.
In Phillips’ view, the materialism of both right and left is a sorry sublimation of universal spiritual longings she describes in C. S. Lewis-like terms.
If this is one of the soberest albums you’re likely to hear this year, the music is still a wonderfully druggy punch, using the styles of Lennon’s wonder-struck days to convey the sort of bitter, confrontational confessionals he graduated to.
This time Burnett throws in some harder or more psychobilly-ish guitars too, to ensure it doesn’t sound so self-conscious a throwback. “Martinis” just might leave you shaken and stirred.
New albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).