"Illumination" (Yep Roc)
On the soul-rocker "A Bullet for Everyone," Weller notes that a bonfire burns in the city, the same once-promising place where, long ago, he had a thousand things to say to you. But this song -- lamenting the overabundance of weapons in a world where so many people lack basic necessities -- clearly shows that the erstwhile leader of seminal English mod-punk band the Jam still has a lot to talk about.
Abetted by such acolytes as Oasis' Noel Gallagher, the Stereophonics' Kelly Jones and Ocean Colour Scene's Steve Cradock and Damon Minchella, Weller doesn't dwell on the negative, or the past. "Illumination" (due in stores Tuesday) does touch on the Jam's unbridled energy as well as the pop-jazz sophistication of his subsequent group, the Style Council, but it's more like his previous solo efforts, which wove disparate threads of funk, folk, blues and balladry.
His raspy vocals slip from raw to sweet, reflecting the collection's shifts among jangly pensiveness, rambling portraiture and upbeat romance. There are perhaps too many weedy, progressive-pop ballads (including "Who Brings Joy," the inevitable gag-worthy ode to his offspring), but the maudlin never takes over. Indeed, even on the sprawling call to action "Standing Out in the Universe," Weller doesn't merely mouth positive platitudes, but emphasizes that if we want real change, everybody has to work for it.
-- Natalie Nichols
Yesterday was a better day
"Siempre Es Hoy" (BMG Latin)
In 1999, the former Soda Stereo frontman released "Bocanada," a lavishly produced album that employed electronica as a tool for the creation of baroque, mysterious and exotic atmospherics. As much as the Argentine singer is still remembered for his days with Soda, it is "Bocanada" that stands as his most compelling effort.
A jarring and somewhat disappointing change in style, Cerati's latest emphasizes robotic beats and jangling guitars over mood and melody. The record's abstract, occasionally Teutonic, '80s-fixated motifs make his flat-toned voice sound particularly pedestrian -- for better or for worse, most of the 17 tunes here suggest a Spanish-language Depeche Mode tribute.
Lyrically, "Siempre Es Hoy" functions as a sentimental confessional of sorts, reflecting on Cerati's recent divorce and newfound domestic bliss. But there's little psychological insight on the subject of romantic rebirth. That said, Cerati has lost none of his touch for deliciously oblique choruses. It's hard to dismiss a record that includes such memorable songs as the sunny, bittersweet "Naci Para Esto" and the rootsy "Sulky." The latter, a shimmering concoction of crystalline electronics and unadulterated South American folk, shows clearly why Cerati is still an indispensable force in Latin rock.
-- Ernesto Lechner
Eminem has no need to worry
This veteran Boston rapper's recent rivalry with Eminem has given him something that's been absent from the rest of his decade-plus recording career: attention. Long ignored by critics and the public alike, Benzino started the beef in November when he called Eminem a modern-day Vanilla Ice, and later "the rap Hitler" on his dis track "Pull Your Skirt Up."
That someone with such average skills (Benzino's biggest asset is that he is an owner of rap magazine the Source) would launch an assault on a supremely talented rapper such as Eminem is mind-boggling. There's really no comparison. Benzino's mediocrity is evident throughout his second solo album, "Redemption" (due Tuesday).
Although the single "Rock the Party," as well as its remix featuring A-list guests Lil' Kim and Petey Pablo, has been enjoying modest success at radio stations across the country, it's the type of undistinguished dance tune that gets by because of its unorthodox beat, not Benzino's standard, shallow materialistic boasts.
The rest of Benzino's collection gets buoyed by guests more talented than its host: Jadakiss, Wyclef Jean, Daz Dillinger and Scarface breathe energy into a boast-heavy project whose biggest attraction is the controversy surrounding it.
-- Soren Baker
Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.