“Illinois” (Asthmatic Kitty)
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Following 2003’s “Michigan,” this is the second in New York singer-songwriter Stevens’ proposed “The 50 States” album series. But even with 48 to go, he’ll have trouble topping this homage to the Land of Lincoln.
More dreamscape oratorio or impressionistic opera than conventional song cycle, this “Illinois” (due in stores Tuesday) is a state of Stevens’ imaginative mind, and what a place it is. UFO spotters rub their (broad) shoulders with Carl Sandburg, Superman swoops out of Metropolis (perhaps to save Mary Todd from insanity) and Stevens himself, as one lengthy title in part puts it, “Has an Existential Crisis in the Great Godfrey Maze.”
Musically it’s no less surreal, a place where meticulously decorated pop a la Jimmy Webb and Brian Wilson mixes with sparkly, circular ostinatos echoing modern classicists John Adams and Steve Reich. The tone of subdued romanticism is balanced by a fine, seductive sense of melody and arrangement, with Stevens playing most of a large lineup of instruments himself and drawing on a colorful array of sounds and voices to convey his fanciful lyrics.
Stevens’ invitation for us to “Come on Feel the Illinoise” is so compelling that we can even forgive him for overlooking Ernie Banks and Cheap Trick. Stevens plays the El Rey Theatre July 16.
Less than the sum of its parts
“TP.3 Reloaded” (Jive)
HE once ruled the R&B; world with an air of haughty cool, but things do change. Singer-songwriter-producer R. Kelly comes limping into view in 2005 waving his new album like a white flag of surrender: Look, we’ve got sex, we’ve got rap -- Snoop, the Game. We’ve got reggaeton and dancehall. Did we mention sex?
Kelly’s last album, 2004’s two-CD package “Happy People/U Saved Me,” was retro in style, G-rated in content and heartfelt at the core, and it was a commercial disappointment. He’s also been tarnished by the fiasco of his aborted tour with Jay-Z, and then there’s that nagging business of criminal charges for child pornography.
That’s a lot of baggage to haul around, and the strain shows in “TP.3 Reloaded,” which is due in stores Tuesday. This return to formula isn’t without its disarming moments: the entertainingly preposterous “Trapped in the Closet,” a jam-packed narrative in five “chapters” recounting the convoluted encounter of several adulterers.
Snoop Dogg generates his usual contact high on the breezy “Happy Summertime,” and some of the up-tempo tracks are infectious, and the burbling ballads have a lush sensuality, but Kelly’s whole approach is familiar and threadbare. It’s not much of a revelation that he’s preoccupied with sex, which he wants in the morning, in the kitchen, with his girlfriend, with his girlfriend’s girlfriend. It keeps him home from work, and it drugs him like marijuana.
It’s all laid out graphically and with a clumsy artlessness that might be endearing if it weren’t so desperate. At least all the characters appear to be over the age of consent.
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.