"American Doll Posse" (Epic)
* * * 1/2
THE singular mind of Tori Amos actually consists of many parts. On her ninth studio album, the singer-songwriter gives voice (and name and affect) to some of them, aiming to inspire all women to reclaim their whole selves rather than be limited to the roles (wife, mother, sexpot, etc.) that patriarchy has imposed for, well, forever. On "American Doll Posse," the eccentric pop artist embodies, complete with costumes, a band whose members -- Isabel, Clyde, Pip, Santa and, duh, Tori -- each represent aspects of the feminine as well as various Greek goddesses. It's a radical and grandiose concept (perhaps explaining the epic 20 tracks on this 67-minute collection). It also recalls her 2001 covers album, "Strange Little Girls," on which Amos manifested the female viewpoints she found in each selection with a dozen Cindy Sherman-esque photos in different guises.
A one-woman quintet: Does the idea sound kind of -- crazy? "American Doll Posse" is by turns lush, raunchy, rollicking and absurd. Despite the personalities on parade, however, you can't really tell the players without the program. Whether it's Isabel's protests (the Bush-berating piano anthem "Yo George"), Pip's combative strutting ("Teenage Hustling"), Clyde's vulnerability ("Girl Disappearing") or Santa's sauciness ("You Can Bring Your Dog"), it's all Amos.
The songs reflect Amos' own journey from angry preacher's daughter to unabashed artist, building on previous accomplishments while following her mysterious muse. The short, seething "Fat Slut," surprisingly raw in its loathing, harks back to her earliest, most enraged tunes, while "Body and Soul" rolls out an anti-religious juggernaut. "Father's Son" is a deceptively floaty ballad with a tense undertow, but the propulsive, baroque "Bouncing Off Clouds" demands a soaring dance remix.
"ADP" is often fun but sometimes overwrought, and non-fans may find it too much. But, as always, Amos addresses heavy themes with a combination of sweeping mythology and sometimes savage humor. Maybe it takes seemingly crazy ideas to match the insanity of these times, when female "empowerment" (usually involving subduing men with your sexiness) only reinforces the restrictions imposed by government, law, society and the media. For all the layers of conceit here, her point is direct. And very well taken.
-- Natalie Nichols
A bit of an identity crisis
"Because of You" (Def Jam)
* * 1/2
NE-YO'S songs have an unexpected way of combining heartbreak and arrogance with tender pop melodies. It's this sleight-of-hand that fuels the hugeness of Ne-Yo-penned hits including Beyonce's "Irreplaceable" and Mario's' "Let Me Love You."
"Because of You," Ne-Yo's second album, has some surefire hits too. "Leaving Tonight" is an emotional duet with Jennifer Hudson. "You claim to not know that girl, but her name and number is in your phone / She's even got a ring tone," belts an indignant Hudson. "How do you explain that?" But her full-throttle excellence only underlines his noncommittal and so-so vocals.
Ne-Yo is better off sticking to perky, danceable tunes such as "Go On Girl" and the sparkly title song. Its brisk disco beat and plucky guitar line evoke Quincy Jones. This Ne-Yo album makes no secret that it's mainlining Michael Jackson and Prince for inspiration. "Ne-Yo's like young Michael / I'm Quincy Hov," says Jay-Z on his cameo for "Crazy."
But the young songwriter lacks enough artistic weirdness to follow in the deified footsteps of the King or the Prince. Sure, Ne-Yo can do a good Michael Jackson impersonation, but his voice lacks the clarity of tone and is incapable of reaching the higher notes with beauty, as on "Crazy" and "Can We Chill."
"Sex With My Ex" and "Addicted" are adequate Prince homages, with their chugging electric guitars and churchy organs. But most of the other songs are too formulaic to be truly addictive.
-- Serena Kim
BRMC revs up musical growth
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
"Baby 81" (RCA)
* * * 1/2
ON its 2000 debut, flush with next-big-thing glow, drone-rock trio BRMC stepped forward in one song to ask the slightly petulant question, "Whatever happened to my rock 'n' roll?"
Seven years later, the band ponders a related matter -- "Suicide's easy, what happened to the revolution?" sings Robert Turner in the song "Berlin" -- but with broader scope and clear maturity, two characteristics of the new album as a whole.
Though hardly eschewing inward orientation, BRMC balances personal and political, in "Weapon of Choice" asserting, "I won't waste my love on a nation." And throughout this album, the group applies the structural and emotional epiphanies of 2005's semi-acoustic, blues-inspired "Howl" to reinvigorate the largely electric approach of its earlier work.
The most impressive growth is musical. There is still a lot of fuzzy bass, repetitive riffing and four-square rhythm owing allegiance to Love & Rockets and Spaceman 3. But now these elements support unexpectedly melodic choruses and bridges, with some songs moving off in entirely new (for this band) directions:
The Lennon-esque ambience of "Window" (with even some mumbled "I Am the Walrus"-like chanting at the end), the "Joshua Tree"-ish space/church hybrid of "All You Do Is Talk," the '60s/'80s pop-bop of "It's Not What You Wanted," the Bonham-like beat of "666 Conducer." The peak comes with "American X," an exhilarating, nine-minute dark-jam epic, setting up the ruminative closer, "Am I Only."
Revolutionary? Not really. But another strong turn.
-- Steve Hochman
Albums are reviewed on a scale of four stars (excellent), three stars (good), two stars (fair) and one star (poor). Albums reviewed will be released Tuesday.