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New CDs: Staind, Amy Macdonald
Staind "The Illusion of Progress" Flip/Atlantic
Staind specializes in loud, brooding ballads of manly sadness (see "It's Been Awhile"), a genre once perfected by Alice in Chains and suffocated by the overwrought Creed. With pierced eyebrow and acoustic guitar, Staind singer Aaron Lewis wails and moans through the tears, his songs less about rage than vulnerability, his hooks as soothing to needy headbangers as to their moms.
The hard-rock quartet stretches out on its sixth studio album, recorded in Lewis' barn in Massachusetts with producer Johnny K (Disturbed, 3 Doors Down), and you can sometimes hear the difference. For the first time, guitarist Mike Mushok works up some big solos, and the band adopts a bit of soulful organ and dreamy harmony vocals on "The Corner," unexpectedly landing somewhere near Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon."
Staind turns the volume up to a grinding metallic rumble on the album's opening song, "This Is It." But these moments pass, the tears well up once more and we're left with a mushy sameness familiar to anyone with a clock radio.
The track "Believe" is already a hit, with sounds soaring and miserable as Lewis insists: "I was made for chasing dreams. . . ." He's equally romantic on "All I Want," a love song shouted down from the mountaintops. One formula replaces another and another. With a little bit of twang, some of this stuff would fit right in on your local country station.
-- Steve Appleford
She puts sacred cows on notice
Amy Macdonald "This Is the Life" Decca
* * 1/2
She's set to follow Amy Winehouse and Duffy as the next big thing out of Britain (where her debut has scored double-platinum status), but Amy Macdonald isn't part of the young retro-soul scene that's bringing back the Motown sound. In fact, this 20-year-old Scottish firebrand revives an older artifact: the confrontational coffeehouse folk that Bob Dylan brought to Greenwich Village in the early '60s.
Old music is the only thing of age Macdonald respects. On "This Is the Life," over plangent acoustic guitars that occasionally work up to a foot-stomping frenzy, she takes aim at sacred cows both small and large: Opener "Mr. Rock and Roll" mocks a networking pop star with a hollow heart, while "Youth of Today" questions the motives of anyone more experienced than Macdonald and her pals. In "L.A.," she casts off a longtime fascination with an unspecified Hollywood heartthrob and claims, "I don't need no one else."
Thanks to her knack for a bouncy tune, as well as a pretty voice that recalls that of her countrywoman KT Tunstall, Macdonald's brash pronouncements rarely buckle under the weight of her bitterness. Like Dylan, she knows that you can't change someone's mind until you get them to listen.
-- Mikael Wood
Albums are reviewed on a scale of four stars (excellent), three stars (good), two stars (fair) and one star (poor). Albums reviewed have been released except as indicated.