Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Now Scything: Doom, Al B. Sure!,

Trans-Siberian Orchestra

Born Like This
Score: 6

The man behind the iron mask (or whatever metal it's made of), has always been a jester, turning lyrical somersaults through subject matter that had little potential for menace. Food, cartoons and comic books, all underrepresented topics in hip-hop, served as frequent inspirations. So it's disappointing to hear him strike such a hard tone on Born Like This, injecting cynicism from a Charles Bukowski reading and otherwise letting the fun whoosh out like air from an untied balloon. "Yessir!," one of two songs with a Wu-Tang Clan guest (in this case, Raekwon), throws in some gunshots, symbolic of his passage from busting a gut to busting a cap. His collaboration with Ghostface Killah, "Angelz," which luxuriates in spy movie horns and strings, clutters the escapade with unnecessary beats, and both emcees gave a superior delivery of the song on the 2006 Nature Sounds comp "Natural Selection." On one level, "Batty Boys" is gay-bashing out of left field; on the other, it could be seen as a dis track (and a meta one, at that): Doom the "supervillian" rapper (patterned after Marvel Comics' Doctor Doom character) stepping into the world of the superhero Batman, a flagship star of the rival DC Comics brand. Hope it's just a bad joke.

Al B. Sure!
Honey I'm Home
Score: 5

Now here's a guy who might have some idea how Portishead felt. Al B. Sure! stepped away for 17 years, focusing on business and recovering from a car accident. He's a different man now, natch, but it's a shame that he no longer carries the virile spark of yesteryear. His voice is pleasantly creamy, aged delicately, but there's a bit of a Rip Van Winkle-ism here, as he covers both Michael Jackson's "Lady in My Life" (1982) and Sting's "Fragile" (1987) -- and remains faithful to the original versions of each -- almost as if they were little-known and contemporary compositions. Both songs are near-standards by now, so a faithful approach was an unpropitious road for him to take. The result is better than karaoke, but his renditions don't improve the album. In fact, the tightness and inherent hooks of those songs help to point out where Honey I'm Home's originals are lacking.

Trans-Siberian Orchestra
Night Castle
Score: 4

Night Castle is PG-rated symphonic metal that seems all Europe, yet it came from New York. Also, it's 120 minutes long!! Save yourself! (Kidding. Kind of.) This double album has riffs, Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor, a bugler's requiem, "Nut Rocker," "O Fortuna," a children's choir, pseudo mook rock and Broadway theatrics. It's like an all-you-can-eat buffet thrown into a 50-foot blender.


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