Katy Perry, "Teenage Dream." Katy Perry's "California Gurls" was the song of the summer, a perfect slice of percolating pop that celebrated the West Coast lifestyle and girls like Katy in their "Daisy dukes with a bikini on top."
"Teenage Dream," which takes its title from the second, nearly as infectious single, is a collection of songs more than an "album" with themes and central ideas. That's perfect for today's song-driven world. And given the roster of high-powered producers, Dr. Luke, Max Martin, Tricky Stewart and Stargate, it's got plenty of punch and hooks.
The music here is reminscent of Madonna in her "Material Girl" pop phase, with ‘80s beats, clipped vocals and lyrics that are alternately overtly sexy/sexual or reflective with all the depth of the girls that provide the album's title.
A quick rundown: "Last Friday Night (TGIF)" is a companion to her previous hit "Waking Up in Las Vegas," a hangover song about a wild, wild night; "The One That Got Away" recounts a lost lover and pairs up easily with "Hummingbird Heartbeat," a sexy number about a new lover (read Russell Brand). Even raunchier is "Peacock," a taunt for guys to show their stuff.
But things get more serious with "Circle The Drain," about a ex killing himself with drugs and she goes the ballad route with "Pearl" and "Firework," touches on her religious upbringing with "Who Am I Living For" and wraps things up with a Hollywood piano ballad of romantic disappointment "Not Like The Movies."
Not everything works - "Firework" and "Peacock" each flop in different ways - and there's plenty of inconsequential fluff on a disc that's all over the place, but nonetheless catchy and entertaining.
Perry's one of the new queens of pop, more than holding her own with Lady Gaga and the rest of the crowd. "Teenage Dreams" confirms that and it's fun. Grade: B
Marty Stuart, "Ghost Train: The Studio B Sessions." Recorded in the Nashville studio where Elvis Presley and many others crafted hits, Marty Stuart's "Ghost Train" is the best country record of 2010 so far, a combination of songs and styles from a veteran who's been playing with legends since he was a teenager and reflects the timeless traditional sounds in the music.
Some highlights of a great album: "Country Boy Rock ‘n' Roll," his venture into his hillbilly rock ‘n' roll with Kenny Vaughan tearing up the guitar; heartbroke ballad "Drifting Apart"; the classic country duet "I Run To You" with Connie Smith; the Merle Haggard update "Hard Working Man," a prison song from the point-of-view a "Hangman"; and a spoken-word trip to "Porter Wagoner's Grave."
Keeping with tradition, there are three instrumentals on the album, including a great, if short version of "Crazy Arms" with the legendary Ralph Mooney on pedal steel.
Music doesn't get more country than the songs on "Ghost Train" and country doesn't get any better than this. Grade: A
Magic Kids, "Memphis." The Magic Kids are from Memphis, hence the title of the band's debut CD. But the sounds here bring to mind far different places and sounds than those associated with the birthplace of rock ‘n' roll and home of soul.
It's California in the late ‘60s that provides the roots of the sound - the California of Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks, who constructed the late-period Beach Boys orchestral pop. Magic Kids get it, and they get it right. Plus they throw in a mix of other vintage sounds - I hear some British Invasion pop, for example - and manage to convey it with enough contemporary touches that it sounds fresh and not retro underglass.
The lyrics on "Memphis" are stream-of-consciousness kind of impressionistic. They fit the music perfectly and invite repeat listening, although I've yet to figure out exactly what some of the songs are about on the third or fourth time around.
But, as with all great music, that doesn't really matter. Magic Kids have created some magical, gorgeous classic pop here, one of the most pleasant and engaging surprises I've heard in months.