Fresh off of his controversial collaboration with Brad Paisley on “Accidental Racist,” LL Cool J is back. While his debut, 1985’s Radio, broke new ground for the genre, James Todd Smith has struggled to find critical recognition since — though albums like 1990’s Mama Said Knock You Out and 1995’s Mr. Smith have achieved commercial success. Authentic, after many delays, is his first release in six years.
The album begins with “Bath Salt,” and Cool J very quickly reveals his stupidity. Over an unnecessarily orchestral introduction, the rapper declares, “I think this intro should be more dramatic…” before busting into maniacal laughing. By the time the beat drops, the audience is wondering what lines like “Slip into the bath salt,” and “hands on my nuts/that’s product placement,” mean. Regardless of authorial intent (or lack thereof), Cool J raps with an unmistakable tone of self-appreciation.
Authentic is filled with gimmicks, like guitar solos from Eddie Van Halen, to misdirect the listener from LL Cool J’s lack of originality and sub-par writing. Also ubiquitous throughout the album is the 45-year-old rapper’s delusions of grandeur, ignorant of the fact that he’s been somewhat irrelevant since his first album.
The few highlights include Snoop Dogg’s laid-back verse on “We Came To Party,” apparently reviving his rapper persona in spite of his recent name change. The beats are easily the better part of the album, having been produced by the likes of DJ Z-Trip (Beck, Busta Rhymes) and Soundz (Pitbull, Trey Songz).
Unfortunately, not even impressive production can save Authentic. “Bartender Please” is at least two minutes too long, crashing and burning in a chaotic shouting match between four speakers. The final nail in the coffin, though, burying what little promise the album has, is Paisley’s surprise guest appearance on “Live For You.”
Are Travis Barker’s 10-second drum solos necessary? Did LL Cool J need to enlist Tom Morello to offer his trademark minimalist guitar on “Whaddup?” And most importantly, did he really need to collaborate with Brad Paisley again? The answer to all these questions is probably not.
Iggy and The Stooges' Ready to Die
Artist: Iggy and The Stooges
Album: Ready to Die
Label: Fat Possum Records
Songs to Download: "Unfriendly World," "Ready to Die," "The Departed"
It’s hard to overstate Iggy and The Stooges’ importance to punk rock music. Throughout its on-and-off career of 40 or so years, it has lost several members, and this album plays on themes of self-realization through old age. Slow ballads like “Unfriendly World” and “The Departed” are a welcome change from their cookie-cutter four-power-chord songs, and, overall, the album reflects a maturity that could only come from an old band like this.
Label: Last Gang Records
Songs to Download: "Toes," "Peace Sign," "Banner"
The Canadian synthpop artist renders her 2011 album Siberia acoustically. Unsurprisingly, the trimmed-down version is much better. Instead of her over-the-top synthesizers, her guitar playing — supplemented with violins and pianos — breathes new musical life into the same songs, while her fragile voice renders the lyrics more intelligible.
Deep Purple's NOW What?!
Artist: Deep Purple
Album: NOW What?!
Songs to Download: "Blood from a Stone"
Apparently Deep Purple is still a band, and with NOW What?! they seem to acknowledge their own amazement at this fact. The album is exceedingly cheesy in its maintenance of the band’s classic rock sound. But, filled with organs and screeching solos, it sounds like a band doing what they love.