Brad Paisley

Tunesday

Host LL Cool J performs live at the 2012 Grammy’s Nominations Concert, a subject he raps about in Authentic. 

Photo Credit: Courtesy Photo | Daily Texan Staff

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.

QUICK TAKES

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.

Lights' Siberia

Artist: Lights
Album: Siberia
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?!
Label: earMusic
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.

Tunesday

Paramore, now a three piece, has never been so good.

Photo Credit: Courtesy Photo | Daily Texan Staff

“There’s a time and a place to die but this ain’t it,” Paramore vocalist Hayley Williams sings in lead single “Now.” After losing founding brothers Josh and Zac Farro, who played guitar and drums, respectively, Paramore’s artistic abilities were called into question. This self-titled album serves as a stylistic reboot for the band, which has shed the majority of its commercially-appealing emo and punk influences in favor of a more pop sound. The album’s 14 songs are separated by three lo-fi ukulele interludes to describe the stages of the band’s regrouping. 

The Farro brothers released a statement about how Paramore ventured too far from its Christian roots, which led to their departure. The old Paramore would never be able to produce something like this album. Much of the album’s lyrics are about coming to terms with change and growing up, like “Interlude: Moving On” where Williams sings “Let ‘em play their songs/Let ‘em say what’s right and wrong.”  

In the face of a potential band breakup, Paramore could have easily reverted to the emo genre that they know best. Instead, in addition to expected punk songs like “Be Alone” and “Anklebiters,” others like “Ain’t It Fun” see the band dabble in funk rock, while “Hate To See Your Heart Break” reverts to “The Only Exception” ballad formula. 

It is hard to believe this is the band that once produced the shallow girl-against-girl jealousy anthem of “Misery Business” from Riot!. Williams, as the only consistent founding member, displays notably improved vocal abilities, especially on “Proof” and “(One of Those) Crazy Girls,” and an ability to take over the commanding role of the band. Paramore will satisfy old fans with flashes of its former style and likely garner newer, pop-loving fans as well. 

Brad Paisley's Wheelhouse

Artist: Brad Paisley
Album: Wheelhouse
Label: Artista Nashville 
Songs to download: “Those Crazy Christians,” “Facebook Friends”  

Traditional country music fans undoubtedly have a bone to pick with Brad Paisley’s progressive lyrics. His 10th album, Wheelhouse, sees the West Virginia singer further distance himself from the Nashville country scene by criticizing the excessively religious in “Those Crazy Christians,” and acknowledging the importance of being politically correct in “Accidental Racist (ft. LL Cool J).” The progressive lyrics and pop culture humor make Wheelhouse a much more approachable version of the modern country genre, though Paisley’s music and country twang could be alienating to some. 

James Blake's Overgrown

Artist: James Blake 
Album:
Overgrown
Label: Republic Records
Songs to download: “Take A Fall For Me (ft. RZA),” “Overgrown”
 

As soon as the ambiguous piano begins the title track, James Blake seduces the listener. The album, almost entirely self-produced, is comprised of Blake’s intriguing and soulful vocals over minimalist electronic instrumentation, resulting in a neo-singer-songwriter feel. With his second album, the English triple-threat proves his potential in production, singing and instrumentation. Having already worked with big names like Bon Iver and Feist, the music industry lies wide open for Blake’s slow version of electronic music.