Music to Your Ears – Lady Gaga, Kings of Leon and The Pretty Reckless

Early October dealt us some low hands in terms of aural pleasure. With the leaves beginning to fade and die, however, we’ve discovered some new life! Gorillaz was supposed to have a new single out this past weekend, so I would have had this last Monday, but alas, they teased us with more visual wizardry. In their stead, I have four new albums from returning artists:

Kings of Leon – WALLS

I have a troubling confession to make – for the past several years I’ve hated Kings of Leon. The radio station in Philadelphia seriously overplayed them, to the point that I would rage when I heard the guitar kick in to “Sex on Fire”. After the fervor died down from their big hit album Only By the Night the stations also started to lose their genre – mostly becoming Top 40 or country or talk, so their airtime became starkly squandered. After “Radioactive” and “Supersoaker” revived my initial interest in their earlier work, I discovered that I actually did enjoy their brand of hipster rock. The brother are back with perhaps their best album yet in WALLS, and if you loved their rollicking ascendance into stadium rock, then you’ll love trips like “Around the World” and “Eyes on You” as well as their smoother ballads like “Find Me” and “Conversation Piece”. All in all, it’s a masterpiece of guitar and drum rock, and will most certainly find its way into my best of the year come December.

Key Tracks: “Waste a Moment”, “Conversation Piece”, “Around the World”

Grade: A+
Lady Gaga – Joanne

I hate to say this, but I’m a tad disappointed by Lady Gaga’s newest effort. In the intervening time between this past week’s release Joanna and her previous album Artpop, the recluse artist Sia has seemingly taken over her throne as pop’s resident weirdo. It’s an odd thing, given Sia was a perfectly generic artist up until “Chandelier” thrust her into the limelight on the back of Gaga style beats and Sia’s signature warbling. Of course the comparison is now inevitable given the stage show Sia puts on, and how much more dynamic it is now that 2016 has beaten us down. We’re used to Lady Gaga putting on a show, and with Sia in her place, it’s left her with a more subdued demeanor. Despite the disappointment I find from this album, perhaps it’s the perfect time for her to present us with songs like “John Wayne” and “Million Reasons” – ones devoid of lyrical creativity but full of meaning behind Ms. Gaga’s illustrious vocals. I have to say that if Gaga has matured (she was fine, honestly, but I suppose this is what we say when a fourth album fails to deliver excitement) perhaps her Little Monsters will mature with her, and they will be thrilled to hear the highlights of this record.

Key Tracks: “Joanne”, “Hey Girl” (feat. Florence Welch), “Perfect Illusion”

Grade: C

Jimmy Eat World – Integrity Blues

The only issue with this is how good JEW’s last album Damage was so on fire that anything they would come up with next would always be compared to that album. This one feels defeated from the get-go, as if they could never live up to their previous work. Don’t worry, though, because this is still a solid effort from the Mesa natives. The production is through the roof after a pared-down garage rock sound, and this sounds fuzzier, like Death Cab for Cutie meets Silversun Pickups. The bass undercuts instant classic “Pass the Baby” as if stuck in the mud – which can be a good or mad thing. This drum machine sound forces the mood into darker territory that usual, while Jim Adkins’ vocals ache with longing for a simpler time. If you’re looking for a similar feeling, look no further than their great 2011 album Invented, though that album is a great deal cheerier – even for Jimmy Eat World.

Key Tracks: “Pretty Grids”, “You Are Free”, “The End is Beautiful,” “Pass the Baby”

Grade: B

The Pretty Reckless – Who You Selling For?

Another surprise was in store for us this week as the typically heavy rock outfit led by former child star Taylor Momsen (The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, Gossip Girl) returned with their latest album. Never one to shy away from controversy, I expected this to continue the harder, rougher-hewn edges of rock that Momsen and her band had come to epitomize. They paired well with other recent power rock bands like Nico Vega, Halestorm and In This Moment. Well the surprise here is that the mood has been toned down a bit. I hesitate to say that they’ve matured, as their raucous first two albums were hellishly delightful and well beyond their frontwoman’s age if you’re even measuring that sort of thing. Take a listen to “Take Me Down” where Momsen oozes with the sentimentality of Stevie Nicks, yet if she’d been the lead of Whitesnake. I like this slightly calmer direction the band is taking, as you can roll down the highway and not destroy your speakers. Of course, those that loved how much Momsen liked offending the system will be a bit disappointed, if not only to find that eventually we all have to get comfortable with ourselves at some point.

Grade: B-

Key Tracks: “Take Me Down”, “Wild City”, “Living in the Storm”

Well, I’ll catch up with you around Thanksgiving probably for another edition of Music to Your Ears! Happy Halloween!


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