3 Music Reviews
by matthew webber
The Darkness, Permission to Land (Atlantic)
The unbearable lightness of being the Darkness: British cock-rockers invade America
Little ditty about Jack and Diane: These two American kids have grown up in the heartland without ever witnessing a pyrotechnic display. Had they grown up in the '80s and been predisposed to epilepsy, Mötley Crüe et al could have rocked them like a defective 8-bit Nintendo game. But Jack and Diane are living in the '00s, when unitards are ironic and so-called hair metal is banned like CFCs. No one makes music to flicker your lighter to anymore. So if the new - not nü - British metal band the Darkness were ever to come to their town, they wouldn't know whether to shout at this devil or feelgood about it. What would they make of lead singer Justin Hawkins, whose uppermost register rivals a balls-less Geddy Lee's? Could they learn to love a band that sounds more like '70s Aerosmith than Aerosmith does? Taking the Darkness seriously shouldn't be such a problem, as their glam-rock cocktail seriously rocks. Sure, their hit "I Believe in a Thing Called Love" is silly and obnoxious, but wouldn't it sound kick-ass outside the Tastee Freeze?
Howie Day, Stop All the World Now (Epic)
The impotence of being earnest: Eager-to-please troubadour wanes poetic
Sometimes Howie Day nails it. In the first verse of "She Says," his lyrics paint a still life of intimacy and yearning: "Sweet is the side/Of her room… Cold winter on the shore/Chills a dress she wore/It's on the floor." "She Says," in fact, is one of the sweetest, most poetic songs on Stop All the World Now - just as it was on his previous EP Australia. Day's newer material occasionally shines - a clever couplet here, a memorable melody there - but much of his singer/songwriter fare suffers from being too polished. The original "She Says" was rawer, Day's voice more ragged, and the song was allowed to haunt you like an ex. Here it's dressed up like a nervous first date, pretty and pleasant and unfailingly polite. Day wants you to like him, and you might - he's nice. But can you love him? At times the album is gorgeous, but Day has the potential to do even better.
Jay-Z, The Black Album (Roc-A-Fella)
Hard knock retirement: Jay-Z can't leave rap alone, he needs the game
Roger Clemens and Jay-Z retired this year - and Tupac is actually dead. Like Michael Jordan or Cher's buttocks, Clemens has already turned back time. The Rocket will pitch for Houston next season, while Jay-Z is squiring the Houston-raised Beyoncé. Clemens aims at batters' ears; Jay-Z writes his rhymes by his. Throw your hands in the air if you still believe Jigga. If Jay-Z really is retiring, he's going out at the top - not just of his game but of the rap game, period. Despite the who's-who track list of today's top producers, The Black Album sounds like one cohesive suite. Finally, Jay-Z has recorded an entire album, not just a booming single, that supports his claims of being the best. And speaking of rap retirements, Jay-Z pulled former Def Jam maestro Rick Rubin out of his, and the Rubin-produced "99 Problems" might be both men's hardest song ever. A future hall-of-famer hanging up his mic? I'll believe him when I no longer hear him.