PARKER PAUL, Lemon Lime Room (Jagjaguwar) Is Parker Paul a poet? Yes. He's clever, intelligent, and heartfelt when he writes about love and love lost,

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Jay Z, Scritti Politti, and more.

PARKER PAUL, Lemon Lime Room (Jagjaguwar) Is Parker Paul a poet? Yes. He's clever, intelligent, and heartfelt when he writes about love and love lost, injustice and the inevitability of it all. Can Parker Paul play the piano? Very well—from polytonal weird to Charlie Brown-theme funky to new age schmaltz. Is Lemon Lime Room a CD anyone would listen to more than once? Not unless they're a music snob or a retro-thrift-store-hipster who enjoys tormenting their friends with the "real" thing. He'd probably sound great live, and this CD is an attempt to capture that feeling, created as it was in single takes without overdubs. It's all about him and the piano sounding like the guy at the party who finally got his hands on the keys when the host wasn't looking. And no big deal; everyone goes on drinking or talking, glancing over only if a particularly loud, off-key note or offensive chord penetrates the din. In this age of digital vocal tuners and seamless studio overdubs, it's an obvious tactic to direct focus onto the content, not the production. Intrusive chord structures and sour notes are used to grab your attention, at times for ironic affect. He's aggressively begging you to listen to the music, but the point is overmade. A little studio polish could have been the spoonful of sugar that made the minimalism go down.—Dan Latimer

JAY-Z, Vol. 3...Life and Times of S. Carter (Universal /Def Jam) In 1998, Jay-Z's juxtaposition of hardcore street themes with the orphan's anthem from Annie propelled his Vol. 2...Hard Knock Life to pop success and a Grammy win. On the new follow-up, the hip-hop superstar doesn't so much as tweak the formula—his trademark crystal-clear production and thug-centric lyrics—and Vol. 3...Life and Times of S. Carter sounds like a carbon copy. The guest spots offer a respite. Mariah Carey croons over a hypnotic grade-school recorder loop punctuated with a refrain of Eastern strings on "Things That U Do," and DJ Clue's seamless integration of moody classical samples and whining synth lends finesse to "Dope Man." Slick production fails to hide Jay-Z's vacuous lyrics, however; "Jiggaman" never steps far enough outside the persona of the misogynistic, unrepentant hoodlum to offer any perspective, and his plodding cadence makes recitations about toting guns and spending money tiresome. Lyrics on "Big Pimpin'" outline his romantic modus operandi and may provide a chuckle: "Take 'em out the hood/keep em lookin' good/but I don't fuckin' feed 'em/first time they fuss I'm breezin'/talkin' 'bout what's the reason." But poetic nuance escapes him; Jay-Z can't elevate his topics above the clownish antics of old-school gangster rappers like Eazy E. "Snoopy Track," which features Cash Money's superstar Juvenile, is the album's standout, but the guesting Southern man raps sparsely—his name in the credits is just another ingredient in Jay-Z's dog-eared recipe for making records.—J.C. Coyle

SCRITTI POLITTI, Anomie & Bonhomie (Virgin) Scritti Politti's 1985 single "Perfect Way" was undeniably shameless fluff, but it was an incredibly tempting piece of fluff. Between their inhumanly sunny brand of R&B-flavored pop and lead singer Green Gartside's breathy fantasies about love and shopping, the record sank deep into many a youthful subconscious. Among a sizable contingent of aging music fans, a new Scritti Politti album therefore comes with the hope of vindication, to act as testimony on the disparity between today's toothless kid-pop and the brilliant songcraft of an earlier generation. On Anomie & Bonhomie, however, Gartside sounds nearly unaffected by his earlier work. True, his familiar, filtered vocal tone, heavily produced and dripping with sugary tenor sweetness, is still front and center, but he surrounds it with drop beats and guest vocalists, releasing what threatens to become a hip-hop record. Me'shell Ndegeocello and Mos' Def break out focused raps on over half the songs, while Gartside and long-time producer/collaborator David Gamson try to mix in the darker melodic structures of hip-hop with the sparkling shiny pop essence that is their trademark. It doesn't work. Unfortunately, neither Gartside nor Gamson know how to sustain anything close to a booty-shaking groove, and the lovely tapestries of production they apply to every moment of tape take away the immediacy that gives hip-hop its formidable power. Thus, the best songs on the record ("First Goodbye" and "Mystic Handyman") are still the ones with the irresistible lightness and ingratiating choruses, the ones that bring back those embarrassing, mid-'80s music memories. There is no vindication here. The harsh reality is obvious: We still just can't get enough good fluff.—Matthew Cooke

 
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