LEONARD COHEN

Ten New Songs

(Columbia)

Hey, that's no way to say hello.

It would break my heart to hate this record, but as luck

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CD Reviews

LEONARD COHEN

Ten New Songs

(Columbia)

Hey, that's no way to say hello.

It would break my heart to hate this record, but as luck and coincidence would have it, my heart is already broken. Cohen's first release of new material in 10 years smacks of slick '80s schlock and smooth soul radio cop-outs. Perhaps it's too much to hope that, having been holed up in a California monastery for a decade, Cohen would've thought to return to the stark and shadowy folk of his embittered early releases, but what would years of solitude be good for if not realizing that preprogrammed power- ballad production values have no place next to a poet's ruminations? Even Cohen's vocals, while cigarette-worn smoky and sexy cool, lack the melodic range of songs like "Bird on a Wire" and "Hallelujah." As if that's not enough, co-songwriter/vocalist/instrumentalist/ producer Sharon Robinson's presence looms large on all 10 tracks, lending a Barry-White-backed-by-the-Supremes vibe that clashes horribly with the idea of Cohen an introspective man. But let's get back to the lyrics, as their occasional elegiac evocations are the only source of inspiration on the otherwise flat 14th release. "That Don't Make It Junk" and "Alexandra Leaving" are reminiscent of the Bukowski-esque bruises of songs like 1974's "Chelsea Hotel #2," but as this is a recorded volume and not a printed one, the poetry alone isn't enough to save it. Ten New Songs serves to remind us again that in aging, some of us will lose the fiber of artistic fortitude that once held us so tightly in our skin. Laura Learmonth

PINBACK

Blue Screen Life

(Ace Fu Records)

San Diego superduo

unspools another batch of despondent beats.

Pinback's expanding cult fan base is surely double that of either founding member's more or less superior former band. I'm not about to suggest that Armistead Burwell Smith's Three Mile Pilot and Rob Crow's Heavy Vegetable are wanting for posthumous props; Pinback is a seamless blend of 3MP's solemn, finger-picked waltzes and Crow's spunky riddles. Blue Screen Life, like the band's self-titled predecessor, is the work of two focused songwriters who perform like untested child prodigies. Crow's delicate narratives are propped up by herky-jerky time changes but grounded by Smith's oceanic bass. This formula births a series of airy guitar and keyboard confections that are somehow just as sorrowful as Black Heart Procession's—and just as repetitive. The exceptions, however, are unforgettable: "Concrete Seconds" strikes entirely below the hips and is marked by a shrugged catch phrase, "Anything I say to you is gonna come out wrong anyway," that is all sex, no emo. Thing is, Pinback has even darker, more spasmodic diversity in its blood, and that's the one small tragedy in this textbook case of "they play one song, but it's a damn good one." Andrew Bonazelli

THE REINDEER SECTION

Y'All Get Scared Now, Ya Hear!

(PIAS America CD)

Scottish/Irish supergroup makes lovelorn pop.

When ordinary people like you and me overindulge in alcohol, we generally end up playing air guitar on the dining-room table. But when Snow Patrol's Gary Lightbody gets sotted, he finds the inspiration to write an entire album's worth of gentle indie pop as his alter ego, the Reindeer Section. Apparently, Y'All Get Scared Now, Ya Hear!, the band's debut full-length, was conceived when Lightbody and a consortium of Glaswegian friends (who play in bands like Belle & Sebastian, Mogwai, Eva, Arab Strap, and Astrid, among others) were smashed. What's surprising about Scared is that it lacks the traits that generally typify these sorts of records: There are no sloppy mistakes, pathetic inside jokes, or tediously long interludes of partially finished material. Instead, we get chiming guitars, Lightbody's wry lyrical style, and his deadpan baritone. Lightbody uses his long list of guest stars to full advantage: Arab Strap's Aidin Moffat rants in a charmingly incomprehensible monotone over "Nytol"; Belle & Sebastian's Mick Cooke nestles elegant horns into "Sting"; and Eva's Jenny Reeve winds her violin through "If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet" like a curl of incense smoke. Granted, the Reindeer Section did sober up for the actual recording, but still, this is an impressive output. Tizzy Asher

STEREO TOTAL

Musique Automatique

(Bobsled)

There's a little something lacking from the party this time.

Musique Automatique is good enough to allow Stereo Total to retain their title as the world's most delightful pop group—barely. Once again, they blithely skip from French to English to German on 16 catchy tunes that are fun, sexy, and drenched in international suavity. A big part of what made their previous records so exhilarating, though, was the way they hopscotched from electro-pop to garage to y頹頴o disco to New Wave without so much as blinking. By comparison, Musique locks itself into a much narrower groove, both musically and vocally, greatly reducing the element of surprise that's served them so well in the past. The influence of Kraftwerk is more apparent than ever, and the programming on the record is their most complex and mature. Maturity, of course, is not something Stereo Total fans hold in especially high regard. Musique's most exuberant number, "Forever 16," best captures the group's real essence and serves as a reminder of the spirit that's lacking from many of the album's other tracks: "No I'm not a little cutie/not a sleeping beauty/Not a nice and sweet little baby/with lollipops and pink panties, BUT/I wanna stay forever 16!/FOREVER 16!" Paul Fontana

Stereo Total will perform at Graceland on Sun., Nov. 4, along with Momus.

 
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