This Is Me . . . Then
Ben does Jen, PG-style; God to blame.
The mental image of Ben Affleck laying the pipe to J.Lo isn't quite as pervasively foul as Pee-Wee Herman and Principal Rooney shooting candids of naked little boys, but now that an entire album exists that lasciviously, endlessly chronicles the former, I say demerits are equal. On the plus side, unlike, say, an At the Drive-In album, I'm pretty sure I can accurately describe what every song on this piece of historic bat shit is about. Not every track champions Daredevil as "my lust, my love, my man, my child [don't worry; I'm phoning LAPD as you read], my friend and my king," like the masterfully titled "Dear Ben"; in fact, judging by the repeated utility of keywords like "angel," "sacred," and "blessed" and the smoking-gun assertion that "I think God made you for me," apparently J.Lo thinks she's dating Bartleby from Kevin Smith's Dogma. This series of interchangeable odes is set to interchangeable, down-tempo, rent-a-soul grooves, with the notable exception of "Jenny From the Block," the already infamous testament to keep-ing it real, which, along with former singles "Love Don't Cost a Thing" and "I'm Real," completes perhaps the most grotesquely ironic, debased trilogy in pop his- tory. ANDREW BONAZELLI
The Gathering of Spirits
Meditative, bluegrass-tinged affair from folk songsmith.
A deep sadness permeates folk/ country singer Newcomer's eighth album, but it's tempered by optimism. Whether she was influenced by Sept. 11 is hard to say. But like many of us with a newfound appreciation of our days' small, fleeting, wonder-filled moments, Newcomer felt compelled to consider those moments' resonance within the larger picture. For example, in the chiming, piano-leavened ballad "I'll Go Too," she recalls how in her childhood her father comforted her when she was afraid, then muses, in an empathetic voice similar to Mary Chapin Carpenter's, "So many things to brave/So many acts of courage/ We face each and every day." Elsewhere, in the sweetly textured (fiddles, gospel vocal harmonies) "I Heard an Owl," the lonesome call of a bird late one night prompts her to ponder what waits in the darkness: "Don't tell me hate is ever right or God's will/These are the wheels we put in motion ourselves/The whole world weeps and is weeping still/Though shaken I still believe." And in the bluegrass-flavored title track (guest vocals: Alison Krauss), she turns against the darkness, toward the celebratory: "There's a glory all around/The wisest say there's a thousand ways/To kneel and kiss the ground." Newcomer and producer Mark Williams (who's worked with everyone from R.E.M. to Southern Culture on the Skids) coax gentle spirits from this gathering, the kind ready to help us, in Newcomer's own words, "to have courage and take heart." FRED MILLS
Riding profitably on the rails on a gravy train.
Avril Lavigne's trademark tie hangs not beneath a double chin, which is the only demented explanation for Shut Up's inner sleeve spread, in which fellow 18-year-old Kelly Osbourne is done up as half Gisele, half geisha—an alien who evidently disintegrated the cute, plump-cheeked spawn of metal's Prince of Darkness that we see on TV. We could brainstorm filthy "Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman" jokes at this point, or get to the (pun kind of intended) meat of the matter: What does Kelly have to say to us, and what silly-ass congregation of "alternative" studio hacks did she assemble as a soundtrack? In assessing the first burning question, hmmm . . . her public persona is that of an arrogant, whiny, bitchy, punked-out child of privilege; yup, almost every track is about wronging The Boy before The Boy wrongs her. Expletives are spat out infrequently, and incoherently, so Mummy and Daddy won't object. As for the backing band, Powerpack, they've obviously been weaned on a steady diet of Letters to Cleo. Nothing wrong with that. "Contradiction" and "Right Here" are affable, pop-rock Pop Rocks with great, dumb, fun choruses ("I love you, I love you, I love you. Leave me alone!") The real offense: The rich chick will get richer for, again, doin' nothin'. ANDREW BONAZELLI
Kelly Osbourne plays the KISS 106.1 Jingle Bell Bash at Tacoma Dome. 4 p.m. Sat., Dec. 21. $35-$45.