Smog, Jamiroquai, Black Eyed Peas

In 1993, Jason Kay burst onto the scene with a massive debut album and unprecedented eight album deal with Sony. While even skeptics acknowledge his impressive musical talent, Kay is often characterized as a one trick, early seventies Stevie Wonder copyist (not that it’s ever done his sales any harm). Thirteen years and twenty million albums later, ‘Dynamite’ is still heavily derivative of Stevie, but Kay has expanded his horizons a little – he also rips off Basement Jaxx (‘Electric Mistress’, ‘(Don’t) Give Hate A Chance’). With nods elsewhere to filter house, acid jazz, and other schmaltzy genres, this would be the perfect soundtrack to the yuppie dinner party from hell.

A River Ain’t Too Much To Love
Drag City/Spunk
Prolific pioneer Smog (Bill Callahan) has stayed true to his sparse, individualistic vision over the years this is his twelfth album for Drag City. While there’s no denying the power and character of his voice, with arrangements this minimal, the lack of distracting sonic fluff exposes the weaker material for what it is. But when the songs are good (‘Rock Bottom Riser’ and ‘Let Me See the Colts’ are up there with his  best), it’s efficient, moving stuff. On ‘Drinking at the Dam’ Callahan offers a minute, definitive statement on the lost innocence of childhood: ‘It was the first part of my life/Second is the rest’.

Black Eyed Peas
Monkey Business
At some point this millennium, BEP stopped making hiphop and ecame, unashamedly, a pop band. Thankfully, there’s nothing quite so singularly awful here as ‘Where is the Love’ or ‘Lets Get Retarded’ from their last effort, 2003’s Elephunk. Nevertheless, too much of Monkey Business sounds  like jingles to accompany music videos, rather than music per se. A telltale sign of artistic stasis, the quality of the material is more or less determined by the quality of the collaborators. The old-skool hiphop of ‘Like That’ (featuring Q Tip, Talib Kweli, and Cee Lo) stands up pretty well, as does the Timbaland produced ‘My Style’ (featuring Justin Timberlake), James Brown (yes, The Godfather of Soul) guest spot ‘They Don’t Want Music’, and the ragga lite of ‘Dum Diddly’. Conversely, collaborations with Jack Johnson and Sting are dire and can only be read as transparent attempts to grow BEP’s share of the crossover market. Much of the rest of the album is lazy, disposable party tunes.  Particularly evil are opener ‘Pump It’ (with its criminally unimaginative sample of Dick Dale’s ‘Misirlou’) and ‘The Humps’, which is just plain juvenile (viz., ‘humps’ equals tits). A little quality control would have gone a long way – at 70 minutes, this album is overweight.

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