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CD Reviews:
Listening Room: Pussycat Dolls, Plain White T's and more...

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Sunday, September 21, 2008

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Pussycat Dolls, “Doll Domination” (Geffen) **1/2

Opening their go-forbroke sophomore outing, the Pussycat Dolls caution “be careful what you wish for ’cause you might get it.” The quintet certainly got theirs with 2005’s “PCD,” making the improbable leap from burlesque dance troupe to bona fide pop stars with worldwide sales of 6.7 million copies and three platinum singles. Anyone who thought the Dolls were just playin’ now know they’re playing for keeps, and the sheer firepower brought to bear on “Doll Domination” has all the markings of a finely tuned follow-up. The winning ingredients from “PCD” are still in place, of course — particularly Nicole Scherzinger, rebounding from a lukewarm reception to her solo singles, up front, though the deluxe international edition of the album features lead vocals from the other Dolls. Top-shelf producers such as Timbaland, Rodney Jerkins, Polow Da Don and Ron Fair are on board, and collaborators include Snoop Dogg rapping on the electro-grooving “Bottle Pop,” Missy Elliott leading the man-smashing on the buoyant “Whatcha Think About That” and R. Kelly trading pillow talk with Scherzinger on the breathy “Out of this Club.” “When I Grow Up,” a refugee from Scherzinger’s aborted solo album, starts “Doll Domination” with a banging affirmation of life at the top, while the Easterntinged “Takin’ Over the World,” the wiggly “Magic,” the rock-flavored “In Person” and the cheerfully silly “Whatchamacallit” will keep the club DJs happy. “I Hate This Part” and “Love the Way You Love Me” aim for the pop wheelhouse, and Scherzinger turns torchy on emotive slow jams like “I’m Done,” “Happily Ever After” and “Halo.” It’s a little bit of everything — and, at 16 tracks, a whole lot of Dolls to dominate any one sitting, even if they do keep it moving throughout the set.


Plain White T’s, “Big Bad World” (Hollywood) **1/2

Last year, Plain White T’s shot from modest underground notoriety to platinumplus success thanks to the Grammy Award-nominated hit “Hey There Delilah,” a chart-topping sensation that sold more than three million downloads. The Chicago quintet apes “Delilah’s” stark, acoustic tenor on just one track here — the airy love song “Sunlight” — but “Big Bad World” is nevertheless aimed squarely at retaining that crowd with 10 polished, melodious songs that bop more than they rock and sweeten the sonic attack with horns, strings, harmonies and ringing guitar tones. Heck, the T’s even cheer themselves on with a refrain of “Do it again!” on the album’s title track. “Natural Disaster,” the first single, lays some ska elements under the power pop attack, while “That Girl” and “Meet Me in California” would have made as much sense in ’68 as they do in ’08. Frontman Tom Higgenson may lament some ungentlemanly behavior in “Serious Mistake,” but the vast majority of “Big Bad World” affably accommodates the swooning (and mostly female) audience “Delilah” has wrought.


Elvin Bishop, “The Blues Rolls On” (Delta Groove/Eleco Groove): The “Fooled Around and Fell In Love” guy has no reason to have the blues as he mixes it up with B.B. King, George Thorogood, Warren Haynes, Derek Trucks and others on this set.

Jackson Browne, “Time the Conqueror” (Inside Recordings): The veteran singer-songwriter’s first album in six years sports plenty of political commentary — and nothing John McCain can try to co-opt like he did with “Running on Empty.”

Nikka Costa, “Pebble to a Pearl” (Go Funk Yourself/ Stax): The daughter of producer Don Costa enlisted husband Justin Stanley to helm her first album in three years.

Fourplay, “Energy” (Heads Up): The all-star jazz group resurfaces on a new label, with buzzed-about bass sensation Esperanza Spalding stepping in for a cameo.

Kenny Garrett, “Sketches of MD” (Mack Avenue): The saxophonist’s latest pays tribute to other Miles Davis sidemen on this live set recorded in New York City.

David Gilmour, “Live in Gdansk” (Columbia): The Pink Floyd guitarist captures his epic 2006 solo show in Poland, performed with an orchestra, on five different CD and DVD packages. It also features one of the last performances by the late Floyd keyboardist Rick Wright.

Charlie Haden Family & Friends, “Rambling Boy” (Decca): The wellcredentialed veteran jazz bassist’s “Friends” include Pat Metheny, Elvis Costello, Rosanne Cash, Bruce Hornsby, Ricky Skaggs and others on this rootsy, Americana set.

Ace Hood, “Gutta” (We the Best/Island Def Jam): The Florida rapper debuts with a formidable cadre of guests such as Flo Rida, Akon, Trick Daddy and Lloyd, among others.

KatJonBand, “KatJonBand” (Carrot Top): The debut outing from the musical union of the Mekons’ Jon Langford and the Ex’s Kat Ex.

Kings of Leon, “Only By the Night” (RCA): The family Followill discovers “Sex on Fire” and checks the plight of American Indians on the quartet’s its fourth album.

Mason Proper, “Olly Oxen Free” (Dovecotte): The Ypsilanti rock quintet’s second album follows the “short. hand” EP that came out earlier this year.

Mogwai, “The Hawk is Howling” (Matador): The trend-setting Scottish troupe takes a more ambitious and aggressive approach on its sixth studio album.

Monkey, “Journey to the West” (XL): The Gorillaz team of Blur’s Damon Albarn and visual mastermind Jamie Hewlett bring forth a new opera project blending Western and Mandarin musical conventions.

John Oates, “1000 Miles of Life” (PS/U-Watch/DKE): The dark-haired half of Hall & Oates recorded his second solo album in Nashville, enlisting Blues Traveler’s John Popper, Bela Fleck, Bekka and Bonnie Bramlett, and Stax guitar legend Steve Cropper to help out.

Old Crow Medicine Show, “Tennessee Pusher” (Nettwerk): The Nashville sextet worked with producer Don Was this time out, who brought in session greats Jim Keltner and Benmont Tench, from Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers, to bulk up its rootsy sound.

Lee “Scratch” Perry, “Scratch Came, Scratch Saw, Scratch Conquered” (Megawave): The legendary reggae producer enlisted George Clinton and the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards to bring a little extra juice to his latest project.

Pink Spiders, “Sweat It Out” (Mean Buzz/ Adrenaline): The modern power poppers from Nashville return to the indie ranks with their fourth release but still line up a major producer in Brendan O’Brien (Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam).

Pretenders, “Break Up the Concrete” (Shangri-La Music): Chrissie Hynde and company’s latest rock ’n’ roll adventure comes out after each track was given away online week-by-week leading up to its release.

Darius Rucker, “Learn to Live” (Capitol Nashville): The Hootie & the Blowfish frontman goes country with help from guests Brad Paisley, Vince Gill and Alison Krauss.

Soul Stirrers, “A Soul Stirring Reunion” (Malaco): The legendary gospel group that was once home to Sam Cooke gets back together for a new set of heavenly, and heaven-leaning, favorites.

Soundtrack, “Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist” (Atlantic): A hip collection of songs by Vampire Weekend, Band of Horses, Devendra Banhart and others accompanies this upcoming big-screen romantic comedy.

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