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CD Reviews:
Listening Room: Depeche Mode, Tinted Windows and more...

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Sunday, April 19, 2009

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Depeche Mode, "Sounds of the Universe" (Mute/EMI) **1/2

Early on Depeche Mode's12th full-length album, chief songwriter Martin Gore sums up the group's nearly 30-year history in a few succinct lines: "There's a fragile tension that keeps us going/It may not last forever/But, oh, when it's flowing there's something magical in the air." It's that tension, reflected in the dark, downcast electronic moodiness of the group's music, that many have felt would eventually push the pioneering British trio over the brink -- especially as it's dealt with drug addictions, other assorted health issues and a bit of creative push-and-pull, primarily between Gore and singer Dave Gahan. But Depeche Mode is still here and, on "Sounds of the Universe" remains a model of melodic consistency. The 13 tracks here are smooth, ambient and mostly spare, hewing a bit towards the old school -- which is kind of what Depeche Mode is in 2009 -- but retaining the human warmth amidst the machinery, from the foreboding "In Chains" through to the softly throbbing "Corrupt," that has always made the group stand apart from its peers. Gore straps on his guitar to make a bit more noise on tracks such as "Hole to Feed," "Fragile Tension" And the Gahan-written "Miles Away/The Truth Is," and there's a convincingly affirmative kind of spirit in songs like "Peace" ("I'm leaving anger in the past/With all the shadows that it cast"), "Chosen" and "Little Soul" ("This little voice is going to sing/I have no choice/It will infinitely ring"). "Sounds of the Universe" is not a groundbreaker, to be sure, but three decades on it sounds like the work of a band that's not too diluted by either age or tensions.


Tinted Windows, "Tinted Windows" (S-Curve) ***

This is an unlikely supergroup, combining a Smashing Pumpkins alumnus (guitarist James Iha), Cheap Trick drummer Bun E. Carlos, Fountains of Wayne's Adam Schlesinger and...Taylor Hanson as its frontman. But it works, to the tune of 11 unapologetic power pop romps powered by layers of guitars, rich vocal melodies and enough melodic hooks to hang a Gap store's worth of merchandise on. The Raspberries, the Knack and name-you-New Wave band (not to mention, um, Cheap Trick) are all touchstones here, and songs such as "Without Love," "Nothing to Me" and "Take Me Back" would be aces in the repertoire of most any band, regardless of pedigree.

New & Noteworthy:

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, "How Big Can You Get" (Big Bad/Vanguard): The swing-rockers are still having a "Zoot Suit Riot" on this tribute set of Cab Calloway songs.

Brian Blade, "Mama Rosa" (Verve Forecast): The well-credentialed drummer makes his debut as a singer, songwriter and guitarist on this 13-song set.

The Cat Empire, "So Many Nights" (Velour): The genre-blending Australian group recorded its third album with heavyweight producer John Porter, whose credits range from Roxy Music to the Smiths and Los Lonely Boys.

Chimaira, "The Infection" (Ferret): The headbanging Cleveland sextet returned to first producer Ben Schigel to make its fifth studio outing.

The Boxmasters, "Modbilly" (Vanguard): Actor Billy Bob Thornton's band rolls out its third album -- a two-CD set, no less -- in the span of a year.

Booker T., "Potato Hole" (Anti-): The famed Stax organ master and bandleader is joined by Neil Young and Drive-By Truckers on his first solo album in 20 years.

Rondi Charleston, "In My Life" (Emmamuse): The jazz singer and Emmy Award-winning journalist's debut album comes with a bonus live DVD.

Slaid Cleaves, "Everything You Love Will Be Taken Away" (Music Road): The Texas singer-songwriter ends a five-year wait for his next album and is his first for fellow troubadour Jimmy LaFave's artist co-op label.

Cycle of Pain, "Cycle of Pain" (Rock Ridge): Black Label Society bassist John "J.D." DeServio's debut features guest appearances by Zakk Wylde, Cypress Hill rapper Sen Dog, Tantric frontman Hugo Ferreira, Fear Factory's Burton C. Bell and others.

Empire of the Sun, "Walking on a Dream" (Astralwerks): The debut album from the electro-psychedelic side project featuring the Sleepy Jackson's Luke Steel and Pnau's Nick Littlemore.

The Greencards, "Fascination" (Sugar Hill): The Nashville roots music trio tapped producer Jay Joyce (Patty Griffin, John Hiatt) as a sympathetic ear for its latest release.

Wayne Hancock, "Viper of Melody" (Bloodshot): Wayne "The Train" rolls out his seventh album of rowdy roots music, produced by Dixie Chicks dad Lloyd Maines.

The Insomniacs, "At Least I'm Not With You" (Delta Groove): The blues troupe delivers the follow-up to its lauded 2007 debut "Left Coast Blues."

Lacuna Coil, "Shallow Life" (Century Media): The Italian hard rockers worked on their first album in three years in Los Angeles with producer Don Gilmore (Linkin Park, Avril Lavigne).

LANDy, [cq] "Eros and Omissions" (Apology Music): Actor and filmmaker Adam Goldberg ("Entourage," "Dazed and Confused," "Saving Private Ryan") tries his hand at music with help from the Flaming Lips' Steven Drozd, Earlimart's Aaron Espinoza and others.

Meg & Dia, "Here, Here and Here" (Warner Bros.): The sibling duo's sophomore album features a guest shot from Plain White T's Tom Higgenson on the track "Bored of Your Love."

Pet Shop Boys, "Yes" (Astralwerks): Johnny Marr of the Smiths and Modest Mouse contributes guitar to the British electro-pop duo's 10th studio album.

Keith Reid, "The Common Thread" (Rockville Music): The debut outing by Procol Harum lyricist Keith Reid finds his words sung by John Waite, Manfred Mann's Chris Thompson, Southside Johnny and Terry Reid.

Jason Ricci & New Blood, "Done Wtih the Devil" (Electogroove): The second offering from the blues 'n' roots outfit that had much praise heaped on its 2007 debut "Rocket Number 9."

Jesse Winchester, "Love Filling Station" (Appleseed): The singer-songwriter's first studio album in a decade comes on the heels of a 2007 Lifetime Achievement Award from the publishing house ASCAP.

From the Vaults: Black Label Society, "Skullage" (Eagle Rock); Snooks Eaglin, "You Can Get Your Gun" (Hep Cat): Jane's Addiction, "A Cabinet of Curiosities" (Rhino); Sinead O'Connor, "I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got (Expanded Edition)" (Capitol/EMI); Various Artists, "Chicago Blues: A Living History" (Raisin' Music)

New Music DVDs: Gary Moore & Friends, "One Night in Dublin -- A Tribute to Phil Lynott" (Eagle Rock Blu-Ray); Styx, "One With Everything" (Eagle Rock Blu-Ray); Muddy Waters, "Live at ChicagoFest" (Shout! Factory); Wilco, "Ashes of American Flags" (Nonesuch)

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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