Billboard CD reviews: R.E.M., Rolling Stones
NEW YORK (Billboard) - R.E.M.'s first album in four years shoehorns 11 tracks of jagged guitars, quick and dirty drums, and Michael Stipe's gruff keen into 34 minutes, rocking with a blacker, blunter edge than "Document," "Green" or "Monster." Armed with deadpan "wow's" and "T-Rex moves" honed from 1996's "Wake-Up Bomb," Stipe limns politics, the media and the velocity of modern life with gimlet eyes, from the strutting "don't turn your talking points on me" of "Living Well's the Best Revenge" to the candid "uncertainty is suffocating" of the title track. A '70s jukebox grit dominates "Mansized Wreath," while Peter Buck's cool riff for first single "Supernatural Superserious" strikes like a cartoon mallet. "Accelerate" may not stun on impact like some R.E.M. records, but it's still habit-forming.
ARTIST: THE ROLLING STONES
ALBUM: SHINE A LIGHT (Soundtrack) (Interscope Records)
Moving from stadiums to ballrooms, the Rolling Stones performed two shows at New York's Beacon Theater in October 2006, filmed by Martin Scorsese for this documentary, which opens April 4. The accompanying live album captures the pure magic of a high-energy rock show performed in a small venue, offering a mix of crowd-pleasers ("Jumpin' Jack Flash," "Brown Sugar") and set-list oddities like the cheeky "Some Girls" or the feverish "She Was Hot," which sizzles with mean guitar licks. Mick Jagger and the boys throw a curveball and bring out Christina Aguilera, who rocks her vocal acrobatics on "Live With Me," and Jack White of the White Stripes guests on "Loving Cup," one of the best moments. Much more dazzling than the guest list: More than 40 years into their career, the Stones sound raw and dangerously alive.
ARTIST: GEORGE STRAIT
ALBUM: TROUBADOUR (MCA Nashville)
George Strait is one of music's most consistent hitmakers for a reason -- he knows a hit song when he hears one, and he sings it only if it fits him. "Troubadour" is chock-full of classic Strait. "I Saw God Today" is a perfect example of a track that speaks to the country core, while the title cut finds the singer reconciling his age with how old he feels. "When You're in Love" cleverly equates romance with a vacation destination ("There's so much to see and do when you're in love"), and "River of Love" will have women swooning at King George's invitation to a "stream of kissin' about 10 miles long." "House of Cash," with Patty Loveless, is a powerful tribute to the Cash family home, lost to fire a year ago. Continued...