Billboard CD reviews: Common, Barry Manilow
ALBUM: UNIVERSAL MIND CONTROL
NEW YORK (Billboard) - Everything's wacky in Chicago hip-hop these days: Kanye West is all mopey and contemplative, while Common has just landed on Planet Rock. The title track of the rapper/actor's latest uses the entire soundtrack from the Atari 2600 edition of "Super Breakout" to set the tone for a synthetic, sexified club record that'll bring in new fans while probably alarming old ones. As was the case with John Legend, who beamed into the club on his latest, the initial effect is jarring, even in its star's capable hands. But it also settles in nicely. "Announcement" benefits from a slinky beat that lets the MC breathe, "Make My Day" issues some California love courtesy of Cee-Lo, "Gladiator" is a great old-school brag rhyme, and the pro-Obama preacher "Changes" lets the old Common back in the door.
ARTIST: BARRY MANILOW
ALBUM: THE GREATEST HITS OF THE EIGHTIES (Arista Records)
With a Christmas single on the adult contemporary singles chart for the second year in a row and a fifth sold-out year of live shows, Barry Manilow's millennial presence continues to dazzle. Following "The Greatest Hits of the Fifties" (No. 1 debut, 2006), "Sixties" (No. 2, 2006) and "Seventies" (No. 4, 2007), "Eighties" is already off to a merry start with a No. 14 debut on the album chart. Manilow's gleeful duet with Reba McEntire on "Islands in the Stream" proves what a master arranger/interpreter he is, taking an overtly familiar hit and recasting it honorably. The same holds true for "Right Here Waiting" and "Have I Told You Lately." Most surprising are "I Just Called to Say I Love You," now a lite rhumba, and "Never Gonna Give You Up," where Manilow busts a groove. There's a lot of uncertainty in the world, but "Eighties" is one sure thing.
ARTIST: MAROON 5
ALBUM: CALL AND RESPONSE: THE REMIX ALBUM (A&M/Octone)
Remix albums rightfully have a bad rep. Too often they're merely contract satisfiers -- easy ways to give big artists something fresh on the shelves or to separate dedicated fans from more of their dough. But "Call and Response" is everything the format could and should be. The band enlisted names big and small to get deep into its two-album catalog, and judging from the thoughtfulness of the contributions, they're all pre-existing Maroon fans. Swizz Beatz uses an uncharacteristically loose and light hand on "If I Never See Your Face Again"; Mark Ronson gets Mary J. Blige to contribute a great vocal to his funky take on "Wake Up Call"; and Pharrell Williams' "She Will Be Loved" is lo-fi and completely devoid of schmaltz or radio trickery. No one was trying to make new hits here or take their stock remix loop and carelessly plop it over an unrelated melody -- they seem to just really love the songs. Continued...