Music review: “Earth vs. The Pipettes,” “Not Music,” “Rihanna’s Thing”

Jeremy Clemmons

Staff Writer

The Pipettes, “Earth vs. The Pipettes”

There is a litany of ways to hypothesize why “Earth vs. The Pipettes” doesn’t live up to the extravagance of the group’s debut, “We Are The Pipettes.”

For one, there is the “material” reason, like the fact that only one of the original members from the retro-girl group is present this go-round, and the songwriting banks more heavily on the late ‘70s and ‘80s than the much friendlier Ronettes-styled ‘60s pop.  Perhaps more Spektor and less Bananarama.

And there’s also the “critical” reason, namely that recent ‘80s nostalgic trend is kind of bankrupt musically, and that maybe we want our beautiful Pipettes slightly different than the predictable dishes of recent years.

Ostensibly a concept album (although, a track or two aside, you wouldn‘t know it), “Earth vs. the Pipettes” is disappointing for both of these reasons and others – but, heck, it’s still The Pipettes. So it’s still fun and catchy, and on songs like “Ain’t No Talkin’,” “Thank You” and “From Today,” the mash-up isn’t so unbearable and distracting.

While fact and theory make this album anything but the first record, The Pipettes still keep it interesting most of the time.  B-

Stereolab, “Not Music”

While not quite “not music,” Stereolab has always toed impressively close to the edges of the music medium with their futuristic, krautrock-inspired sound.

They often sound like the brooding daughter of acts like Can and Kraftwerk, in spite of occasional efforts to push the aesthetic to even more avant-garde territory. “Not Music,” perplexingly, isn’t quite as bold, though maybe it was a fate already sealed because, as we all ruefully discovered by age six, “everything’s been done before.”

The albums centerpiece, for example – “Silver Sands,” a 10-minute long piece of strange matter – can be dissected part by part into specific genres and “soundscapes” the band has covered in album’s past.  It’s unfair to ask Stereolab or any artist to accomplish such a task, of course, and confidently the album is mostly concerned with all the familiar barometers we’ve used with their sound before.

The opener, “Everybody’s Weird Except Me,” is classic Stereolab: groovy and foreign, not just in voice (they are French), but sound and texture.  In fact, most of the songs do this simple task in as a complex a manner as possible.

Highlights like “Leleklato Sugar” and “Laserblast” maintain this album as a worthy effort, right next to the towering foothills of Stereolab’s previous albums “Emperor Tomato Ketchup” and “Transient Random Noise-Burst with Announcement.”

Rihanna, “Loud”

Pain and resolution.

If last year’s “Rated R” was anything, it was certainly an album of pain and anger. An abusive incident and relationship is traumatizing enough, but to bleed publicly – now that’s something humiliating.

It was Rihanna’s most personal album to date, with a naked, autobiographical vibe unlike anything she had ever done.  “Loud,” however, is a half-expected step back to her roots (literally – she tempts her Caribbean flavor on several of the tracks), though the result is hardly tragic and frustrating.  After all, she’s been here before – her previous albums before “Rated R” were just as heavily singles-driven.

That’s not to say there aren’t traces of the “R-rated” Rihanna here. The album opens with an ode to S&M, and the inclusion of a new version of “Love the Way You Lie” shows that Rihanna isn’t completely ready to put her much-publicized bout with domestic abuse behind her.

The album’s biggest highlight is “Man Down,” a full-fledged reggae tune about a woman who shoots a man (Her abusive boyfriend? Her abusive pimp? Or maybe she is simply the abuser.) Either way, Rihanna sounds surprisingly agile in this genre, and it’s one of her finest, most confident vocal performances to date.

Even the album’s other standout single, “Raining Men,” (featuring the chameleon-like Nicki Minaj) banks in Rihanna’s commitment to “moving on.”

Not a perfect record by any means, but Rihanna’s always been okay with admitting she has flaws and made mistakes.  She’ll be OK and tell you all about it.  A-

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