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Culture Music

Noteworthy recent albums


Noteworthy recent albums


Alice Cooper

If you’re compiling a best-of from Cooper’s last 25 years, check out “Fireball,” sure-footed hard rock sung with minimal histrionics from the point of view of those who’ve foolishly dismissed talk of the fire next time. Next, try “Private Public Breakdown,” the only “theatrical” number in which Cooper doesn’t resort to cartoonish condescension to bridge the distance between himself and the characters he portrays. Last, try “The Sound of A,” a spooky slice of psychedelia that Cooper wrote 50 years ago then forgot about until now.

Sacred Hearts Club

Foster the People

Ironically, Foster the People’s first album without Rebecca St. James’ husband Cubbie Fink is also the group’s most obviously God-conscious, as close listening to “Pay the Man,” “SHC,” and “Static Space Lover” (and maybe “III”) will reveal. Not so ironically, the replacing of Fink, a bassist, with Isom Innis, a keyboardist, has transformed the group’s sound. Electronics burble beneath and form auroras around nearly every hook, making the two songs with audible guitars seem a lot more like outliers than they were probably meant to.

Filet of Soul Redux: The Rejected Master Recordings

Jan & Dean

Here’s one for collectors of pop-cultural oddities. Part Having Fun with Elvis on Stage, part Head by the Monkees, part contractual-obligation live album, it features Berry and Torrence wisecracking between their performances of other people’s hits, most of which appear in their entirety and some of which the duo defaces with prepackaged sound effects. The humorless suits at Liberty Records rejected it, rushing out a much duller, hijinks-free version when Jan made headlines shortly thereafter by wiping out near Dead Man’s Curve. It bombed.



Other than “Short Elevated Period,” which comes charging out of the gate at full volume, it’s clear that time has taken its toll on this punk institution. The tempos are slower, the droning is quieter, and Graham Lewis’ lyrics, whether sung by Lewis or Colin Newman, are mixed high and clear. Not that Lewis has that much to say, but his questions hit home. In no particular order and from three different songs: “Are you in pain?” “Have you got an alibi?” “Does voodoohoodoo do it for you?”

Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP

Randy Newman (Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)


The title of Randy Newman’s new album, Dark Matter (Nonesuch), refers to the philosophical and spiritual penumbra through which Newman, as a self-described atheist/agnostic, sees darkly. It also refers to the first topic that the scientists and the “true believers” (Christians) tackle in the lead track: a surreal, eight-minute mini-musical called “The Great Debate.” Neither side can be said to win (or, for that matter, to lose) because the deck is stacked—against the scientists by the true believers, against the true believers by Newman, and against Newman by himself.

Humility, in other words, seeps into Dark Matter’s satire, making it some of the most unsarcastic satire in his sarcasm-rich songbook. Even the real-life protagonist of “Putin” emerges as something more, if not quite other, than the “bad guy” that Newman has called him in interviews. Then there are the love songs for grown-ups. Romantic, filial, or otherwise, they render the universal almost unbearably particular. —A.O.