Sleater-Kinney - “The Center Won’t Hold” (Mom + Pop ** 1/2)
There’s been no shortage of drama surrounding “The Center Won’t Hold,” the ninth album by the formidable punk trio Sleater-Kinney.
There was excitement this spring when word got out that the band of guitarist-singers Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein and drummer Janet Weiss were being produced by St. Vincent, the smart and stylish alt-guitar hero who was born Annie Clark. And then there was dismay last month when Weiss, an important component of the band’s powerful sound, announced she was leaving the group because they were “heading in a new direction.” (That gave way to worry when Weiss announced this week that she had been injured in a “scary” car accident that left her with a broken leg and collarbone and caused her to cancel a tour this fall with Quasi, her other band.)
And now, the music on “The Center Won’t Hold” will surely cause longtime fans further consternation. The album is by no means an abject failure, but it’s a clear effort to pursue a new musical direction — less punk, more pop — that results in the heretofore supremely confident band coming across as uncertain about its musical identity. The album has its moments — the seething “Restless,” about “learning to love the ugliest things,” and the climactic ending of the title cut opener, when grimy electronic drums give way to a satisfying noisy guitar maelstrom. But most of the intricate interplay between Tucker and Brownstein that has been a Sleater-Kinney trademark going back to 1996’s “Call The Doctor” is missing, as the band has clearly opted for a sleeker, more keyboard-centered approach that apparently left Weiss disillusioned and may well have the same effect on fans. —Dan DeLuca
The Hold Steady - “Thrashing Thru the Passion” (Frenchkiss ****)
From 2004 to 2008, The Hold Steady nearly perfected a literary arena rock of which only Bruce Springsteen himself has ever matched the combined lyrical density and musical grandeur. Then keyboardist Franz Nicolay quit and the motto became, “We’re good guys but we can’t be good every night.” Now, after a decade, Nicolai’s back and so is the passion. “Blackout Sam” alone has both “I want to make you feel protected and high” and “Promise me you won’t forget / The nights that haven’t happened yet.” Another key line: “It shouldn’t have to be perfect.”
They’ve never been so streamlined and Craig Finn hasn’t been so funny in years: “Tequila takeoff, Tecate landing / Sorry about the centerpiece, thanks for understanding,” “Pontius Pilate played to the crowd and they all thought he knew what they wanted,” “The dress she was wearing made a nice case for natural selection.” And he gets political not a moment too soon: “They take advantage of confusion in the marketplace / Hard to have much faith when they can’t keep their stores straight.” — Dan Weiss
Rick Ross - “Port of Miami 2” (MMG/Epic Records *** 1/2)
Even before Rick Ross dropped the first chapter in his defining album, Port of Miami, he was “The Boss.” Thirteen years ago, the rapper, producer, and Maybach Music Group CEO was making opulent hip hop, and running the label game, all-but-discovering and releasing records by Wale and Philly’s Meek Mill. Ross and Mill made quite a pair, showing up for each other, at concerts and clubs.
Rich and uniquely Rozay-like, “Miami 2”’s best moments have a luscious sonic sheen, a grand orchestrated feel akin to a trap hop update of Issac Hayes’ multi-layered epics. While “Turnpike Ike” and “Maybach Music VI” (the latter featuring John Legend and Lil Wayne making the best of their smooth soul/rough funk match up) represent Ross’ usual, “Nobody’s Favorite” is more cutting and blunt, with a memorable pile-driving bass line. As a rapper, Ross uses his gruff patois and rushing-to-stop flow — sticking to its predictability — in which to discuss acquired wealth and dis Kanye West (“Vegas Residency”). While Meek appears on “Miami 2” as an understated feature on the rubbery “Bogus Charms,” it is the late Nipsey Hussle (with Teyana Taylor) who bum rushes “Rich N— Lifestyle” with the album’s most potent and poignant sociocultural blasts and biting digs against Brooklyn rapper (and presumed rat) 6ix9ine. —A.D. Amorosi
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