"It was supposed to be so easy," bemoans Mike Skinner (aka The Streets) in the opening track of his newest album, A Grand Don't Come For Free. Disconnected vocals over the soft swells of horn-section grandeur -- is this the new sound of hip- hop? Over in Europe it certainly is, as the Brit has already hit the big time and is poised to quietly storm America. His songs have the insight that usually comes with emo rap artists such as Atmosphere or Sage Francis, but the music is so absolutely jarring that it takes a while to get used to. The Streets' accent is Yorkshire pudding-thick, and the beats are so, well, offbeat, that it's at once aurally odd and absolutely mesmerizing. Like his comrade Dizzee Rascal, he's creating a hip-hop sound that is entirely unlike anything we have heard in America. In the Golden Age of Bling, are the Yanks ready for something so revolutionary? Take a leap and listen.
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Kiss & Tell RCA
The Swedish are almost preternaturally good looking. It's truly ridiculous. The gals of Sahara Hotnights are no exception, though these Swedes would probably acknowledge the compliment with a roll of the eyes and a sexy swig of Red Bull and vodka. The quartet often is described as a sort of unofficial sister group to The Hives, fellow Scandinavians who actually do rock. With looks to kill, and guitars turned up to 11, Sahara Hotnights should have the formula for great rock down pat. Unfortunately, they prove rather frustrating instead, and their latest album Kiss & Tell, is pretty much an exercise in mediocrity. Technically the songs are just fine, but man, they could do so much more. They want to have the balls-out growl and energy of a neo-Joan Jett and Pat Benatar, but lack any sense of danger. One after another, the tracks have the same tempos and similar guitar riffs, becoming indistinguishable. Jag har hörit betre rock 'n' roll.
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In past reviews, I've tended to compare a lot of bands with the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, and here's why: They simply do it best. Even though they have dropped the "Jon Spencer" moniker (but not the man), they have retained their customary grab-and-shake-you rock 'n' roll. Their latest album, Damage, is quite a lot better than the previous Plastic Fang, which was oddly dull. Vocalist/ guitarist Spencer, who can do more with a guttural "sock it to me" than seems reasonable, triumphs on "Rival" and the title track "Damage." Drummer Russell Simmons lends perfect driving drumbeats over "Hot Gossip," an oddly paired political duet with Public Enemy's Chuck D ("We gotta get on up and shut this shit down!"). "Fed Up & Low Down" is a bass lover's delight, alternating between soul, revival fire and garage punk. "I have moved heaven and earth to bring you people this message!" the dreamy Spencer yells. "The blues are gonna kill me!" Indeed.