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Record Rack

A mind walk set to music

September 18, 2009|Ann Powers; Greg Kot; Mikael Wood

Kid Cudi

"Man on the Moon:

The End of Day"

GOOD/Universal Motown

* * *

--

In the middle of "Enter Galactic (Love Connection Part 1)," one of the few flirtatious songs on his moody, supercool new album, art rapper Kid Cudi asks a pertinent question. "If you can't do what you imagine, then what is imagination to you?" he teases his paramour, with whom he might have just shared a hit of Ecstasy.

That challenge makes a central point about the 25-year-old Kid Cudi's mission, which is to portray his own mind's meanderings within soundscapes as vivid as those other rappers create to describe gang battles or club-to-crib seductions.

Following in a line that includes legendary fabulists like Ralph Ellison and Sun Ra and intersects with hip-hop via artists like the Wu-Tang Clan, Outkast and Cudi's mentor, Kanye West, this Cleveland-raised former film student expands hip-hop's language by exploring the inner life of the inner city the way others focus on the action in the street.

Cudi, now a hipster Brooklynite, ponders his emotional downturns and upticks in sing-song rhymes set within spacious electronic sound beds. His father's death and his subsequent struggles as a teen preoccupy him, as do his daily efforts to inspire himself to be a "lion," not the paranoid insomniac he dubs "Mr. Solo Dolo."

It's all pretty self-indulgent, but in a way that's the point. Cudi's trying to do what Louis Armstrong did, according to Ellison: "He's made poetry out of being invisible." Alienated and adrift but determined to make his imaginings concrete, he presents his psychic turmoil as a true adventure. His flair for surrealistic imagery helps his reveries soar.

So does the production by an array of studio experimentalists, including West, Emile, Plain Pat and the dance-pop duos Ratatat and MGMT. Creative samples and an airy mix help these tracks surprise the listener, even after many plays, and make "Man on the Moon: The End of Day" a standout release.

The one overly consistent element, unfortunately, is Cudi's voice. His unhurried nasal flow is highly recognizable but doesn't quite convey the sly wit of precursors like Slick Rick and Snoop Dogg. He's best when he lets the fog lift on more extroverted cuts like the funny "Make Her Say" and "Enter Galactic."

Let's hope Kid Cudi finds a few more ladies to take into space on his next journey; they seem to help him get beyond his habits and hang-ups.

--

Ann Powers --

Anvil finds stride with 'Thirteen'

Anvil

"This Is Thirteen"

VH1 Classic Records

* * *

--

The veteran Canadian band Anvil has been slugging it out in the commercial wilderness since the late '70s, when its pioneering blend of heaviness and velocity ushered in the thrash and speed-metal era. The sound remains influential, but Anvil was never able to capitalize while other bands got most of the notoriety.

Then "Anvil! The Story of Anvil," a 2008 documentary filmed by a former roadie, Sacha Gervasi, became an unexpected hit. "This Is Thirteen," the band's comeback album available on its website, is officially released this week to capitalize on the film's success.

It reunites original members Steve Kudlow and Robb Reiner with Chris Tsangarides, who produced their early '80s work. Kudlow is a gruff, no-nonsense vocalist and Reiner is a monster drummer.

Kudlow's lyrics are a step up from the sometimes silly sexual imagery that choked the band's early material; he now skims the surface of political and personal crises. But the music has an undeniable momentum all its own.

--

Greg Kot --

Poised for a U.S. breakthrough?

Muse

"The Resistance"

Warner Bros.

* * 1/2

--

This over-the-top English trio has long played to smaller audiences in the United States than it does throughout Europe, where Muse is considered among the biggest rock bands on Earth. (In 2007, it played two sold-out shows at London's 75,000-capacity Wembley Stadium.)

Yet singer-guitarist Matt Bellamy, bassist Chris Wolstenholme and drummer Dominic Howard received a considerable boost on these shores last year when their song "Supermassive Black Hole" was featured prominently in the hit movie "Twilight." And last week came news that "Uprising," the lead single from the band's fifth full-length, had topped the U.S. alternative-rock radio chart.

In some ways, "The Resistance" seems designed for an American breakthrough: "Undisclosed Desires" rides a lithe R&B groove that could've come from a song by Nelly Furtado, while "Uprising" finds Bellamy sympathizing with folks who consider themselves victims of Wall Street greed. Over a thumping disco-glam beat he sneers, "It's time the fat cats had a heart attack," a line that's likely to draw a reaction later this month when Muse opens a string of U2 shows on the East Coast and in Texas.

On the other hand, much of "The Resistance" reflects how uninterested the members of Muse are in dialing down their appealing flamboyance to attract Daughtry and Nickelback fans. That arty intransigence often improves the band's music, as in "United States of Eurasia," which proceeds from a pretty piano-ballad intro to an Arabian-accented orchestral-rock climax.

Occasionally, though, it can make Bellamy and his bandmates sound like the world's most successful sourpusses. You don't have to make it all the way through "Exogenesis," the three-part symphony that closes the new album, before you start hankering for a Nickelback-style chorus.

--

Mikael Wood

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