"The Spirit Indestructible"
3 1/2 stars
Nelly Furtado would be more respected among tastemakers if her father were a Sri Lankan rebel, if she had been born and raised in a Brazilian favela or if she had burst out of Miami with the jumbo sound she presents on "The Spirit Indestructible." But, alas, she's Portuguese-Canadian and seemed to sneak onto the American charts like a Trojan horse, earning an early hit with "I'm Like a Bird" before gradually morphing into one of the more innovative and adventurous pop singers in North America.
On her fifth studio album, "The Spirit Indestructible," Furtado teams with superstar producer-songwriter Rodney "Darkchild" Jerkins, Salaam Remi and Passion Pit founder Mike Angelekos to create a thick, jam-filled joyride with more emotional heft than all her peers save maybe Beyoncé. Madonna wishes she could make a record as vital and imaginative as even the lesser tracks on "Spirit."
But who cares about lesser tracks when Furtado and Jerkins, whose work feels as vital and of-the-moment as his work with Destiny's Child, Brandy and Jennifer Lopez earlier in his career, are behind the wheel? Few save maybe longtime Furtado collaborator Timbaland — his work with her on her 2006 album, "Loose," confirmed that the singer understood a good funk jam. He's nowhere to be found, even if the record's got his label Mosley's logo on it. His absence, in fact, was worrisome given their musical chemistry, but Jerkins and company do him one better.
At its best, as on the first single, "Big Hoops (Bigger the Better)," big rhythm envelops Furtado's voice, carrying her solid structures with flexed muscles down unpredictable paths. "Big Hoops" ends with a huge double-speed breakbeat, in fact, that nearly single-handedly reintroduces British drum & bass music into the 2012 lexicon after a decade of underground hibernation.
This innovation is everywhere. On "Something," she rides a hollow tom-tom beat and a rubbery bassline toward bliss that wouldn't sound out of place at hot weekly beat night the Low End Theory, one that climaxes with a 16-bar cameo from rapper Nas. "Baby I could give you something," she sings in the chorus in grand understatement. Ever confident of her allure both as a woman and an artist, Furtado on "The Spirit Indestructible" proves nearly untouchable.
— Randall Roberts
Carly Rae Jepsen
Much has been made over the last few months of Carly Rae Jepsen's age. At nearly 27, the Vancouver-based singer — a veteran of "Canadian Idol" with a 2008 debut available on iTunes — is a few years older than such chart-pop peers as Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber, the latter of whom famously catapulted Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe" to song-of-the-summer status when he tweeted his approval earlier this year. (Jepsen is set to join Bieber for a North American tour that hits Staples Center on Oct. 2 and 3.)
The chatter, not surprisingly, has skewed unkind: "Did Carly Rae Jepsen Dress Too Young for Her Age at the Billboard Awards?" demanded a recent blog headline. But even worse than reinforcing tired ideas about female propriety, this nonsense misses the point of Jepsen's strong new album, "Kiss," which feels like a successful attempt to invest pheromone-rush dance pop with a bit of old-soul wisdom.
In "More Than a Memory," she looks back on "that night I almost said 'I love you'" with a knowing ache in her voice, while "This Kiss" punctures young-love optimism in a series of rhyming reality checks: "undeniable" and "unreliable," "sentimental" and "detrimental." Even "Call Me Maybe," that tween-beloved Radio Disney staple, climaxes with a turn of phrase that reflects her unusually long view: "Before you came into my life, I missed you so bad," she sings, and those back pages are easy to hear.
— Mikael Wood
Will the Killers be the last stadium-rock band America ever creates? We're great at pop, we invented hip-hop and we've even caught up at dubstep. But Coldplay is English, Arcade Fire is Canadian, and "Battle Born" feels like a reveille for the U.S. of A's last contender in the field of major guitar bands.
The Killers have always alternated between Europhile and Americana fetishes. Their debut, "Hot Fuss," got on the dance-punk revival a bit late but did it better than almost any peer; "Sam's Town" wore its rolled-sleeve Springsteen-isms proudly, and 2008's "Day & Age" turned to the art-pomp of Bowie and Roxy Music. "Battle Born" finally synthesizes all of this into one coherent vision.
Lead single "Runaways" borrows from "Born to Run"-era Bruce, but filled out with synth washes to make it even bigger (and Flowers' well-documented family-man life gives weight to a song about raising kids despite the pull of the road). Domesticity is revisited on "Here With Me" and the gentle devotion-statement "Be Still," putting the Killers in an unusual but promising position — a glammed up new wave band with the heart of a pure country songwriter.
The band's members can still kick out pure jams like "The Rising Tide," and Flowers is finally letting his voice's personality carry the emotional weight of a song. "Battle Born" isn't the finest album in the Killers' catalog, and it's not immune to classic rock placeholders (we've had enough blond-haired girls as archetypes for hope, thanks). But it's the band's most fully realized record, and that should keep them at the front of a dwindling pack.
— August Brown