On the Record

4:13 Dream
The Cure

One of the reasons the Smiths are so revered—apart from the considerable talents of Morrissey, Johnny Marr, and the rest—is that they quit while ahead. Not everyone gets the memo, such as Robert Smith and whoever else is in The Cure these days. If the band had quit while ahead (Disintegration would have been a great career topper), they’d be held in higher regard—and fans wouldn’t have suffered through 20 years of increasingly mediocre releases. 4:13 Dream does nothing to change that slide, as it offers little more than an overlong collection of generic Cure songs that have none of the depth or even humor of the band’s best work. What’s worse is that these songs aren’t even aggressively bad (the Cure went in some…interesting directions during the early 1980s). Instead, they just fall off the mind without leaving any impression whatsoever. Come on, Bob, time to put the six-string basses and hairspray away, and try something new.

Back to Now

The team behind “Lady Marmalade” and other great funk/soul hits of the ’70s has reunited, and it doesn’t sound like a day has passed. Back to Now heaps classy songs and heavy-duty playing on top of the unique vocal talents of Patti LaBelle, Nona Hendryx, and Sarah Dash. While the collection employs some hot guests (Lenny Kravitz produces several tracks, and Wyclef Jean joins for a song), this collection is all about the ladies, from the opening salvo of “Candlelight,” which takes about 20 seconds to hit a classic soul moment, as the trio blend their vocals on the chorus. They move strength to strength from there, laying out slow and thick soul, the occasional ballad, and a couple of rousers (the Jean song “Rollout,” is actually the weakest number here) that make the collection fly by. Recent years have seen a number of classic singers and acts return to their past glory. It’s wonderful that LaBelle has joined them.

Little Honey
Lucinda Williams

I love Lucinda Williams. I don’t mean that in an “Oh, I love her music” kind of way. I just purely love Williams. Something about her take on country and rock music just warms my heart. That warmth is in full effect on Williams’s latest, Little Honey. I mean, what’s not to love here? You’ve got a parcel of great love songs; a duet with Elvis Costello (the rambling “Jailhouse Tears”); and enough variety to entertain the heart, no matter what mood you are in at the time. To end it all, Williams gives us a cover of “It’s a Long Way to the Top,” one of the signature tunes of the early AC/DC. Here, it gets recast as a bit of rocking country (without a bagpipe solo) that still keeps the original’s mix of road weariness at traveling and sheer joy of playing rock ’n’ roll for a living. There’s that fun again. That’s why I love Williams.

The Sound Of
The Smiths

As this is, it seems, the hundredth Smiths collection issued in the 21 years since the band split up, the main question should be: Is it worth it? The answer, actually, is an emphatic yes. Even someone like me, who has owned the original albums on vinyl for decades, was captivated by this collection, especially Disc Two, which digs deep for some lesser-known B-sides and stray tracks. Disc One is given over to 23 of the band’s best tracks—a cornucopia of stunning songwriting and performance. Well-chosen and sequenced, these tracks cover the bases you would expect (“How Soon is Now,” “Girlfriend in a Coma,” etc.), but still make for a great listen. The second disc collects plenty of goodness as well, making for quite a Smiths mix tape. Fans of the band will get a chance to hear familiar tracks in a new context, while newcomers can sink deep into one of the signature bands of the 1980s.

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