Santigold, Master of My Make-Believe
There’s nothing stopping Santigold, and that’s not just because the Philly native sets off the long-gestating follow-up to her 2008 debut with the strutting bravado of “GO!” Stuttering into a raving cheer like some made-for-roller-skating song out of the ’80s, and featuring dance-queen Karen O, the thrillingly schizo song is just the start of a dynamic cross-genre work that’s ultra-absorbing in its sharp observations on the socio-political climate – and, best of all, always ear-worming. Hopelessness all of a sudden dissipates in the encouraging illusion of “Disparate Youth,” an empowering anthem of freedom, unification and determination filtered through an evocatively torched rhythmic recipe. Two standouts, “This Isn’t Our Parade” and “The Riot’s Gone,” could be addressing a relationship as much as a revolution. Her intention is clearer on the album’s best cut, “The Keepers,” a sure declaration of madness: “While we sleep in America, our house is burning down.” The song’s drum rush offers a contradiction that runs through much of Master of My Make-Believe: beats that bounce on songs that are considerably bleak. Only a few times, with the aggressively effective but less compelling “Look at These Hoes” and “Freak Like Me,” does she reverse that incongruity for mindlessness. Otherwise, her message seems to be: bad things happen, but keep on moving. With Make-Believe, that shouldn’t be a problem.
Adam Lambert, Trespassing
Adam Lambert isn’t just here “for your entertainment” – the mission statement, and title, of the Idol grad’s debut, a perfunctory music cherry-popper that entertained but shied away from any bold assertions. A lot changes in three years, though, and the wild rebel – on and off stage, as demonstrated by turning an awards performance into a sex simulation and, you know, by just being gay – wants more than to show you a good time. So, Lambert’s getting down to business: quiet come-down “Outlaws of Love,” reserved for the ballad-heavy second half, is a powerful cry for equality wonderfully sung in a near-whisper (his own “Mad World”); “Underneath” gets to his core, where there’s “no apologies”; and the brazen catwalk-made, Pharrell Williams-produced title track screams fierce, like some kind of Queen update, and further casts Adam as the queerest bad boy (or girl) on the pop block. His rabble-rousing spills over into “Cuckoo,” where he takes full advantage of his right to “turn it up and get down” – two things you’ll find yourself guilty of. Basically, with the album’s best hook, it’s hot enough to melt the eyeliner off his face. Trespassing is certainly more conceptualized than his debut, but it’s not a perfect album: “Never Close Our Eyes” is Dance Music for Dummies, and the intentionally darker half drags. Let’s just call those growing pains on his glittery path to greatness.
Neon Trees, Picture Show
On the alt-rock, all-Mormon band’s second LP, it’s Tyler Glenn against the world. With “Teenage Sounds,” after suggesting he’s a switch-hitter, he drops this bomb: “I’m sick of being called fag because I’m queer.” It’s an angry rant, particularly lambasting fame whores, that bites down hard with a feverish rebellion that snarls at anyone who ever pissed him off. If you have, his menacing howl will sting you. Then, there’s “Mad Love,” a sweet ’80s-leaned duet with drummer Elaine Bradley – it’s an easy-going moment not at all like Glenn’s temper tantrum. Though more contrived as it moves along, the ironically titled “Hooray for Hollywood” is the band’s low. The song’s a discombobulated, pretentiously arty cautionary tale that, like “Vogue,” name drops dead celebs. Teenage sounds of love and angst serve Neon Trees so much better.
Rye Rye, Go! Pop! Bang!
My introduction to the Maryland rapper wasn’t off to a great start: sampling Robyn on debut single “Never Will Be Mine” felt like an unnecessary, gay-baiting move, a song that would’ve been nothing without the Swede’s contribution. But Rye Rye’s debut, postponed due to pregnancy, is finally out – and our musical relationship is on the mend. Love is in the air on summer-sounding “Crazy Bitch,” a … uh … cute duet with Akon about two psychotic lovers; “Boom Boom” is so stupid, and the kind of the song that won’t leave your ear hole. And how about the other sample? Rolling Annie Get Your Gun music into “Better Than You” is so genius that you start to believe that anything you can do, she can do better.
Chris Azzopardi is the editor of Q Syndicate, the international LGBT wire service. Reach him via his website at chris-azzopardi.com.