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On music's Super Tuesday, likely candidates include Pink, the Killers and Dwight Yoakam

Posted 1:03pm on Thursday, Sep. 20, 2012

"Super Tuesday" is a descriptor generally reserved for the world of politics, but increasingly, it's becoming co-opted by the music industry.

This week, a genuine mountain of new music appeared in record stores, and on iTunes and streaming services like Spotify, with plenty of big names offering eagerly anticipated collections. Here is a look at five new albums in stores now.

To hear a sample from each record, visit dfw.com.

Pink, 'The Truth About Love'

For her sixth studio effort, multiplatinum pop superstar Pink picks up where 2008's Funhouse left off -- which is to say, assembling an album's worth of singles and watching as they effortlessly ascend the charts. Not unlike her contemporaries Rihanna and Beyoncé, Pink manages a neat trick in an age of superficial, high-gloss consumption.

As in the past, rather than conceiving The Truth About Love as a unified whole, the songs are held together by sheer force of will (and, in Pink's case, serious skill) and personality. Her appealing, gritty voice, willingness to lacerate herself, and knack for assembling top-shelf producers (Max Martin, Greg Kurstin, Shellback and Butch Walker chip in here) help elevate her above the run-of-the-mill Top 40 dreck. Even high-wattage guest stars like Eminem and Nate Ruess (of buzz band fun.) don't distract from Pink's aggressively bawdy, outsize persona.

But when every track has the potential to be a big, stomping single, there's scarcely a moment of reflection. Pink has been able to balance the commercial with personal (such as the poignant Family Portrait) in the past, but the half-hearted attempts at midtempo melodrama (Try) fail to connect. Forsaking humanity for hits can work in the short term, but Pink should be mindful of maintaining a balance, or else she becomes just another commodity in an already-crowded marketplace.

The Killers, 'Battle Born'

Despite the Killers' success -- more than 15 million albums sold worldwide, and a fistful of Grammy nominations -- there's a sense that, four records in, Brandon Flowers and his bandmates still have a chip on their shoulders. Why else does the Las Vegas-based quartet persist in making albums crammed full of hooks engineered to echo from stadium walls? Watching Flowers and company attempt reconciliation of the dance-floor pleasures of 2005's Hot Fuss with the gritty Springsteen style of its follow-up, Sam's Town, is a fascinating game of square peg-round hole.

Instead, the Killers are left with songs that lean in one direction and can just as quickly reverse course -- look no further than Battle Born's opener, Flesh and Bone, with its percolating synths, up-by-your-bootstraps lyrics and soaring guitars. For its first effort after an 18-month hiatus, the Killers enlisted an impressive roster of producers (Steve Lillywhite, Brendan O'Brien, Daniel Lanois and Stuart Price) to help sculpt these dozen tracks. They range from dreamy intimacy ( The Way It Was, co-written with Lanois; Here With Me, co-written with Fran Healy) to thunderous overkill (lead single Runaways; A Matter of Time).

Nothing about Battle Born suggests that the band will abandon its pursuit of ever-larger venues, critical respect and commercial appeal -- an increasingly tricky trifecta in 2012. There are pockets of promise, but the Killers' need to demonstrate ambition at every turn grows tiring.

Various artists, 'G.O.O.D. Music Presents Cruel Summer'

For the follow-up to last year's masterful Watch the Throne, Kanye West does something unexpected: He shares the spotlight. Rather than release a full-bore solo record, West uses G.O.O.D. Music Presents Cruel Summer to showcase some of hip-hop's brightest stars (2 Chainz, Chief Keef, Big Sean, Kid Cudi, Cyhi the Prince) alongside some elder statesmen (R. Kelly, Jay-Z, Ghostface Killah, Mase), and reel off a string of singles that have dominated radio and digital retailers.

Of the dozen tracks found here, West pops up on eight of them, although he often appears to be coasting -- bon mots like "Everything I do need a news crew's presence" (from Clique) and the ferocious Cold notwithstanding -- and focusing more on the lesser-known talents.

Unfortunately, that approach lends Cruel Summer a disjointed, diffuse feel, as terrific moments reside in close proximity to tracks that never generate much momentum.

It's the pitfall affecting every mixtape -- by definition, a grab bag of ideas, some of which are more potent than others. Because Cruel Summer (which was postponed from its original Aug. 7 release date) finds the infamous perfectionist West ceding control, the record never coheres, lacking his unique, grandiose, exacting personality to pull the listener through from start to finish.

A Fine Frenzy, 'Pines'

Say this for Alison Sudol, who performs as A Fine Frenzy: She is committed to her concepts. For Pines, her third full-length album, Sudol endeavored to create, as she has described it in press materials, "a fable about a pining tree who is given the unheard-of chance (for a conifer) to make a life of her own choosing." If that description didn't induce eye-rolling, then you might be willing to wade through this hourlong miasma of beautifully arranged atmospherics and abstruse lyrics (three tracks clock in at more than 7 minutes).

Sudol has a gorgeous voice, and when it's been applied to sweeping, baroque pop songs (of the sort found on her first two LPs; They Can't If You Don't Let Them comes close here), the results have generally been positive.

Produced by Keefus Green, and drawing inspiration from what Sudol describes as the "dramatic landscapes" of Northern California and Washington's Cascade Mountains, Pines is just one piece of an ambitious multimedia project -- an animated film and companion book are also being released in conjunction with the record (and were not made available for review).

That Sudol was able to convince a major label in an age of austerity that this idiosyncratic piece of activism was a solid investment is almost more impressive than the product itself. Pines is full of lovely sounds (the instrumental Dance of the Grey Whales is magnificent), trying to signify much, but ultimately not saying anything truly profound.

Dwight Yoakam, '3 Pears'

Dwight Yoakam's music emanates from a sonic no-man's-land, situated halfway between country and rock.

He's not the only artist who has taken up residence there -- Raul Malo, Chris Isaak and Lyle Lovett are a few of his like-minded brethren -- but Yoakam has been so consistent for so long that a fantastic album like his latest, 3 Pears, is bound to be taken for granted.

The singer-songwriter's first collection of nearly all original material since 2005's Blame the Vain, 3 Pears easily veers from honky-tonk gems (the gleefully rowdy Dim Lights, Thick Smoke) to nakedly emotional ballads ( Trying; A Heart Like Mine) to startling covers (the Bee Gees' disco chestnut To Love Somebody), but never feels forced.

The record, produced by Yoakam and Lenny Waronker, boasts an intriguing footnote: Hipster icon Beck co-produced a pair of tracks ( A Heart Like Mine and Missing Heart).

The notion of a Yoakam/Beck collaboration stretched over the course of an album is beyond tantalizing. Beck already dabbled in similar territory, with his 2002 masterpiece Sea Change, and given Yoakam's own artistic flexibility, the pair could probably come up with something truly stunning.

But as it is, Yoakam has a winner with 3 Pears, a dispatch from a genre-blurred wonderland, and as satisfying an album as has come down the pike thus far in 2012.

Preston Jones is the Star-Telegram pop music critic, 817-390-7713

Twitter: @prestonjones

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