The music biz is officially back from summer vacation.
This week, an avalanche of high-profile albums hits stores on one of the biggest Tuesdays so far this year.
Fans in almost every genre have something hotly anticipated arriving, so here’s a quick look at six records out now.
Drake, ‘Nothing Was the Same’
For his third album, the man born Aubrey Graham finds a middle path between braggadocio and tenderness. Whether he’s calculating how he’s going to “shift the culture” on the album-opening Tuscan Leather or taking responsibility for a one-night stand on Own It, Drake steps to the forefront of sensitive hip-hop with this cinematic effort. Anchored by sizzling singles Started From the Bottom and Hold On, We’re Going Home, Nothing Was the Same is another entry in 2013’s rap sweepstakes (behind Kanye West and Jay-Z and ahead of Eminem), and one cementing Drake as a brooding icon-in-waiting.
Elton John, ‘The Diving Board’
Pivoting from 2010’s reclamation project The Union, which found John rescuing Leon Russell from the ditch of semi-obscurity with the help of Fort Worth-raised producer T Bone Burnett, John re-teams with Burnett (and long-time lyricist Bernie Taupin) for his strongest LP since 2001’s Songs From the West Coast. Peeling away the layers until little more than piano, drums and guitar are evident, John reaches back to his early, primal days to consider the twilight of his years. It’s often deeply moving: John sings of “picking up on this and that in the few that still survive” on poignant opener Oceans Away. A wise and wonderful record from a lion in winter.
Sting, ‘The Last Ship’
One of Sting’s most underrated solo albums is 1991’s The Soul Cages, a brooding, emotionally charged work steeped in autobiography (it was conceived in the wake of his father’s death). It was this record that Sting, in pre-release interviews, cited as inspiration for his return, after a decade-long detour into Renaissance and classical music, to the pop-rock form. What should be good news turns out to be anything but — the songs on The Last Ship are also bound for Broadway, and as such, the LP is doomed with lugubrious, leaden songs that Feel Important But Convey Little. ( Cages is blatantly namechecked on Language of Birds.) Worse, classical, jazz and pop flourishes clash and compete for attention, making The Last Ship not only tedious, but unfocused as well.
Chvrches, ‘The Bones of What You Believe’
One of the year’s true breakout acts, this Scottish synth-pop trio makes the most of its polished debut, capitalizing on near-universal praise from critics on both sides of the Atlantic. Powered by Lauren Mayberry’s muscular pixie pipes, The Bones of What You Believe breezily toggles between glittering, cinematic splashes of sound (album lead-off The Mother We Share) and thumping anthems (irresistible single Recover). “I am going to break you down to tiny, tiny bites,” Mayberry sings on Gun, making a threat sound like the sweetest nothing.
Kings of Leon, ‘Mechanical Bull’
A common rap on the Kings is that they’re pretty boys, knocking out pretty songs without much meat on ’em. Unfortunately, the Followill clan’s latest studio effort doesn’t do much to dissuade that notion. Devoid of any lyrical substance but rich with atmosphere and melody, Mechanical Bull will find a happy home in heavy radio rotation. The band is on something of a comeback trail after infamously imploding on stage two years ago at Dallas’ Gexa Energy Pavilion. Tracks like Supersoaker and Beautiful War may bring success, but it will be decidedly hollow.
Alan Jackson, ‘The Bluegrass Album’
Perhaps more than in any other genre, country icons seize every chance they get to stretch out and try something a little different from what brought them success. Jackson, who has enjoyed a productive and creative decade, ditches gloss for grit on his 19th studio album. Bluegrass is a natural fit for Jackson, a laid-back vocalist whose buttery baritone melts into the fiddle, banjo and mandolin fueling these 14 tracks. From the beautiful waltz Mary through to his own, respectful rendition of the classic Blue Moon of Kentucky, Jackson sounds like a legend utterly at ease.