Jack White Rages, Lady Gaga Remixes, Fleming Goes Rock: Review

Renee Fleming
Soprano Renee Fleming. Fleming's first rock album, "Dark Hope," features her versions of pop tracks originally recorded by Leonard Cohen, Muse, Death Cab for Cutie and others. Source: Mercury Music Group via Bloomberg

Rock stars know there are two ways to make records. You can spend months in the studio, digitally capturing every note, finessing and mixing to perfection. Or you can bash it out in a few days using the Jack White method.

The White Stripes star, a fan of old-fashioned vinyl, has been making music increasingly rough and fast: Just start jamming and see what comes out from the band, be it Raconteurs or his latest side project, the Dead Weather, whose second album is “Sea of Cowards.”

The “quick and dirty” live approach works best with great songwriting -- Nick Cave has pulled it off, both with the Bad Seeds and Grinderman. Dead Weather sounds like White’s third-best band -- full of energy, yet raw around the edges.

This time, White is more to the fore. He’s still playing drums -- a surprising choice for a talented guitarist -- and he even takes a lead vocal on the opening “Blue Blood Blues.”

“All the white girls trip when I sing at Sunday service,” White yells, though for the rest of the album he leaves Alison Mosshart to do the screaming. Rating: **1/2.

Renee Fleming’s CD “Dark Hope” is rock as you haven’t heard it before. The diva switches from works such as “La Traviata” and “Der Rosenkavalier” to songs by Leonard Cohen and others, including Arcade Fire and Jefferson Airplane, on a fascinating though flawed exploration of pop.

If it were all as good as the closing “Hallelujah” -- where Fleming lets her voice soar like few rock stars can -- or the Tears for Fears lament “Mad World,” this would be an extraordinary record.

All too often she chooses to undersing, clipping her notes to fit the melody. Numbers such as “Endlessly” are as bland as Bonnie Tyler on a bad day. If only Fleming unleashed her operatic power, slowed the music and used that amazing ability to hold a note.

It’s an uneven yet intriguing effort. Rating: ***.

From someone who can sing to someone who can’t, but knows how to make a pop hit anyway.

The Madonna for our times, Lady Gaga, has wheeled out another version of her debut album. After “The Fame” and “The Fame Monster” we get “The Remix.” The familiar tracks, now in danger of being played to death, are given a new sheen by the Pet Shop Boys and sometime Madonna producer Stuart Price. Rating: **.

Paul Weller, at 52, continues his purple patch with “Wake Up the Nation.” Weller reunites with his former Jam bandmate Bruce Foxton for the first time in more than 20 years on “Fast Car/Slow Traffic,” which like many of the tracks crams a lot of energy into two minutes. Rating: ****.

LCD Soundsystem is the brainchild of U.S. producer James Murphy, who has been turning out electronic dance with mixed results over three albums. The latest, “This Is Happening,” is the best yet, though it’s possibly the last of his ersatz group’s offerings: Murphy has hinted at moving on. “You Wanted a Hit” is a cool response to commercial pressures. Rating: ***1/2.

The Australian dance-rockers in Pendulum have been touring the world, turning out increasingly crazed live versions of their second album “In Silico.” Just when it seemed the nu-metal madness had reached its height, the band has discovered some welcome subtlety on the new “Immersion.” Rating: **.

What the Stars Mean:
****       Excellent
***        Good
**         Average
*          Poor
(No stars) Worthless

Download fees vary across services. The CDs are priced from $12.98, or 8.99 pounds in the U.K. Dead Weather is on Third Man, Fleming on Mercury Records, Lady Gaga on Interscope, Weller on Island/ Yep Rock, LCD Soundsystem on DFA and Pendulum on Warner.

(Mark Beech writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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