Arcade Fire Blazes, Eminem Rages, Sting Grows Up on CDs: Review

The CD cover of "The Suburbs'' by Arcade Fire. The Canadian band's third album is released in the U.S. on Aug. 3. Source: RMP/ Universal Music via Bloomberg

Arcade Fire takes a decisive step toward rock’s first rank with its new album, out next week.

The Canadian alternative band has spent some three years crafting “The Suburbs,” a CD as ambitious as its lauded predecessors and more accessible.

The starting point is the Woodlands area of Houston, Texas, where Win and William Butler grew up. There’s the same bleak world vision as on 2007’s “Neon Bible” -- the new CD’s title track says “by the time the first bombs fell we were already bored.” This time, optimism sugars the pill.

“I want a daughter while I’m still young,” sings Win Butler in the same number. “I want to hold her hand and show her some beauty, before all this damage is done. If it’s too much to ask then send me a son.” Butler, who’s married to group member Regine Chassagne, shows that rock -- after decades of jejune teenage laments -- can be mature. An act that made a debut album about death (“Funeral”) is now firing on all cylinders.

“Month of May” mixes punk fervor with a warning about audiences “standing with their arms folded tight.” A track of this quality should excite even the most apathetic listener.

Rating: ****.

Unlike Arcade Fire, Eminem needs little introduction. His latest album has topped the U.S. charts for a month. On first play, “Recovery” seems a misleading title. There are many moments that sound like a retread of the hip-hop that Marshall Mathers III has been churning out for years.

Still, the CD is a grower. Gems such as “Cinderella Man” have beguiling wordplay: Eminem boasts about rapping “circles around square lyricists.” Rise above the stream of four-letter words, and the raging track “Cold Wind Blows” has its merits. Guest spots by Lil Wayne, Pink and Rihanna also help.

Rating: ** 1/2.

Sting’s “Symphonicities” offers excellent reworkings of Police and solo hits with the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra.

The CD captures the raw energy of rehearsals at Abbey Road Studios, London -- when Sting led a furious version of “Next to You” and spoke to me for a television interview. It also exceeds the precision playing at the Metropolitan Opera one hot evening in New York this month, where we applauded the apposite “An Englishman in New York.”

This CD could so easily have ended up as Muzak. Instead, it’s a genuine recasting by a 58-year-old singer who also shows that rock can grow up and continue to rage articulately.

Rating: *** 1/2.

Even Sting can’t beat Laurie Anderson, whose “Homeland” at London’s Barbican was a standout show in 2008. “Only an Expert” was stunning, with a biting lyric commenting on the dangers of too much specialized knowledge -- whether in global warming or financial disaster.

Anderson, now 63, has released the recording and it’s about the best thing she has done, surpassing the experimental heights of her debut “Big Science” back in 1982. The CD is topped off with feedback guitar from her husband Lou Reed.

Rating: ****.

Slash, “Slash.” There were high hopes for the Guns N’ Roses guitar hero when he decided to try a solo career away from his latest band, Velvet Revolver.

On paper, the project looks interesting: there are guest appearances by Ian Astbury, Ozzy Osbourne, Fergie, Lemmy Kilmister, Kid Rock and Iggy Pop. On record, it doesn’t gel. Slash crashes through genres, plays guitar and plays guitar some more. Yes, we get it, Slash. You’re a great soloist. Now make a good record.

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.

The Arcade Fire album is on Merge and out on Aug. 3 in North America, Aug. 2 in the U.K.

Eminem is on Interscope, Sting on Deutsche Grammophon, Laurie Anderson is on Nonesuch/Elektra and Slash on EMI.

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

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