The anonymous cover just says “SuperHeavy” and features a lion painted by Shepard Fairey, the artist behind the Barack Obama “Hope” poster.
A sticker on the CD’s box gives the game away, listing Mick Jagger, Joss Stone, Damian Marley, Dave Stewart and A. R. Rahman -- names likely to excite interest in this diversely talented “supergroup.” Good news for sales.
Bad news for buyers. Jagger’s friends are arguably not a group and their product is definitely not super. What a mess.
Things start with “SuperHeavy,” mixing bombastic Bollywood with Stewart’s urgent guitar and everyone else wailing. “Never Gonna Change” sounds like a rejected Stones ballad. The reggae number “Miracle Worker” is the best thing here, leaving aside Jagger in a silly pink suit parodying his 1970s self in the video. It’s downhill from there. Rating: **.
For a better album by a real group, try “The Whole Love” by Wilco. The Chicago act is outgrowing its alternative-rocker tag and improving on its Grammy-nominated, self-titled release from 2009. The opening “Art of Almost” has a stadium-filling sound that can be heard on Internet streams. The record is out on Sept. 27. Rating: ****.
Bon Iver’s eponymous second CD is also a thing of beauty. Wisconsin songwriter Justin Vernon chose his nom d’artiste as a pun on the French for “good winter” and emerged from hibernation with a full backing band of the same name. Each song is about a place: “Perth,” “Calgary,” “Lisbon.” Surprisingly, the concept works. Rating: ***½.
Ireland’s the Waterboys try fusing their folky rock with the words of one of the country’s greatest poets in “An Appointment With Mr. Yeats.” It doesn’t all work, though “September 1913” is brilliant. Rating: ***.
“Hysterical” by U.S. quintet Clap Your Hands Say Yeah is an advance on its 2007 predecessor, with the sweetly chiming guitars of “Misspent Youth” building into a bruising story of a car-crash life. Rating: ***.
A group of four wheelchair-bound street musicians from Congo-Kinshasa, called Staff Benda Billy, came together with a teenager who plays a lute made out of a tin can. That doesn't sound too promising on paper, which makes the result, “Tres Tres Fort,” all the more breathtaking with its fusing of rumba, rhythm `n' blues and reggae. It's been re-released to tie in with a documentary on the musicians. Rating: ***.
The guys in the U.K.’s Kasabian are poised to step into the gap for lad-rock created by the demise of Oasis. Kasabian’s fourth CD “Velociraptor!” makes all the right moves, even down to the titles: “Let’s Roll Just Like We Used To,” “Man of Simple Pleasures.” It’s neither original nor interesting. Rating: **.
Many other British groups have made so-so CDs this year: Kaiser Chiefs, Kooks, the View, Wild Beasts. Slightly better are Friendly Fires, Hard-Fi and Yuck (the music’s better than the name). Best of the bunch: “Skying” by the Horrors, which drags the ghosts of 1960s garage rock into 2011 and gives them a good guitar-led thrashing. Rating: ***.
Enjoy this new music now: We’re about to be swamped by a glut of pre-Christmas reissues: Hendrix, Presley, Pink Floyd, Nirvana, Queen, Beach Boys, U2. Watch this space.
What the Stars Mean: ***** Exceptional **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor (No stars) Worthless
SuperHeavy was released this week on A&M; Wilco is on dBpm and released on Sept. 27; Bon Iver on Jagjaguwar, Waterboys released this week in Europe on Proper Records, on import into U.S. with release in 2012. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah is on V2, Staff Benda Billy on Crammed Discs, Kasabian on RCA/Columbia and the Horrors on XL.
Prices from $14 or 8 pounds. Download fees vary. Information: http://www.superheavy.com, http://wilcoworld.net, http://boniver.org http://www.mikescottwaterboys.com, http://www.clapyourhandssayyeah.com, http://www.kasabian.co.uk, http://www.staffbendabilili.com, http://www.thehorrors.co.uk
(Mark Beech writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)