Haim Springs Surprise, Kings of Leon Boost Volume: CDs

Haim’s debut album, released after months of hope and hype, isn’t quite what we expected.

“Days Are Gone” comes weighed down with baggage as one of the most eagerly awaited releases of the year. The sort of thing that can both shift millions of copies and win Grammys.

It probably will. What we get is a classy, polished piece of pop -- with echoes of Phil Collins, the Bangles and Stevie Nicks. Mercifully it’s better than the Fleetwood Mac-lite tribute it once threatened to be.

Sadly, it’s also not the rough-hewn rock that Haim plays live. At Glastonbury, the band was all raw blues guitar, sexy singing, trashed drums, unhinged singing and enormous promise.

Some of the tracks have been around for months, and they come with sturdy hooks, overcoming the army of producers who almost overcook the project.

This is a very good start, with a greater record struggling to get out. Perhaps at some stage we will hear the rougher demos. In the meantime, Haim’s concerts are better displays of the group’s considerable potential. Rating: ****.

Sting’s first album of new material in a decade is one of his most ambitious.

“The Last Ship” features music that will be included in a play of the same name. The former Police singer remembers the shipyards of his youth, with guest appearances from northern English artists such as Jimmy Nail and Brian Johnson of AC/DC.

It may need a translation for U.S. audiences when the piece opens on Broadway next year. Still, it explores universal themes of family, poverty and homecoming. The music varies little from the sound that Sting has perfected in his solo career.

His name stirs mixed emotions. For some, the man is a cut above the usual rocker: an articulate, intelligent figure who would be a megastar even if he never made another thing. For others, he is unbearably smug and self-assured.

This collection is worth a fair listen. ****.

The Kings of Leon’s “Mechanical Bull” shows the southern rockers positioning even more as a stadium act. The leadoff single “Supersoaker” points the way to 42 minutes of bombast, pomp and pumped-up guitars. Rating: **.

David Bowie’s surprise comeback album of this year, now in the running for the Mercury Prize, appears as “The Next Day Extra” in November.

The three-disc set includes five new tracks, a DVD and a 10-minute version of “Love Is Lost,” remixed by James Murphy, fresh from production duties on the new Arcade Fire LP which will also feature Bowie on the title track “Reflektor.” Both CDs will have the sort of effortless cool that the Kings of Leon would die for. Based on what’s released so far, rating ****.

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

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

Muse highlights include Scott Reyburn on the art market, Ryan Sutton on U.S. dining and Laurie Muchnick on books.

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