Babyshambles, "Down in Albion"
Pete Doherty might be known mainly for his extracurricular activities -- dating a supermodel, abusing drugs, getting arrested three times in one day -- but there was once a time when he could be called the most exciting rock musician in Britain. As chief urchin in the Libertines, he was responsible for one raucously thrilling debut and one decidedly "difficult" second album, before parting ways with co-songwriter and estranged best bud Carl Barat to form Babyshambles as a vehicle for his decadent, Blakeian pop visions. Too bad, by this point, that Doherty's public perception has fully traversed the "tortuous path from 'rock star' to 'junkie rock star' to 'Kate Moss's junkie boyfriend,'" as the Guardian (three stars out of five) notes. Still, overshadowed though it may be, the album's U.S. release coincides with Doherty's release from prison and (another) promise to get clean: Could it be the spark for a critical and cultural redemption?
For once, the reviewers are in agreement: "Babyshambles sounds just like what one might expect from a drug-addled spin-off project: An erratic mix of messy ambition and indifferent sloppiness," Billboard explains. Whether this is your cup of tea or "gin in a teacup," as Doherty's lyric has it, is another matter. Pitchfork (rating 7.7) is willing to cut Doherty some slack, noting, "in parts, 'Albion's' shambolism is stunning." And its "charm lies mostly in its tenuousness and tightrope-walking; an unfussy love coming in spurts." E! Online (grade C) finds it "a frustratingly half-assed album, full of great ideas executed in the poorest way possible." Play Louder (one out of five) concurs with the prevailing view -- "Scattershot ... doesn't even come close" -- before getting puritan: "The sordid, grubby nature of this debut will make you want to give yourself a good scrub down by the time you complete the ordeal." The Guardian, meanwhile, is sitting on the fence: "Whether you consider Doherty a bohemian genius or a drug-addled bum, you'll find evidence to support your theory," it observes sagely.
The Subways, "Young for Eternity"
Once the hottest unsigned band in Britain, the Subways may appear to have missed the boat somewhat. Compared with the current batch of Brit next-big-things, their post-Strokes garage-rock sound suddenly seems very 2002. Still, with "The O.C." seal of approval, and a big marketing push surrounding the U.S. release of "Young for Eternity," the band may find a more enthusiastic welcome stateside than it has back home.
A breathless Billboard is certainly sold: "Exceptional technical ability, lyrical insight far beyond their years and unbridled exuberance merge into one of the most promising rock entrances since Radiohead's 'Pablo Honey,'" it gushes. Stylus (grade B), meanwhile, suggests the British trio might be able to teach some of Detroit's own a thing or two about that city's garage-rock heritage: "'Young for Eternity' is the record that U.S. labelmates the Von Bondies should have made to follow-up 'Pawn Shoppe Heart,' and the album that the White Stripes should make period." Prefix (three and a half out of five) finds the Subways distinguished by the fact that they "truly sound like teenagers. It gives their music not only a sense of genuine growing pains, but also a youthful energy that makes their songs rebellious and fortifies their rock 'n' roll spirit."
One thing the Subways have in their favor, as the Guardian (three out of five) notes, is an eagerness to please: Covering "several bases at once," some of their "raucous teen anthems have that White Stripes/Strokes garage thing just so; others could be Oasis. As for 'Mary' -- surely a paean to marijuana -- it could be the Coral at their most melodically stoned." Another unique selling point for the Subways is their cute back story. As Newsday explains, lead singer/guitarist Billy Lunn is the brother of the drummer and is engaged to the bassist: "I wrote 'Rock & Roll Queen' when I first got over the excitement of going out with Charlotte, which is why the lyrics are so simple," says Lunn. Aw.
Sergio Mendes, "Timeless"
A 1960s bossa nova crossover phenomenon, Brazil's Sergio Mendes might not be the most obvious target for a 2006 pop rehabilitation. Having played keyboards on the previous two albums by pop-rap juggernaut the Black-Eyed Peas, however, Mendes certainly has the right celebrity friends fighting in his corner. Rolling Stone (three stars out of five) even notes, "For the first few tracks, 'Timeless' sounds more like a new Peas platter than a Mendes joint," while the New York Times contends that "Timeless" is "overwhelmingly [BEP rapper] Will.i.am's album: he plays bass, supplies drum programming and raps on most of the songs in a G-rated, early-hip-hop style, cheery but toothless."
Even with its supposed author pushed into the background, the record is not completely without merit, at least according to Rolling Stone: "When Timeless succeeds, it's beautiful, boundary-breaking music." Billboard finds that "the original tracks -- especially Legend's 'Please Baby Don't' and 'Timeless' with India.Arie -- are what boost the album beyond novelty status." Prefix (one and a half out of five), though, is far from impressed, stating, "Had this project been titled 'Will.i.am Remixes Sergio Mendes and Brings in a Bunch of Big Names to Distract You,' the album would at least honestly reflect its content." Instead, "'Timeless' treats Mendes as a relic, nothing more [than] a dated sample from the past."
-- Matt Glazebrook