Elvis Costello with the Metropole Orkest, "My Flame Burns Blue"
Elvis Costello is nothing if not consistent in his inconsistency: Ever since the mid-'80s, when he first began moving away from the intelligent new wave that made his name, the singer-songwriter has kept returning to his classical- and jazz-influenced side projects. "Songs for voice and orchestra are the core of 'My Flame Burns Blue,'" explains the New York Post (three stars out of four) in a minimalist review, while Newsday (grade B+) describes the effort as "a stunning collaboration with The Metropole Orkest, recorded live in The Hague in 2004."
Billboard notes that "While this release might not please 'angry young Elvis' rock traditionalists, it rewards those willing to follow the artist with his ongoing exploration of popular music," whereas the Orlando Sentinel (four stars out of five) speaks for the "rock traditionalists" when it says that the album "won't make you want to toss 'My Aim Is True,' but if a guy has to grow older, this is a graceful way to do it." For all the curiosities -- like the jazzy, show-tune version of "Watching the Detectives" -- All Music (four out of five) insists that "what really makes it a good record is that the performance is lively, energetic, and, yes, joyous, which means that even if this may be an art project, it's flat-out more entertaining than any album he's released since [1998's Burt Bacharach collaboration] 'Painted from Memory.'"
Hawthorne Heights, "If Only You Were Lonely"
Blame MySpace. Hawthorne Heights are one of those bands you've never heard of, and yet despite a lack of either mainstream pop radio exposure or critical credibility, sell bucketloads of albums (800,000 copies of their debut). Their sophomore record "If Only You Were Lonely" will no doubt shift plenty more units, but will it follow the Fall Out Boy precedent, and take Hawthorne Heights' brand of earnest screamo (emo plus screaming, get it?) beyond its adolescent army of fans toward world dominance?
If not, it won't be for lack of effort. All Music (four out of five) describes how Hawthorne Heights "does everything it can to broaden its scope on 'If Only You Were Lonely,'" while the New York Times notes that "this one is supposed to be more ambitious, which explains the awful piano ballad, 'Decembers.'" Billboard isn't too impressed by the group's pitch for mega-stardom: "If Hawthorne Heights stopped trying to please several different audiences and decided whether it wanted to be a pop band or a post-hardcore group, it could make a more definitive musical statement." Leave it to the band itself to justify such latent populism. Says singer J.T. Woodruff to Newsday: "We don't want to abandon our fans. We don't want to abandon our sound. That's the kind of music that we like. We like heavy, aggressive music. But do we have to scream in every song? No, I don't think so."
Ne-Yo, "In My Own Words"
After making his name helping pen the hit "Let Me Love You" for Mario, the 22-year-old R&B crooner Ne-Yo releases a debut album that is, in case we missed it, all "In [his] Own Words." As E Online (grade B-) snarkily observes, composing heartfelt R&B lyrics isn't Ne-Yo's only talent, at least not according to his press release: "'Ne-Yo is taking the music industry by storm ... expressing creativity through drawings, paintings, martial arts and song.' That's right, he can sing, draw and chop a block of wood in half." For Prefix Mag (three and a half out of five), that Ne-Yo has more to him than a smooth voiced and pretty face "lends a level of authenticity to the album that is almost non-existent in, say, an Usher record," and the N.Y. Times warms to "a deft and appealing player in the game of modern-day R&B."
Billboard sees Ne-Yo's "commercial R&B now with added authenticity" tag as a blueprint for success; "though, at times, the lyrics are a bit too sentimental and production is spotty, 'In My Own Words' should have listeners clinging to Ne-Yo's every word." But Newsday (grade B-) is not quite convinced: "The problem with "In My Own Words" is that it is essentially the same song over and over again. Ne-Yo is either lovesick about a lost love or macking to find her replacement, which is fine, except the musical backdrop and his delivery don't change to match the emotion. It's Botox-injected R&B."
-- Matt Glazebrook