Pink, "I'm Not Dead"
There's perhaps an underlying hint of truth in the self-deprecating gag title to Pink's latest album. In the fast-moving world of pop, one underwhelming album (like 2003's "Try This") can provoke collective amnesia in the goldfish-like attention spans of the teen market. Worse, Pink has seen other, younger singers take over her ever-changing personas as fast as she can outgrow them: Kelly Clarkson and Ashlee Simpson have locked-down the feisty-pop-rocker niche, while Lindsay Lohan has laid claim to Pink's I-don't-get-on-with-my-parents confessional shtick. Time for yet another costume change: Now she's "smarter-than-the-average-pop-star pop star Pink," observes Newsday (grade B). With tracks like the Hilton- and Lohan-baiting "Stupid Girls," and the Bush-bashing "Dear Mr. President," "there are moments on 'I'm Not Dead' when Pink suggests she may be able to offer a version of Girl Power which goes deeper than mere marketing tag-lines," according to the Independent (two stars out of five).
Elsewhere, though, it's "a wildly uneven mixture of pop treats and melodramatic misfires," says the New York Times. When Pink retreads some older ground on songs like the portentously named "Conversations With My 13 Year Old Self," what is "supposed to be empathy and compassion registers instead as the self-important preening of a pop star." But, argues the Guardian (three out of five), "when Pink leaves her damaged inner child in peace, she's still a knockout."
Morrissey, "Ringleader of the Tormentors"
It would hardly qualify as a revelation for any other pop star to make a record about sex, but Morrissey, an artist whose every enigmatic lyric is pored over by an army of devotees, has been famously and loudly celibate throughout his career. Not any more, apparently. As the Guardian (five stars out of five) delicately puts it: "It is hard to express the shock delivered five minutes and 18 seconds into 'Ringleader of the Tormentors' by the sudden appearance of Morrissey's testicles." The testicles in question emerge as "Explosive powder kegs/ between [his] legs" on the track "Dear God Please Help Me," and have sent critics into an understandable tizzy.
"So how does the new, sexed-up Mozzer actually sound?" demands NME (eight out of 10), before answering its own query: "Like the old one, it's true -- but with considerably more vigor ... The weedy strings and ticking drum machines of [previous album] 'You Are the Quarry' have been thrown out in favor of a full-on sonic assault." Drowned In Sound (seven out of 10), meanwhile, focuses on the romantic implications of the singer's long-awaited sexual "coming out": "At long last hes found stability with A.N. Other and 'Ringleader...' is his celebratory cry. From the rooftops." Pitchfork (rating eight out of 10) is a little more cautious: "Morrissey's poignancy ... often inflames the exhilarating terror of loneliness just as it elevates the sensations of love through comparison with Moz's unrequitable romantic perfections." Only the New York Times resists joining in the fun: "You'll hear an album produced by Tony Visconti and sung by a great singer who doesn't always give himself the music he deserves," it offers, rather prosaically.
Flaming Lips, "At War With the Mystics"
Critical darlings and alt-rock veterans Flaming Lips seem to have been on a permanent upward trajectory since 1983, both in terms of success and musical extravagance, from the scratchy, lo-fi punk of 1983 through the bonkers neo-prog of 1999's "The Soft Bulletin" and 2002's "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots." So where could chief sonic scientist Wayne Coyne possibly go next? "An album influenced equally by The Neptunes, the composer Wagner and the Pink Floyd songbook," suggests NME (eight out of 10). "The Bush era's first cosmic protest album," offers the Guardian (four stars out of five), referring to the titular "Mystics," who are apparently the evangelical neocons of the Bush government. "Coyne has seen off his last vestiges of sanity and thrown caution to the wind with this, the band's finest and most broadly experimental album to date," states Play Louder (four-and-a-half out of five). The Los Angeles Times (three-and-a-half out of four), meanwhile, hears "a delirious jumble of android psychedelia and Coyne's elliptical wordplay that goes down as easily as warm milk (spiked with acid)."
Others are less impressed by the logical conclusion of the Flaming Lips' lavish experimentation. The Village Voice, for one, is nostalgic for a simpler age: "A band whose trademark was investing tired classic-rock tropes with a fresh sense of noisy adolescent charm have reduced themselves to purveyors of psychedelic pabulum." Pitchfork (rating 6.7) agrees that Coyne may have abandoned some of his more earthbound charms in his quest for the stars; noting "the possibility that the Flaming Lips are an idea and a project as much of a band, and records are just one of the organization's many concerns," it concludes that "much of the record sounds like chords and melodies were written later, as an afterthought to flesh out production experiments." In other words, as the New York Post (two-and-a-half out of four) points out, what "the Flaming Lips can't grasp is that people dance with their hips, not their heads."
-- Matt Glazebrook