Toby Keith, "White Trash With Money"
War-loving, beer-drinking, Dixie Chick-bashing country singer Toby Keith returns with a new album on a new label, his own Show Dog imprint. Things have changed since Keith's post-Sept. 11, "Angry American" heyday, and songs about threatening to "light [countries] up like the Fourth of July" might not go down so well in today's rather more war-weary heartlands. So what's a redneck to do?
Make love not war, according to the New York Times: "'White Trash With Money' is one of [Keith's] best albums, partly because it finds a lighthearted way to smuggle recent years' redneck pride into this year's love-song boom." Hold on a second, says Newsday (grade C), not letting Keith get away with the flip-flop quite so easily: "Is that war still going on? 'Cause ol' Toby is back to singing about drinking, getting it on and breaking up again." More's the pity, at least for the New York Post (one-and-a-half out of four): "Most of these new songs are bloated with orchestration or are syrupy ballads. This cowboy has forgotten how to write a tight, snappy twanger." The Los Angeles Times is willing to cut Keith some slack, however, as he swaps boots up the ass for songs from the heart: "Keith is flexing creative muscles that hadn't gotten a lot of use before last year, so even though the results here are inconsistent, it feels like a prelude to something truly memorable." But E! Online (grade D) isn't buying it, advising, "you might save your own scratch by letting this show dog trot on by."
LL Cool J, "Todd Smith"
The man most famously known as Ladies Love Cool James is keen to inform that it isn't the only name he answers to. Following 1995's "Mr. Smith," and 2000's "G.O.A.T featuring James T. Smith," LL presents "Todd Smith." The title aside, there's not all that much of the man himself on this, his 12th release: 10 of the 13 tracks feature guest vocalists on what the New York Times calls a "serviceable, lighthearted album."
That's enough to have Vibe magazine (four out of five) happily reminiscing about the rapper's past life as the original hip-hop heartthrob: " Forget that hes nearing 40 -- the brother from Hollis still has enough youthful arrogance to step behind the microphone and morph into a savage street talker." For E! Online (grade B-), in contrast, it's a case of expectations dashed: "he -- and his fans -- deserve better than this bland, overstuffed disc ... virtually interchangeable with any hip-hop CD that came out last year." Only the N.Y. Post (four out of four) sees something special in "Todd Smith," calling it "a classy, first-rate hip-hop record that'll cut heads with the work of the most skilled contemporary MCs, from Kanye West to Jay Z."
Built to Spill, "You in Reverse"
Hairy indie band Built to Spill return after five years in the musical wilderness (and possibly the actual wilderness, from the looks of frontman Doug Martsch's impressively grizzly beard) with "You in Reverse," a 10-song set averaging five and half minutes of rambling alt-pop per track. According to Rolling Stone (three and a half out of five), the excessive song length "is a boon for Built to Spill's action-packed jams and expansive tune sense," but Pitchfork Media (rating 6.7 of 10) notes an "abundance of overlong songs," and adds, "'You In Reverse' is marred by a lack of strong melody when compared to [the band's] other records."
Newsday (grade B) also comments on the extended, jammy nature of many compositions, stating, "'You in Reverse' (Warner Bros.) is basically the sound of sprawl," and observing that Martsch "unspools the band's sound and lets it roll out in all sorts of directions -- from the prog-rock folk of late-'70s Neil Young, to the mid-'80s jangle of R.E.M., to the lilting dub rhythms of Jah Wobble." Newsday concludes with some rather vague praise, calling the album "a pleasant enough way to pass the time," while E! Online (grade B+) is far more specific in its recommendation, suggesting the record will "warm the cockles not just of the band's fans, but of anyone who likes indie rock about things like UFOs and other inscrutable topics played by guys who can really shred."
-- Matt Glazebrook