For the Record: 10/5/06
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THE KILLERS 'SAM'S TOWN' (ISLAND)
Whatever weapon The Killers intended to wield, they turned it on themselves when singer Brandon Flowers offered an early dispatch from the studio informing the world that they were making "the best album in 20 years."
While the Las Vegas band's debut, "Hot Fuss," was a bright burst of retro-pop and a commercial breakthrough for the New Wave revival, nothing about it suggested this band was making the album of the ages.
"Sam's Town" is not it, sorry to say.
It's accomplished, yes, and it's enough like "Hot Fuss" to keep Killers fans coming back and new ones finding them on MTV, but it's not the masterpiece that was going on in Flowers' mind.
His formula seemed to be this: I'll take the gritty poetry of Springsteen, graft it onto the grandiose arena rock of U2 and The Alarm (check out the cowboy makeover), yelp like Robert Smith of The Cure and then scatter in a few Beatlesque quirks. The new Springsteen fascination would explain lines like "We're burning down the highway skyline/On the back of a hurricane that started turning."
What all this amounts to is a big, bombastic blast of rock cliches without the emotional weight or substance to back it up.
No, the Killers didn't make the best album in 20 years. But they sure did repackage a lot of them.
-- Scott Mervis, Post-Gazette pop music critic
BECK 'THE INFORMATION' (INTERSCOPE)
You never know what you're going to get with Beck, and the good news about "The Information" is that you get a little of everything. Like 1998's "Mutations" and 2002's "Sea Change," the aging wunderkind's follow-up to last year's "Guero" was produced by Radiohead helmsman Nigel Godrich.
But while in the past a Godrich collaboration meant that Beck was in the mood to mellow down easy, here he creates a shimmery head trip of a record that shows off all his multifarious moves.
The bass-heavy "Dark Star" boasts an ingenious string arrangement by Beck's father, David Campbell. The atmospheric "We Dance Alone" finds him rapping more credibly than ever. "Strange Apparition" revisits his Beggar's Banquet-era Stones jones most effectively. "Movie Theme" floats by on a psychedelic cloud of ambient keyboards. And the strummy "No Complaints" notes how hard it is to make sense of the postmodern cultural landscape that Beck is most comfortable in, although he figures that cat's already out of the bag: "No complaints, but it's harder to believe in the truth."
Skip the 10 minute-plus closer, "The Horrible Fanfare/Landslide/Exoskeleton." It sounds like something Beck and his buddies composed over a bevy of bong hits. But give "The Information" points for being multimedia and interactive: It comes with a blank CD cover and stickers to create your own album art, and a bonus DVD disc with a video to accompany every song.
--Dan DeLuca, Philadelphia Inquirer
WIZ KHALIFA 'SHOW AND PROVE' (ROSTRUM)
Young Wiz Khalifa has a spindly frame made up mostly of "skin and bones," but he may have a back built strong enough to carry the city of Pittsburgh.
The self-professed 18-year-old prince of the city has a thick, bassy flow that makes him seem like a heavyweight in a rap game dominated by artists who thrive on eating weaker and younger emcees.
Cameron Thomaz, the North Dakota-born, Homewood-raised rapper, has a braggadocio and determination that is easing him into the line with older and more seasoned artists.
Although his new CD, "Show and Prove," rarely strays from the ghetto tales of woe mastered in most gangster rap albums, you can sense that the burgeoning Khalifa has the ability to branch beyond the bleak, redundant concepts painted in vivid detail on your average rap disc.
As for his first release, besides an earlier Big Mike mixtape that also showcased Khalifa's promise, Khalifa has given the Steel City a reason to fear the Allderdice High School graduate.
"With the hunger of Chris Wallace back in '94," the skinny kid from Pittsburgh introduces himself on his 17-track full-length LP , which jumps from slow-flow heavy-sample tracks to more Chicagoan in style and form.
It is the young emcee's hunger that you can feel through almost every track on the album.
It is that very hunger that saves him from mediocrity.
Khalifa, at his young age, has managed to master dominating the beats he flows over, an ability that rap artists struggle to garner. The skill allows him to flip speeds on more bouncy songs like "Bout Mine" and the infectious "Damn Thing" and then spit laid-back rhymes over the smoothed-out "Pittsburgh Sound" and "Sometimes."
Some of his better and more domineering rhymes exhibit his growth as a more evolved artist and also a darker, more East Coast flavor.
"Listen, I came in the game feet first/Hit the ground running/A hustler 'til I meet dirt," he pens on the stand-out "Stand Up." "Gotta feed consumption/I'm pumping and people need work/Lotta n---s fronting/I came from nothing and seen worst/The long arm Khalifa reach them with each verse."
As in most of the regional sound, the identity of the music can almost become lost in the fact that Pittsburgh can define itself as an East Coast city dropped in an environment suited for the Midwest.
Khalifa, however, would do himself a disservice if he chose a more fast, tongue-twisting rhyme pattern. In a cameo on the Dutch Hip-Hop producer Nicolay's CD "Here," Khalifa proves he is an impressive rap prospect when given more consistent beat-making.
If Pittsburgh hip-hop needs a defining sound, the young Khalifa could very well become its mouthpiece.
-- Moustafa Ayad, Post-Gazette staff writer
First Published October 5, 2006 12:00 am