This side of Stompin' Tom, has there ever been a more Canadian album title than this? "Take care" is what our cautious nation says instead of "See you later," a pinch of worry added to "Goodbye." This must apply at least subliminally to Drake on his second album, though he says he took care over this one (which also includes a single called Take Care) because the debut disc was rushed.
Back then, a long 17 months ago, Drake was the guy emerging from the cannon's mouth, trailing mix tapes that everyone wanted to hear, getting Grammy nominations for music that wasn't even for sale, vanishing at times into the blinding smoke that rises from the fire that lights, and sometimes consumes, the Next Big Thing.
By now, the hip-hop star from Toronto's posh Forest Hill hood has had time to see what ensues when you're careless enough to become famous, when people who don't know you read what you may have done at a party last night, and with whom. The drawbridge has ticked up a few notches – no interviews just now, thanks – though in his liner notes, Drake still wants to be our local hero. "I've tried my best to make the soundtrack to our lives in this city," he writes, shouting out to local friends (including main producer and co-writer Noah Shebib) as well as his favourite Chinese resto. But "our lives" mostly means his and those in the charmed circle where money is no longer a problem of not enough.
Drake is feeling his position, as we hear in grandiose numbers such as Lord Knows, when he wonders whether he's "a descendent of Marvin or Hendrix;" in the swagger of Over My Dead Body (written with Chantal Kreviazuk); and in repeated references to rappers he feels are claiming a place at a table he set. He sees the distorted image in the media mirror in Headlines; in the sardonic Cameras ("look like we in love, but only on camera"); and in Lil Wayne's hilarious send-up of interviewers and their dumb, dead-end questions ( HYFR), to which Weezy's recommended answer is always "Hell, yeah."
Of course, there are also ballads and ruminations on new connections and blown relationships and on chilly echoes that arise even when the story seems to be over. Practice confidently defines all the girl's previous guys as warm-ups; Marvins Room drunk-dials a complaint about the ex's inferior new guy; and The Real Her puzzles over a quandary best summarized (again) by Lil Wayne: "Sometimes I stevie wonder about her." Drake's verses are seldom so incisive. He also edges into the shade when Andre 3000, Rick Ross and Kendrick Lamar show up for their cameos.
Drake still has his butter-soft crooning tone, a nice contrast to the saw edge that creeps into his drawling patter. Unfortunately most of the album's tunes noodle around so aimlessly that you wish he would just give it up and rap, at least until a real melodist joins his crew. The musical interest is all in the instrumentals, which range from the slow, simmering groove that drives Cameras to the crowded-church sound of Lord Knows to the softly glowing electronics and organic drums of Marvins Room, which sounds as if someone learned a few things from the late great Lhasa.
Drake's energy seems highest in the duet with Nicki Minaj (the propulsive respect anthem, Make Me Proud); his title single with Rihanna only half engages her strength; and the title of the Stevie Wonder duet Doing It Wrong is cruelly accurate. Even when you take care, things can go south.
- Young Money/Cash Money/Universal Republic
Other new releases:
ROCK: Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds
- Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds’
- Sour Mash/Universal
- Two and a half stars
Something's missing on Noel Gallagher's first post-Oasis album, and it's not his brother Liam. Oh, things begin fine enough: Everybody's on the Run, uplifted by stratospheric strings, reverb and chorale, is as cinematic as we've ever heard from the Mancunian singer-songwriter. Dream On stomps upright, with a descending chord motif a sinister counterpoint on the verse, a big ol' refrain that shouts for miles and a nice brassy bit toward the end. But a lot of the rest, despite the steep choruses, sounds like something close to half-hearted: no champagne, no supernova and no soul, with atmospheric flourishes painting over the mundane songwriting. Soldier Boys and Jesus Freaks, for example, is bad Beatles – Eleanor Rigby stumbling along Penny Lane. On the dreary Stop the Clocks, Gallagher wonders "But if I'm already dead, how will I know?" Sounds like his time isn't long. Brad Wheeler
JAZZ: Changing Seasons
- Phil Dwyer Orchestra
- Four stars
Writing an orchestral suite inspired by the beauty of the seasons is hardly a new idea, but Phil Dwyer makes it seem as fresh as a new year. As with Vivaldi's Four Seasons, Dwyer's work features a violin soloist – Mark Fewer, who moves easily between classical-style melodic statements and blues-inflected improvisation – but also leaves room for solos by the composer (both on piano and tenor sax) and trumpeter Ingrid Jensen (who offers a typically lyric turn in Winter). Although there are brilliant splashes of colour sketching the glories of spring blossoms or fall foliage, Changing Seasons' greatest strength is the way its melodic development reflects the cyclical constancy of nature. J.D. Considine
- Cœur de Pirate
- Grosse Boîte
- Three stars
The Montreal chanteuse Béatrice Martin (a.k.a. Coeur de Pirate) is fluently bilingual, and Blonde is two albums in one. No, not half-and-half in this country's official languages, but part French yé-yé pop from the swinging Serge Gainsbourg sixties and part Franco-Adele balladry. I prefer the former, starting with the peppy bye-bye tango of Adieu, continuing with the short-skirt psychedelia of Danse et danse, which would inspire Nancy Sinatra to do other things in her boots than walking. The piano-driven contemporary stuff is less charming – comme ci, comme ça, one might say. Brad Wheeler
POP: Crazy Clown Time
- David Lynch
- Two and a half stars
That director David Lynch would release a solo album isn't too surprising, given his close work with composer Angelo Badalamenti on Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks. But the palette here is nothing like those lush, atmospheric soundtracks, offering instead blank beats, stark synths and drawling vocals, like Captain Beefheart gone electro. It's not that Lynch is without pop instincts; Pinky's Dream, cut with Yeah Yeah Yeahs singer Karen O, is as catchy as it is quirky. But without a band (or editor) to rein him in, Lynch tends to go on like a conspiracy theorist, pushing vaguely clever ideas deep into the realm of tedium. J.D. Considine