Album: Hardwired... to self-destruct
A powerful, though bloated, return to form
The good news is Hardwired... doesn't blow up in Metallica's faces. The bad is that there's more than a few duds on this lengthy double album. Perhaps that's to be expected as there's more than an hour of music on this thing. If it had shed some of the pudgier numbers it would have made for a truly explosive single album.
So what is it you want from a new Metallica record? Classic era complexity? You got it. Thrashing speed metal riffs? Covered. Terrible MTV style turgid heavy rock? You betcha ...
The Metallica audience is massive and Hardwired does an admirable job of appealing to all - even those folks that really liked Load.
There are obvious highlights on the album, mostly found on the first disc. The first is Atlas, Rise! an ...And Justice for All style throwback which chugs along on a killer riff and drummer Lars Ulrich's popgun snare fills before hitting a classic Metallica chorus.
The deep heavy groove of Now That We're Dead immediately follows, switching up the pace by slowing things down and settling into a satisfyingly metal head nod.
The hits keep coming with Moth Into Flame which, again, is Metallica doing classic Metallica. The urgent, thrashy riffs and melodies stop, start and switch up tempos before blowing up with a shredding solo.
That's where the album's golden run ends. From there it plunges and soars in equal measure.
Second single Dream No More starts promisingly enough, but turns into a subpar Alice In Chains knock off. Halo on Fire attempts to course correct by bridging the group's MTV tendencies with their dueling guitar riffs, but it's hard to get excited by its plodding stomp. It's a fate that affects more than a few songs.
The album closes on a bang with Spit Out the Bone, a ferocious blast of unashamed thrash-metal goodness, which will delight the old school and is a terrific way to go out.
There's a lot to like with this record, even if you have to overlook some clunkers filled with lumbering grooves, cringingly bad lyrics (see the title track), Ulrich's snare obsession and even some ill-advised vocal affectations.
But really, if you're a Metallica fan this is gonna rock your world. It hits far, far more than it misses. And when it gets it right - as it frequently does - it absolutely destroys. Despite some middle-aged spread Metallica in full flight remains a powerful metal beast.
Album: Close Your Eyes
Verdict: Runga isn't finished adding to her legacy
Bic Runga recently confessed to being sick of bumming people out with her music and Close Your Eyes is her first push away from the glum. Here Runga pairs her sweetly soulful vocals with dirty funk grooves, a French 60s pop aesthetic and just a generally scuzzying up of her overall sound.
This is undoubtedly the influence of her producer and partner Kody Nielson, the ex-Mint Chicks frontman, who's now kicking out pleasingly odd electro under the Silicon moniker.
It's a sound that suits her. And even though Close Your Eyes is mostly an album of covers, Runga's interpretations stamp ownership on the songs with a firmly delicate authority. If you didn't know any better it'd be easy to believe she'd written the lot.
The title track kicks things off, highlighting her new direction. It's one of two songs she wrote for the record and, despite its boo-hoo title, has a shuffling energy that Runga's shifting harmonies and sweet vocal interplay breezes over the top of. Her second song, Dream A Dream, is nothing less than an effortlessly cool, sweetly melancholic pop-classic.
Considering there are songs on here by Nick Drake (Things Behind the Sun), Neil Young (Only Love Will Break Your Heart) and Kanye West (Wolves) it's a hell of a thing to say that the two tracks she did compose are the album's highlights.
- Karl Puschmann
Album: Black America Again (Def Jam)
A warm, loved-up, and on-point return
At this point, Lonnie Rashid Lynn jnr should be putting the exclamation point on his 24-year career.
Unfortunately, Common has one major blemish on his record - 2008's woeful Universal Mind Control, an electro-rap spazzout that still sucks eight years on.
It's still hanging over him, but on Black America Again, the workmanlike rapper does his best to shrug it off and return to what he does best: calm, focused backpack rap delivered with a wary eye.
"Who stole the soul from black folk?" the 44-year-old asks on the title track, a potent exploration of police brutality and race issues.
It can get a little too whimsical for its own good - see John Legend's guest spot on Rain, or Love Star's swooning cheese - but this is a solid, summery return to form.
Album: 24K Magic
Verdict: Less than golden
If you're old enough to remember Blue Light discos and slow dancing to Boys II Men, this record is going to give you a major sense of deja vu.
24K Magic is the third studio album from Bruno Mars and a deliberate homage to the music of his 90s childhood.
But unlike the 70s soul of Uptown Funk, which dominated playlists for nearly a year, 24K Magic fails to put a fresh spin on its old-school sounds.
Opening with the radio friendly funk of 24K Magic, the album quickly descends into a heavy trudge through syrupy slow jams and cheesy lyrics.
At just nine songs long, it's a succinct effort. But one that delivers none of the massive pop hits on which Mars has made his career.
- Joanna Hunkin