NEW YORK (Billboard) - Pete Wentz and company appeared to betray a crush on Michael Jackson when last year’s post-emo blockbuster “Infinity on High” opened with a song called “Thriller” and surprised with clever shots of soul and R&B. Fall Out Boy’s cover of “Beat It” boasts massive, 3-D guitars that lock in a dark and delicious nu-metal groove. Singer Patrick Stump, who also produced, delivers a flawless vocal, hinting at long teenage hours spent with Jacko, while John Mayer’s shredding solo proves a worthy echo of Eddie Van Halen’s legendary original take.
Morissette comfortably plunges into the pop end of the diving pool with “Underneath,” the first single from her upcoming album “Flavors of Entanglement.” She tucks away her rock guitars for a breezy song that’s nearly frolicking, if not for her lyric about how problems that start in the home can expand and affect the rest of the globe. Her smooth command of vocals is apparent in the verses; if only producer Guy Sigsworth had her drop them a notch to keep from becoming shrill at the choruses.
Unlike many identical twins, Canadian folk-rockers Tegan and Sara Quin aren’t compelled to do everything together. For fifth full-length studio album “The Con,” the first co-produced by Death Cab for Cutie guitarist Christopher Walla, they split songwriting duties and recruit guest players for each track. AFI bassist Hunter Burgan appears exclusively on the seven songs penned by Tegan, including second single “The Con.” Alternative radio listeners charmed by the breezy new wave bounce of lead release “Back in Your Head” will find the synth-heavy follow-up more densely layered and urgent.
It’s a shame that American pop radio has ignored a recent reissue of Amy Winehouse’s “You Know I’m No Good,” the follow-up to her Grammy-winning smash “Rehab.” Meanwhile, producer Mark Ronson collaborated with the old-soul singer for “Valerie” (not Steve Winwood’s 1987 hit), complete with all sorts of classic instruments, relentless syncopation and loose delivery from our tabloid ingenue. In the United Kingdom and numerous other countries, it’s her biggest hit.
For two decades, Ice Cube has balanced social consciousness and hardcore swagger. So it’s fitting that he now defends the music he helped create by responding to criticism. First, Cube suggests that the same politicians who attack the music are responsible for the crack epidemic that plagued the hip-hop generation. He then references everyone from Don Imus to Oprah Winfrey, and how ignorance about hip-hop culture has made rap a scapegoat for the world’s troubles. By saying, “Gangsta rap made me do it,” Cube insists that it clearly didn’t.
Few new artists approach their debut release with such a large fan base already in place. As a two-time champion on ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars,” Julianne Hough’s beauty, poise, dance skills and effervescent personality have already earned a devoted legion of admirers. Anyone skeptical about her ability to make the leap from dancefloor to the country charts will be silenced by the delicious uptempo “That Song in My Head.” Hough has an impressive voice, marked by a sweet tone and warm texture. Look for her career to kick into high gear this summer, with her plum opening spot on Brad Paisley’s tour.