Dig These Discs :: Melody Gardot, Maroon 5, Leah Labelle, Fiona Apple, Justin Bieber

by Winnie McCroy
EDGE Editor
Thursday Jul 5, 2012
Adam Levine and Maroon 5 are back with OVEREXPOSED - how does it sound?
Adam Levine and Maroon 5 are back with OVEREXPOSED - how does it sound?  

Get ready to scream, girls! The Beebs has just dropped his new album, "Believe," teaming up with Ludacris, Nicki Minaj, Drake and Big Sean. Melody Gardot shares her sultry international sound, and newcomer Leah LaBelle lays out a few soulful tracks. Fiona Apple drops her first album in seven years, a collection of emotionally overwrought tunes.

"The Absence" (Melody Gardot)

After time spent in the deserts of Morocco, the tango bars of Buenos Aires, the beaches of Brazil and the streets of Lisbon, singer Melody Gardot returns to America with her new album, "The Absence," a dozen percussive-heavy, Latin-influenced songs that will make your feet move. She starts out spicy, with the Spanish-language song, "Mira," and slows things down with "Amalia," a slow love with the lyrics, "Amalia, finding her way on the open road, Amalia, going whichever way the wind goes." Gardot’s deep, clear voice is very much suited to this style. In "So We Meet Again My Heartache," a subtle Spanish guitar melds with Gardot’s sultry vocals to create the feel of an old Astral Gilberto tune. In "Lisboa," she extends this old-timey lounge singer vibe, letting acoustics, piano and tinkling percussives paint a mental landscape of a far away "paradise beside the sea." With a flourish of guitars, Gardot launches into "Impossible Love," a slow, dramatic foreign-language song that evokes the passion of the great Edith Piaf. She moves to a more Mae West, sassy vibe, proving that love is a lie in, "If I Tell You I Love You," singing, "There are so many things I could say, my love/ Make you trip, so your lips would be mine. There are so many things I could do, my love, To convince you my love is divine/ There are so many words I could tell you, There are so many moments in time But I say ’fore we go to the land down below, If I tell you I love you, I’m lying." Her song "Goodbye," is Billy Holiday light, complete with meandering drums, woodwinds and a touch of brass. Gardot teams up with a male singer for the Spanish-language song, "Se Voce Me Ama," a sad song backed with a soft guitar. Gardot’s deep, lush vocals are on display in "My Heart Won’t Have It Any Other Way," and the song smacks of Ella Fitzgerald’s classic, "At Last." She wraps things up with "Iemanja," a jaunty island tune that makes the most of a calypso beat. Gardot’s "The Absence" belies its name; nothing is missing. This singer is the complete package.
(Decca Records/Verve Music Group)

"Leah LaBelle" (Leah Labelle)

It’s immediately apparent what Pharrell Williams and Jermaine Dupri saw in Leah LaBelle. In her new, five-song LP, this young, white girl belts out deep, soulful tunes as if she had Mary J. Blige in her pocket. Recorded in Atlanta, the album features a series of light, hook-laden songs like her single, "Sexify," a song that LaBelle said she, "hopes inspires girls to feel free to be sexy to guys while still being true to themselves." She kicks off the album with "So Hot," a bouncy R&B love song in the vein of Angie Stone, that finds LaBelle singing, "I get nervous, it’s just that I like things perfect that’s the scary part of messing up with you, because you’re so hot, so so hot." She seizes an electronic vibe in "Make Me Get Up," a song about going to the club to get your groove on and be transported by the music. Gardot makes the most of a chorus of voices in the take a chance on love song, "What Do We Got to Lose?" She moves more toward a pop vibe in her final tune, "Mr. Scissors," a song fueled by rattling snare drums, with a slower break. LaBelle comes from a family of musicians; her mother was in an Abba-esque pop group in Communist-era Bulgaria, and her father was a guitarist in one of that country’s first rock groups, and often found himself imprisoned just for his long hair. From fame in Bulgaria to a working class life in Pennsylvania and then Seattle, LaBelle’s life was tough. She tells of being inspired to perform by seeing Lauryn Hill in "Sister Act 2." LaBelle went on to join a prominent gospel choir, and her singing truly does evoke the style of the Fugees. After a year at Berklee College, she moved to L.A. to sing backup. After the run-around, LaBelle was about to give up on her solo career when YouTube videos of her singing reached Williams and Dupri. She was signed to their labels, and to Epic Records, within days. "I’ve been ready my entire life," said LaBelle. Her full-length debut album will drop in the fall. For now, enjoy a taste of something sweet.
(Epic Records)

"Overexposed" (Maroon 5)

After the widespread, runaway success of the 2011 smash hit "Moves Like Jagger," it is no mystery why Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine chose to label this new album, "Overexposed." Rooted in rock, soul and funk, the band has also finally "completely embraced the idea of making pop music -- of making songs for the radio," said Levine. So Levine, James Valentine, Mickey Madden, Matt Flynn and PJ Morton put aside their pride in handling all their music in-house, and for this album, reached out to collaborate with hit maker Max Martin, plus Benny Blanco and Ryan Tedder. The result, only 21 months in the making, is a more eclectic pop album, ready for radio. The band launches the 10-song album with "One More Night," a bouncy, electronic song with an underlying Latin beat. They team up with rapper Wiz Kalifa for "Payphone," their hit lead single, the anti-love song with the lyrics, "All those fairy tales are full of shit/ One more fucking love song, I’ll be sick." In "Daylight," Levine sings of love in the dark, "In the daylight we’ll be on our own, but tonight I need to hold you so close." The fast-moving rock song "Lucky Strike" keeps time with a steady bass beat, and the bouncy, rhythmic hooks make it a strong candidate for radio play. "Sometimes honesty is the worst policy, happy ever after...let it go, you never need to know," a scorned man sings in "The Man Who Never Lied." Maroon 5 slows things down in "Love Somebody," a lukewarm love song. "Ladykiller" is a quirky little pop song that latches onto an early-’80s pop feel, tweaked with the falsetto break, "How could you do it?" Valentine admits that his favorite jam, "Fortune Teller," began with him tooling away on a $10 Korg mini-keyboard in the lounge at Conway Studios in L.A. "I’ll never know how the future will go; I don’t know what to tell you, I’m not a fortune teller," Levine sings. "Sad" is a slow, piano-heavy song that is as good its name, and "Tickets" is a choppy song with the lyrics, "she’s got tickets to her own show but nobody wants to go, and I’m stuck sitting in the front row, singing along like there’s no tomorrow." This track hearkens back to older Maroon 5 hits. In the electro-reggae hit "One More Night," the band sings of a bad love, "Cross my heart and I hope to die that I’ll only stay with you one more night." "Doin’ Dirt" is a disco-rock jam that Valentine said was influenced by the songs of Hall & Oates. The electronic crescendo often found in ’70s disco tracks, an audible version of the "star wipe," is ample proof of this. "Beautiful Goodbye" is another one in a line of funky ballads about a girl who’s perfect and beautiful without it going to her head. "More than anything I think this record says that it’s always cool to try -- that you should always be willing to take a step beyond whatever feels comfortable," said Levine. Facing his fear of being overexposed was just what Levine and his boys needed to get down to business.
(A&M/Octone Records)

"Believe" (Justin Bieber)

Teen heartthrob Justin Bieber drops a dozen hot new tracks in his highly anticipated studio album, "Believe." Among them is worldwide smash single and #1 iTunes track, "Boyfriend," which broke all YouTube video records with 8 million first-day views and more than 44 million views to date. Unlike many of his poppy, early hits, "Boyfriend" is a more mature track, featuring Bieber’s bedroom-sexy sotto voce intro interspersed with choral breaks. His intro track, "All Around the World," is a hot electronic dance track with Bieber singing, "Baby what you doing where you at/ why you acting so shy, holding back?" Toward the end of the song, Ludacris drops his rapid-fire solo, rapping, "I love everything about you, you’re imperfectly perfect, everyone’s itching for beauty, but just scratching the surface." Big Sean jumps into the next track, "As Long As You Love Me," an angst-ridden tune about finding love in a cruel world, with Bieber singing, "We could be starving, we could be homeless, we could be broke, as long as you love me, I’ll be your platinum, I’ll be your silver, I’ll be your gold." With Bieber’s recent purchase of a $6.5 million home in Calabasas, CA, this outcome seems improbable, but the sentiment is noted. Bieber slows things down with "Be Alright," an acoustic all’s well tune. Nicki Minaj lays down a sassy, young money, electronic intro in "Beauty and a Beat," with Bieber singing, "We gonna party like it’s 3012 tonight, I wanna show you all the finer things in life so just forget about the world, be young tonight." This club-ready hit is made for the youth set to get their body rock on, much like the older generation did with Prince’s seminal hit, "1999." His title track, "Believe," is a sugar-spun pop track with Bieber singing, "Everything starts from something, and something would be nothing if your heart didn’t dream with me." "Catching Feelings" is another soft-spoken love song that would be right at home in a ’70s slow rock lineup. "Die in Your Arms" also seizes on an old Motown feel that suits Bieber’s bouncy, young voice well. "If you spread your wings you can fly away with me," sings Bieber in the flowery, "Fall." In "One Love," Bieber chroons "oo-ah oo-ah" to a drum-fueled beat that compares his girl’s love to a roller coaster. One of the best tracks on the album is "Right Here," featuring Drake. This mature R&B track finds Bieber promising to stand by his lady, with Drake lending his slightly off-beat patter to the whole effect. He closes out the album with "Thought of You," a fast-moving pop song that wrestles with infatuation and finds Bieber hitting a high falsetto. The deluxe album reportedly contains three extra tracks: "Out of Town Girl," "She Don’t Like the Lights," and "Maria." "Believe" is a fine sophomore release for Bieber (not counting his hit Christmas album), so pop out now and pick up a copy. No need to be embarrassed by your love for this bangs-flipping banjee boy. Just tell them the album’s for your niece.
(Island Def Jam Music Group)

"The Idler Wheel..." (Fiona Apple)

Seven years after Fiona Apple’s last album, she drops the latest result of her slow-paced, methodical music-making efforts, "The Idler Wheel is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More than Ropes Will Ever Do." This title, actually a poem, can be seen as a metaphor for Apple’s album, an emotionally wrought collection of ten confessional songs. She opens the album solidly with "Every Single Night," a meandering song covering a panoply of emotions, from anxiety to love to restlessness. She moves on to a percussive pitter-patter on "Daredevil," a discordant, slow moving, piano backed song in which Apple sings, "Say I’m an airplane and the gashes I got from my last heart-break make the slots and the flaps upon my wing, and I use ’em to give me lift." In "Valentine," her own choppy piano punctuates the cheer, "I root for you/ I love you." Using one’s music as therapy is nothing new, but while listening to Apple’s new album, one gets the feeling that she has written it much more for her own benefit than for yours. In "Jonathan," she begs her man to take her to Coney Island on the train; she doesn’t want to talk about love, or the other girls he sees, all she wants is him to "tolerate my little fist tugging on your forest-chest." Solitary bass drums open "Left Alone," a tune about being hard, with the lyrics, "I don’t cry when I’m sad anymore/ tears calcify in my tummy." How can she ask anyone to love her, wonders Apple, when all she wants it to be left alone? Apple’s moods dip and swing in the very course of a song, leaving the patina of a bipolar basket case, navigating the wild course of love. And in the same way that we are attracted to someone who withholds reciprocity, Apple’s music somehow draws us in. By making the most of the low end of her piano and an assortment of odd instrumentals like those heard in "Anything We Want," she has created something worth listening. In "Werewolf," a country vibe meshes well with her message of two lovers who bring out the worst in each other. A sense of ennui overrides in "Periphery," a hop-along tune about not appreciating people who don’t appreciate. The acidic "Regret," a song about a mean lover, is one of the album’s best, as Apple sings, "I ran out of white dove’s feathers to soak up the hot piss that comes from your mouth every time you address me." She closes things up with a be-bop love song of sorts, singing, "If I’m butter...then he’s a hot knife/ he makes my heart a cinemascope screen showing a dancing bird of paradise." A deep bass drum gives it the sound of an old Negro spiritual, sung round robin style. For Apple, who serves herself before ever thinking of us, it’s practically a lullaby."

(Clean Slate/Epic)

Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women's news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.


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