ALISON STEWART, host:
All right, time for a New Music reality check. Last week was so user-friendly, everything was really, really good, and Blender Magazine's Lizzy Goodman gave everything a thumbs up. But this week, we decided there can only be one.
(Soundbite of music)
STEWART: It's a big sports week. We have a Final Four practice round, featuring four hot, little records waiting for your ears, and our first match-up, a blues rock duo gets some help from one of the hottest producers around, and a pop icon returns from hiatus and gets help from a whole boatload of producers and songwriters.
And our second pairing, African musicians interpret the catalog of U2, while R.E.M. finds inspiration by looking back into the catalogue of R.E.M. It's a New Music Tuesday showdown. Lizzy Goodman, editor-at-large for Blender Magazine is in the studio to be our judge. Hi, Lizzy.
Ms. LIZZY GOODMAN (Editor-At-Large, Blender Magazine): Hey, there.
STEWART: All right, Kylie Minogue. We've been waiting for this new Kylie Minogue record and by we, I mean senior producer Matt Martinez.
Ms. GOODMAN: And me.
STEWART: He's been excited about this release for months. Look at him out there. He's so happy.
RACHEL MARTIN, host:
Giddy eating his cereal.
STEWART: Let's - you know what, let's just play a track to start things off.
(Soundbite of song "Wow")
Ms. KYLIE MINOGUE: (Singing) Despite that song you keep on to it. You like it. Just the way that you dance. Just the way that you dance.
Yeah, yeah. It's enough to love me, baby. Yeah, yeah. It's enough to love me, baby. Yeah, yeah. It's enough to send you crazy. Yeah, yeah.
Yeah, yeah. Such an angelic motion. Yeah, yeah, yeah. You know you're made in heaven. The way you walk. The rhythm when you're dancing.
STEWART: So that song's called "Wow." Is the record "X" or "Ten?"
Ms. GOODMAN: It's "X," I believe. So right off the bat, you're thinking X, L.A. punk band. That's a good allusion to have here. Of course, if you're expecting that kind of music, you'll be sorely disappointed. This is a dance record. And you know, I love Kylie. My love for Kylie started with "The Locomotion" like many of us. And it only grew as the years went on. And it's really amazing because the thing about her is she's a huge international pop star on a level on par with Madonna.
And here she's had like two hits. She had "Locomotion" and then in 2001 with "Fever," that record when it came out she had several hits - "Can't Get You Out of My Head." Now she's back, and I'm not sure that this album is sort of going to re-launch her to that level of fame here. But if you like dance music and you like Kylie, you're going to like this record.
STEWART: She's known mostly as a singles artist.
Ms. GOODMAN: Exactly.
STEWART: So I'm wondering, in the world of iTunes, if she'll do very well.
Ms. GOODMAN: Yeah, you're exactly right. She does have that sort of appeal. This is the kind of album where you're going to pick three songs you like and download them and play them while you're running at the gym. You know, it's that kind of music, and she probably will do particularly well in that area of digital sales here. In terms of world domination in America - United States domination, she's already got the world covered. I'm not sure she needs us anymore.
STEWART: She's also got a great deal of affection because she was very ill.
Ms. GOODMAN: She was very ill, and this is the first album that she's put out since recovering from breast cancer. And that's obviously been a big theme in the interviews and they way in which she's been talking about this record. And I love how, you know, she didn't come out and make this sappy anti-Kylie, now I've been sick, and I see the meaning of life kind of album in a grotesque way.
Actually, it's a very uplifting record. You can hear the influence of what's happened to her in the past couple of years of her life, but it's still Kylie. It's still up. It's still dance-y. it's still fun. So yay, Kylie.
STEWART: All right, so Kylie's over here, Kylie's ahead apparently. All right, The Black Keys, "Attack and Release." They're from Akron, Ohio. Is that right?
Ms. GOODMAN: Exactly, Akron, Ohio.
STEWART: How many records so far?
Ms. GOODMAN: This is their fourth full album. I think it's sort of fourth/fifth, because there's been an EP in there - is my understanding. But this is - The Black Keys are fantastic. They've been one of my favorite bands for a long time. And sort of we've watched them emerge. And everyone says they get compared to the White Stripes because they're very bluesy, and they're a duo, and they're from the Midwest, and apparently, that's all it takes to get compared to the White Stripes.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. GOODMAN: But you know, this album, they worked with Danger Mouse and this is the first time that they've really had an outside producer. They've been very careful about making sure that what they're doing in the studio is sort of limited to their own influence. And you can tell in exactly the right ways the album just feels a little more richer, a little more flushed out in certain moments. So I'm hoping that this will be a big record for them. If you like really sort of spare, extreme blues rock, then you're always going to have liked them, but this is a little more listenable.
STEWART: Let's listen to a track. This one is called "I Got Mine."
(Soundbite of song "I Got Mine")
THE BLACK KEYS: (Singing) Rolling, I roll deep (unintelligible). I couldn't get no sleep. (Unintelligible) All day I got mine. I got mine.
STEWART: I don't know if it's fair to ask you to pick. It's kind of like asking someone to pick a fizzy lemonade versus bourbon.
Ms. GOODMAN: Yeah, exactly. I was going to say it's literally night or day. If it's sunny out, you should probably put on the Kylie record. if it's dark out, you should probably put on the Black Keys record. I know, I need to start hating on something, but these albums are just too good, you know.
STEWART: All right, your mood today, which one would you listen to?
Ms. GOODMAN: My mood today, I would go with the Black Keys.
Ms. GOODMAN: So that's who I'm going to go with this minute. But ask me in a few minutes. it might have changed.
STEWART: Veterans R.E.M., you know, they're almost 50.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: Oh, my gosh. Are they really?
STEWART: OK, this is their 14th record.
Ms. GOODMAN: Go and just get that one out of the way there.
STEWART: I just felt like I needed to say that. It's called "Accelerate." I was in Dublin over the summer and they were working out the material at this little tiny theater, and it was all anybody was talking about.
Ms. GOODMAN: Yeah.
STEWART: What were they working out? What does "Accelerate" sound like?
Ms. GOODMAN: Well, it sounds like vintage R.E.M. And you know, hurrah for that. Because we've had a rough last decade with R.E.M., so we're very happy to see that...
STEWART: So rough, their drummer left. He's like, I'm going to go be a farmer.
Ms. GOODMAN: That was when it started getting particularly rough, you know. And I think that they've talked - there's been quite a lot of press around this record, as one would expect. And they've talked openly how his departure, Bill Berry's departure in 1997, really was the kind of downslide, the beginning of the end, in terms of this most recent era of not so greatness in the R.E.M. department.
But yeah, this album they basically decided to stop thinking so much and just, you know, not not take advantage of the fact that they're this huge rock band and can do whatever they want and spend all kinds of time in the studio playing with 400 keyboards and just write a bunch of songs and record them really fast in a small period of time and rock out basically. So in that sense, those of us who love early R.E.M., and especially the R.R.S. years, are going to find some things we like on this record as well.
STEWART: Well, let's listen to a track. I'm excited now. This is "Living Well is the Best Revenge," new REM.
(Soundbite of song "Living Well is the Best Revenge")
REM: (Singing) You set me up like a lamb to slaughter. Garbo as a farmer's daughter. Unbelievable, the gospel according to who? I lay right down.
All your sad and lost apostles hum my Name and flare their nostrils, Choking on the bones you toss to them. Well, I'm not one to sit and spin, 'Cause living well's the best revenge. Baby, I am calling you on that.
STEWART: That could get my attention.
Ms. GOODMAN: Yeah.
STEWART: I really haven't been that interested in years past.
Ms. GOODMAN: I'm with you. I'm with you. And I was never the hardest of hardcore R.E.M. fans anyway, so this has piqued my interest, definitely.
STEWART: All right, let's finally go to contemporaries of R.E.M. who have somehow managed to stay much more modern and relevant - U2. It's not a U2 record, though. it's called "In the Name of Love: Africa Celebrates U2." The record contains 12 different covers of songs from the catalogue of U2. Big names in Afro-pop, right?
Ms. GOODMAN: Yeah. And you know some names like Les Nubians, which we would know here. And anyone who follows African music will know a lot of people on this compellation. But what I love about this is what it really shows is that if you write great songs and you have great musicians playing them, it's just going to sound good. U2 write great songs. These are fantastic musicians and together a combination that could, in theory, maybe really not work at all totally works. This album is fantastic.
STEWART: Let's listen to a version of "With or Without You" from Les Nubians.
(Soundbite of song "With or Without You")
LES NUBIANS: (Singing) Sleight of hand and twist of fate, On a bed of nails she makes me wait. And I wait without you, With or without you, With or without you.
STEWART: I kind of like that they're not just like covers. Like xeroxed-cover versions.
Ms. GOODMAN: Right. Not at all.
MARTIN: Yeah, it sounds different.
Ms. GOODMAN: Yeah, that would have been a bad move I think.
Ms. GOODMAN: Just because I think, I mean, how are you really going to improve on "With or Without You"? I think that U2 kind of handled it in the first place. This is sort of a weird seductive club version of that song. And a lot of the tracks on this record are sort of both - are basically just homages to the original versions, which is exactly what you want to hear, because these musicians are incredibly talented in their own right. You kind of want to hear them interpret...
Ms. GOODMAN: As opposed to, as you said, xerox what U2 has already done.
STEWART: All right, "In the Name of Love: Africa Celebrates U2" or R.E.M., "Accelerate?"
Ms. GOODMAN: You know, on this one, I've got to go with R.E.M. Even though I love this U2 record, not a U2 record, but a tribute to U2, I also, after hearing it, kind of want to go listen to a lot of U2. And with the R.E.M., I just really - I'm very impressed and I'm looking forward to spending the weekend kind of going through all the old R.E.M. records and rediscovering the band via this album.
STEWART: R.E.M. versus Black Keys, your first choice?
Ms. GOODMAN: Oooh, you're really taking me to the mat, as they say. Black Keys, I love the Black Keys. I love them!
STEWART: There you go.
Ms. GOODMAN: I love them. I want them to be big huge famous rock stars, so we'll see what we can do about that, you know.
STEWART: Lizzy Goodman is editor-at-large at Blender Magazine. Up to the challenge today. Thanks, Lizzy.
Ms. GOODMAN: Thank you for having me.
STEWART: Thanks, Lizzy.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.