Radio-Friendly: The Kooks, Carey and More Esquire music critic Andy Langer discusses the week's new releases, including albums by The Kooks, Mariah Carey, The Black Angels, and former Pixies singer Black Francis, a.k.a. Frank Black.
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Radio-Friendly: The Kooks, Carey and More

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Radio-Friendly: The Kooks, Carey and More


Music Reviews

Radio-Friendly: The Kooks, Carey and More

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There's no New Music Tax due today. No 1040 Easy Listening, no Alternative New Wave Minimum Tax, no dependents or independent labels to claim, just the sophomore effort of a young Brit pop band, the return of Mimi, and a former Pixie and some Texas-based angels. Our friend Andy Langer is the music critic for Esquire Magazine. Hi, Andy.

Mr. ANDY LANGER (Music Critic, Esquire Magazine): Hello.

STEWART: So first up, music-school-students-turned-Brighton-rock-band, the Kooks, their new album, "Konk," was named after the Kinks' founder, Ray Davies' groovy studio. They like the Ks. So they got their name from a Bowie song. So I take it the Kooks are pretty proud of their British heritage.

Mr. LANGER: Yeah. The Kooks would like you to think they're cooler than they are and they've been blamed or been accused of being indie imposters for awhile now, but they keep selling records. They've sold two million records worldwide of the first one. A hundred thousand in the U.S., which isn't bad in terms of an American breakthrough, and they write catchy pop songs and there's nothing wrong with that.

STEWART: Well, let's listen to the first single from "Konk." It's called "Always Where I Need to Be."

(Soundbite of song "Always Where I Need to Be")

THE KOOKS: (Singing) Now I see her again. I have to be a hummingbird. Whisper words in her ear, Oh, now you know I just don't care. You know, she just don't care.

'Cause I'm always where I need to be, And I always thought I would end up with you eventually.

Do do do dododo, do do do dododo...

STEWART: OK, so these guys made tons of best-of lists a couple of years ago with their debut. Is the follow up as good?

Mr. LANGER: Yeah, the follow up, you know, it's the same formula, you know, you heard the dodododos and it's a lot of that which just makes the good jangly, maybe not substantive, but sort of muscular pop songs, and they're going to sound really good on the radio. They're going to sound good this summer on the radio.

And you know, Europe's all about the big summer festivals and this will set them up perfectly for those. And it also - you know, the good news here is that there's - when you pile on four or five songs that may wind up radio anthems, then somebody who buys the full record is going to get their money's worth, and they're going to sell a bunch of these as full records, which, in this day and age, we know to be a rarity.

STEWART: Now, the lady who just had her 18th number one single, Mariah Carey, deposing Elvis as the artist with the second-most number one hits. Beatles still out front with 20. She's back with "E=MC2." Let's take a listen to some of the fine lyrical stylings of Ms. Carey.

(Soundbite of song "Touch My Body")

Ms. MARIAH CAREY: (Singing) Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah. Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah.

I know that you've been waiting for it. I'm waiting, too, In my imagination, I'd be all up on you, I know you got that fever for me, 102. And boy, I know I feel the same. My temperature's through the roof.

If there's a camera up in here, Then it's gonna leave with me, when I do (I do). If there's a camera up in here, Then I'd best not catch this flick on YouTube (YouTube)...

STEWART: All right. So, "If it's a camera up in here then I best not catch this flick on YouTube."

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: Is it anything...

Mr. LANGER: Trying to protect her privacy.

STEWART: I was - is there a Mariah tape out there we don't know about?

Mr. LANGER: There may be, but you know, if you had Mariah's lifestyle, you'd want to protect that privacy, whatever's left of it, too, I guess.

STEWART: I don't mean to be cynical. But when I hear Mariah - when I see Mariah, I see dollar signs and I see records being broken. Her last record sold something like ten million copies. What do you think about this one?

Mr. LANGER: Well, I mean, that is clearly the goal. I mean, you know, if you want to look at it statistically, like you said, the Beatles are next to knock off the list and she can do that with four singles from this record, and that's why you hire, you know, Jermaine Dupri and Scott Storch, and Swiss Beats and Danja and StarGate, all these people behind every other song, that's, you know, been on the charts in however long.

And you know, this is a woman they wrote off for dead six years ago, and she's definitely back, you know. Whether this kind of really manufactured, really straightforward going-for-the-fences kind of pop is your kind of thing is something - you already know which side of the Mariah bench you're on here.

STEWART: Right. You bring up an interesting point. Jermaine Dupri, Swiss Beats, Nate "Danja" Hill, Scott Storch,, Rodney Jenkins - I mean, could they put another producer on this record? Which is odd to me, because she actually has a very strong instrument in her voice.

Mr. LANGER: Yeah. And at the end of the record, they just strip it away and it's just her and a piano and it actually works, and she's not doing a lot of the acrobatics and the vocal gymnastics, that, you know, we see on "American Idol," thanks to her.

She's not doing as much of that on this record, although the album opens with a big shriek, that's, you know, which is almost as annoying as, I don't know, people who call her Mimi or people that are using this title to say "E=MC2" equals pop genius.


Mr. LANGER: Yeah. There's a lot of that going around.

STEWART: OK. That needs to stop.

Mr. LANGER: Yes.

STEWART: Let's move onto Black Francis and his EP, "SVN FNGRS." I'm assuming that's what it means because it just says S-V-N-F-N-G-R-S. Now, when the Pixies broke up 15 years ago, Black Francis started recording as Frank Black, and now he's back to the old moniker, wondering if this is a nostalgic record? Or does this move forward?

Mr. LANGER: This does both. I mean, this moves forward in that it's moving forward within the Pixies' framework, meaning this is a rock record that, if it had the Pixies name on it, you'd say OK, that's a Pixies record. And that's why he's using Black Francis instead of Frank Black.

He's done this both for the "Bluefinger" record, which was last year, and then this EP, or mini-album, as he likes to call it. It's seven songs recorded in one day, and they sent them to the studio to make a B side for the last record and he ended up coming out with seven songs.

STEWART: Let's hear a track. It's called "I Sent Away," from the "SVN FNGRS" EP by Black Francis.

(Soundbite of song "I Sent Away")

Mr. BLACK FRANCIS: (Singing) I was alone. I kept my clothes. I learned to play the xylophone.

But I was bored with my records And so today, I sent away. I sent away. I sent away.

I got a knock. I got a box...

STEWART: Is this for fans? Or is this for a larger audience?

Mr. LANGER: You know, I mean, Frank Black doesn't, or Black Francis doesn't...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LANGER: He doesn't have hopes of a larger audience. On the other - you know, this is sort of his Zappa-Beefheart phase, and you know, that song, it's just quirky rhyming for rhyming's sake. On the other hand, these are, you know, big rock songs and there's a, you know, seven of them in a row.

There's one that's kind of Neil Young-ish. You know, theoretically it could reach to some people that haven't checked out Frank Black in awhile, but this is for fans of the Pixies and that's good enough.

STEWART: We're speaking with Andy Langer, music critic from Esquire Magazine, who has the great fortune to live in Austin, Texas, where you can find good music on every street corner and almost every coffee house. A band called the Black Angels, from your neck of the woods, tell us about them.

Mr. LANGER: Well, they're - you know, their motto is tune in - or "turn on, tune in, and drone out." And they use projectors, you know, psychedelic projectors behind them when they play and they're a really trippy, psychedelic sort of, you know, '60s-throwback rock band who are loud and hypnotic.

STEWART: All right. Andy Langer, he's helping us out, understanding some new music. We're going to go out on a little bit of the Black Angels. It's called "Doves." Hey, Andy. Thanks a lot.

Mr. LANGER: You got it.

(Soundbite of song "Doves")


Coming up next on the show, a new documentary follows an acre of corn in Iowa. It's called "King Corn." How corn shapes life in the United States. That'll be next on the Bryant Park Project from NPR News.

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