In a Soulful Return, Al Green Lays It Down Lizzy Goodman from Blender magazine discusses the week's new album releases, including a spectacular soul record from Al Green. Also discussed: new discs from Usher, Spiritualized, Cyndi Lauper and more.


Music Reviews

In a Soulful Return, Al Green Lays It Down

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OK, let's get right to it. You might think that we here at the BPP, eh, we occasionally have a good time. We like to mess around. I assure you today we are not doing that. We are talking about serious, heavy stuff. Sure, new music, but some heavy themes, love, marriage, sex, death, who's doing all this talking about the heavy stuff? A variety of different people, Usher, Al Green, Spiritualized, Cyndi Lauper, we are serious, and in that spirit, we need a serious guide to help us through these new offerings. Lizzie Goodman, you're serious. Aren't you, Lizzie?

Ms. LIZZIE GOODMAN (Editor at Large, Blender Magazine): Totally.

MARTIN: Totally.

Ms. GOODMAN: I'm wearing big, old, thick glasses right now, all professor-style.

MARTIN: You're totally serious. Editor at large with Blender Magazine in studio to help us with the week's new releases. Let's start with Usher, shall we?

Ms. GOODMAN: Usher, let's start with Usher, yeah.

MARTIN: He - the last time he came out with an album, multi-platinum, he did pretty well with that, "Confessions" in 2004.


MARTIN: Nine and a half million albums in the U.S. alone, four number one singles, and he was sing - his music was reflective of his life at the time. He was kind of a young player, shall we say?

Ms. GOODMAN: Yes. I think that's a good description. Yes.


Perhaps even a playa (ph).

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GOODMAN: Perhaps, perhaps.

MARTIN: So where - he's gone down the road of marriage.

Ms. GOODMAN: Yeah.

MARTIN: He's got a kid. The music now is a little different?

Ms. GOODMAN: Yeah. I mean, he's still singing as, you know, as you say, about the experience of being Usher. It's just that the experience of being Usher has shifted a bit since he's become a father. And you know, it's - Usher was famous, as you point out, for being sort of - for articulating the kind of smooth player lifestyle without all of the rough, sort of hip-hop, edges. He's kind of a crooner. And on this album he's doing the same thing, except now he's talking about how hard it is to stay faithful...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GOODMAN: As opposed to celebrating not being faithful.

MARTIN: Just telling it like it is. It's hard, man.

Ms. GOODMAN: He's just telling it like it is and he's, you know - but I mean, the songs are still the kind of rhythm and the sound of the music really hasn't changed that much. It's the theme that's changed.

MARTIN: Let's get right to the music. Let's hear the first song he's dishing out for us. It's called "Love in this Club."

(Soundbite of song "Love in this Club")

Mr. USHER RAYMOND: (Singing) I see you, Ryan. What you do was right, But we just getting' started. Yeah, man...

You see you searching for somebody That'll take you out and do you right. Well, come here, baby, and let daddy show you what it feel like (feel like). You know all you gotta do is tell me what you sippin' on (sippin' on) And I promise that I'm gonna keep it comin' all night long.

Lookin' in your eyes while you walk the other side, And I think that, shorty, I've got a thing for you, yeah. Doin' it on purpose winding and workin' it...

MARTIN: BPP director says this might not sell a ton of albums, but maybe a lot of ringtones.

Ms. GOODMAN: That song just makes me wish I were in middle school and could do some awkward slow dancing all over again, because that's what it conjures to me, but...

MARTIN: Speaking of middle school, does anyone remember when Usher was on "Star Search"? Do you remember this?



Ms. GOODMAN: Now I know what I'll be YouTubing today.

MARTIN: Check it, editor Trish McKinney. He was on "Star Search."

PESCA: But he was on - a little asterisk, he was on as a TV spokes model, we should mention, not as a...

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: When he's singing about, baby, tell me what you need, what you sipping on, I'll do it all night long, I think he's talking to his baby, in the sippy cup and he's sipping on milk, right? I think that's what...

Ms. GOODMAN: I think that you are being very generous with him and the interpretation of that song.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: So do you like this album?

Ms. GOODMAN: I do, actually, a lot. I mean, again, it's like if you like, Usher you're going to like this album. It may not be the soundtrack to the kind of player lifestyle that his previous records are, but it doesn't sound all that different.

MARTIN: Let's move onto a man who almost needs no introduction, but that's why we get paid, so we'll do it anyway...

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Al Green!

Ms. GOODMAN: Al Green!

MARTIN: (Singing) Al Green, we love him, I love him.


MARTIN: Is he doing anything - I mean, for people who love Al Green, is this new album just classic Al Green or is he doing something different?

Ms. GOODMAN: No. It kind of is classic Al Green, and in that sense, it's a little different. You know ,we haven't - he's Al Green, so he basically gets to do whatever he wants, but the sort of , classic era, '70s Al Green, we haven't seen all that much of that sound coming out of him recently.

MARTIN: He's been doing a lot of preaching. He's been occupied.

Ms. GOODMAN: He's been busy preaching the word, and now he's back to singing. And what's interesting about this record is just that it's sort of a reinterpretation by contemporary artists who are younger than he is who have been influenced by him of his sound. So it's - ?uestlove produced it, and Corrine Bailey Rae is on the record, and John Legend is on the record. And it's sort of this interesting like prism, in that the people who on whose career he was such an influence are now reinterpreting him for him, but it still sounds like classic Al Green. So it's really an interesting concept for an album.

MARTIN: OK. Well, let's get right to it. Let's listen to a track from the new record by Al Green.

(Soundbite of song "Take your Time")

Ms. CORRINE BAILEY RAE and Mr. AL GREEN: (Singing) Just you take your time...

Mr. GREEN: (Singing) When I think about yesterday, everything was easy, everything was OK.

MARTIN: He had some high-profile help on that. That song's called "Take your Time," featuring Corrine Bailey Rae and the Dap-Kings Horns...

Ms. GOODMAN: Nice.

MARTIN: And it was produced - the album was produced by...

PESCA: ?uestlove.

MARTIN: Some famous folks as well, right? ?uestlove and James Poyser...

Ms. GOODMAN: Poyser, yeah, who's sort of a behind the scenes R&B guy who's quite, quite well-known for his work on other people's records, D'Angelo's "Voodoo," a bunch of different albums that you would know, but you wouldn't necessarily know his name. So yeah, it's a big kind of power group of people that he's recruited to help him be Al Green...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GOODMAN: And he's - I mean, that voice comes on and it's just like, dude, Al Green rules, you know? In that sense it's really fun to listen to this album.

MARTIN: Love it like butter.

Ms. GOODMAN: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: OK. Let's take a little turn and go into the world of Spiritualized. Jason Pierce is the leader of that group, and this new album, it's called "Songs in A&E." Lizzie, explain what A&E stands for.

Ms. GOODMAN: Accidents and emergency, or accident and emergencies, some plural or not plural combination of those two things, but yeah, he was very ill. He had a really bad infection of some kind about three years ago, I believe, and had written a bunch of the songs that had ended up on this record prior to that, but kind of had this near-death experience in the hospital, and being Jason Pierce, decided that that either meant or didn't mean that he should finish the record. And apparently...

MARTIN: One of the two.

Ms. GOODMAN: Right, and now he has.

PESCA: Does it sound like a record that was either finished or not finished?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GOODMAN: A little bit, yeah, in places - there's 18 songs on this album and I'm thinking maybe, you know, one of the nurses could have helped him edit a little bit, but other than that...

PESCA: Scalpel, stat.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GOODMAN: Yeah. The scalpel could have been used.

MARTIN: Near-death experiences, you feel like you've got a lot to say, maybe.

Ms. GOODMAN: Yeah, exactly. So he did finish, and here it is, and it is quite interesting in certain places.

MARTIN: OK. Let's listen to a cut. This is called "I Got a Fire."

(Soundbite of song "I Got a Fire")

Mr. JASON PIERCE: (Singing) I got a fire inside my soul. Let it burn and let it glow. Got a fire to call my own. Freedom's mine to hold.

I got a fire and bide my time. Praise the Lord and I'll find out. Holding on with all my might. Freedom's one more fire.

MARTIN: So you get a sense of what he's talking about there, a little urgency, a little sense of urgency after that near-death experience.

Ms. GOODMAN: Absolutely. Absolutely.

MARTIN: That song's called "I Got a Fire" off the new album by Spiritualized called "Songs in A&E." We're going to close with a little lady - I think she is little, actually...

PESCA: She is little.

MARTIN: Big name, Cyndi Lauper, a new album called "Bring Ya to the Brink." What do you think about this, Lizzie Goodman?

Ms. GOODMAN: Well, I think it's - it shows how awesome Madonna is for being able to keep up the kind of dance...

MARTIN: That's exactly what I thought!

Ms. GOODMAN: I thought you might agree with me about this one.

MARTIN: I really did.

Ms. GOODMAN: And no, it's true. I mean, there are songs on this album that are really great dance songs, but consistency isn't the strength of this record. It's kind of a singles album, and it just proves again that staying relevant in the dance world for all the years that Madonna has makes her awesome, but Cyndi rules, too.

MARTIN: She does rule, but I've got to say, this is going to sound super scandalous, but her voice sounds oldish (ph).

Ms. GOODMAN: I know! It's a little weird. Well, you know, she's got such a famous, sort of high, girly voice and if that drops at all, you're going, what's going on here? I mean, it's sort of her hallmark, so in that sense, yes. But you know, she is older, so I welcome her back to the dance floor.

MARTIN: OK. Well, let's listen. Here's a little bit of "Grab a Hold" from " Bring Ya to the Brink."

PESCA: Thanks, Lizzie.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GOODMAN: I'm sure she's great.

(Soundbite of song "Grab a Hold")

Ms. CYNDI LAUPER: (Singing) When you open your eyes up, In the morning you rise up. Wash yesterday from your face and make a new world. Oh, it's my fascination with the anticipation.

If you want to grab a hold...

PESCA: Cyndi Lauper, could it be that she no longer bop?

MARTIN: Hey, you know, she's made more albums than I have.


MARTIN: Blender's Lizzie Goodman, thanks so much for your assistance, as always, today. We appreciate it.

Ms. GOODMAN: Thank you for having me. It's fun to be here.

PESCA: The BPP rolls on. Coming up, a new book, "Five Lessons I Didn't Learn from Breast Cancer." This is the Bryant Park Project from NPR News.

Ms. LAUPER: (Singing) I don't know what I meant to say, To make it OK. You look at my picture...

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