Shearwater, Journey Back with New Albums Esquire music critic Andy Langer surveys the week's new CD releases, from Journey, Dr. John, Shearwater, and Weezer.


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Shearwater, Journey Back with New Albums

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So it's June, time to roll down the windows and crank up the stereo, and I know what my dad is thinking. You'll destroy the air conditioning that we have spent so long to establish in this automobile! But sometimes it's worth it. Here in 10-second bursts are some new options on the newest of New Music Tuesdays.


Indeed. California do-it-yourselfer Aimee Mann drops "Smilers."

(Soundbite of song "Smilers")

Ms. AIMEE MANN (Singing): You knew it, I know it. Why don't you just show it? You know I...

PESCA: British quartet, the Futureheads, return with their third album of spiky pop songs, "This is Not the World."

(Soundbite of song "This is Not the World")

THE FUTUREHEADS (Singing): I can see this. I can see that. I can see (unintelligible). I can see this. I can see that...

MARTIN: And Ladytron returns with the brooding "Velocifero."

(Soundbite of song "Velocifero")

LADYTRON (Singing): In the first days, I have spent time. Made you all (unintelligible)...

PESCA: And Flee - fla - fuh - fit - fah - fuh - fum.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: You thought it would be the Foo Fighters, but in fact it's the Fleet Foxes.

MARTIN: The Fleet Foxes.

PESCA: Fleet foxes. Their self-titled - unfortunately - album, so I've got to say it twice...

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: It's a little like My Morning Jacket, at least until the real thing lands next week. Let's fleet with the Foxes right now.

(Soundbite of song)

THE FLEET FOXES (Singing): As you lay tonight beside me, baby, I will mourn in the sugarcane. Would you wait...

PESCA: And there're also new releases from Bay Area hip-hop group, Subtle, R&B diva Ashanti - she has a new album, that's interesting - Mr. Gwen Stefani himself, Gavin Rossdale, and a new "Now That's What I Call Music" compellation. They're in the quadruple digits by now. Yes, Poison front man and rocker of love, Brett Michaels, has a new album, and folky-turned-country chick Jewel is also coming out with a new album. But instead we go to our own jewel, our own poison, here to help us make sense to the crazy mess we call New Music Tuesday, Andy Langer, the music critic for Esquire. Hey, Andy.

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

PESCA: All right, let's Weezer it up to start off with. Smart pop rock darlings, Weezer, they're exploring a new color in their palette. That color is red. The new album is their third self-titled album, their sixth overall album. This one will be called "The Red Album," because it's the band against a red background, but maybe the fans will call it a little bit of a weird album because of what's inside. So what's going on with Weezer, Andy?

Mr. LANGER: Well, I mean, to borrow a "Spinal Tap" joke, you could call it the brown album.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: You like it that much, huh?

Mr. LANGER: No, I mean, it's this big sort of overindulgent, bloated, sophomoric at times record that's not becoming a 38-year-old songwriter who can't seem to get past mailbox-bashing and lowest-common-denominator jokes.

PESCA: Yeah, well, maybe, maybe that's the overall album, but that first single, "Pork and Beans," with the video that shows all the Internet friends playing along with Weezer, that's going to be a hit.

Mr. LANGER: It is a hit.

PESCA: Yeah.

Mr. LANGER: And you know, I mean, there's the, I know, Rogaine mention in there, the Timbaland-would-write-me-a-hit mention in there, and it's an entertaining little song. Is it memorable, though? Is "Pork and Beans" a summer song that's going to last until next summer, like some of these other Weezer tunes in the past? I'm not sure.

PESCA: Right, maybe it's a better video. I mean, once you have the guy who sang, what's it? "Chocolate Rain" guy, and once you have the light sabre guy, Tay Zonday, reuniting to play backup band for Weezer, that thing's going to get sent around a million times. But I think maybe the song that draws the most attention to itself is something called "The Greatest Man that Ever Lived: Variations on a Shaker Hymn." Tell me a little about this song, Andy.

Mr. LANGER: Well, I mean, it's what this song doesn't do, which isn't much. I mean, it just keeps changing, you know, shape mid-sentence, mid-form, and it does a little bit of rock opera. It does a whole lot of things, not all of them particularly well, but it's definitely ambitious. And it points to what they would have liked to have been their "American Idiot" moment, I think, you know, where they can unleash a rock opera and have it stand like Green Day. But it doesn't.

PESCA: Let's hear a little bit of the song.

(Soundbite of song "The Greatest Man that Ever Lived: Variations on a Shaker Hymn")

WEEZER: (Singing) After the havoc that I'm gonna wreak No more words will critics have to speak I've got to answers to the tangled knot Sleep tight in your cot.

Oh baby, I've been told I'm goin' crazy. Oh baby, I can't be held down. Oh baby, Somehow I'm keeping it steady. Oh baby, I'm tearing up this town. Hey, this is what I like...

MARTIN: That's a really impressive falsetto.

PESCA: Or some - yeah, what is this? You said "American Idiot" moment. I'm thinking maybe "Bohemian Rhapsody" moment. But the point is, it's ambitious, but doesn't get there, in your opinion?

Mr. LANGER: Yeah, I mean, it's a gimmick and not a terribly good one. The "Heart Songs" is a different tune. It's called "Heart Songs" and it's one that name-checks everybody from Gordon Lightfoot to Slayer. And it's all name-checking of bands that were influences or that, you know, Cuomo enjoys. And it's a little more interesting, because at least there's names you can relate to throughout the song. You know, there's half a great record here. And there's just half that's really bad. And I don't know, I think you should expect more from Weezer, and Weezer's better than this.

PESCA: More from a guy that writes a song called "The Greatest Man that Ever Lived" about himself, if you're going to deliver. I guess - and there answers the question, what's with these homies dissing my boy, why do they gotta front? Too ambitious, doesn't quite get there.

Mr. LANGER: You just wanted to say that.

MARTIN: Yeah, he did.

PESCA: Yeah, definitely did. Let's talk about Dr. John. So Dr. John's been making New Orleans-centric records for 40 years now. After Katrina hit there was some charity work he did and some smaller albums, but now there's a big straightforward album called "The City that Care Forgot: Another Ode to New Orleans." So Andy, what does Dr. John have to add to the conversation about Katrina three years after?

Mr. LANGER: Well, I know, Katrina and the, you know, its aftermath is not something that I'm not - I'm not sure you can be late to that.

PESCA: Yeah.

Mr. LANGER: Especially if you're Dr. John.

PESCA: True.

Mr. LANGER: Because, you know, New Orleans is obviously reeling from that. And here's the guy that you want to weigh-in on it, who only, as you said, weighed in on it in little bits and pieces, and most of those were sort of celebratory pro-New Orleans we're going to put it back together stuff at the time. And now he's angry. He's outright angry, and at one point, you know, he even says, you know, how we doing? Well, the short version is, we're getting mad. Here's Dr. John with "Promises, Promises."

(Soundbite of song "Promises, Promises")

Dr. JOHN (Singing): Promises, promises. Empty words, empty words.

Go to the White House. They would laugh. They would laugh. Go to the White House. They would laugh. And the truth will set you free. Children are hungry, living in the streets. Children are hurting...

PESCA: That's Willie Nelson we're hearing in the background there. Is this a case, is the album, is this song, the album overall, a case of great anger leading to great art, Andy?

Mr. LANGER: Yeah, there's a couple cameos, Willie, Clapton, Ani Difranco. And yeah, it's an angry record looking for accountability, and it happens to be good art. And there's another great song on here about the second-line funeral processions in New Orleans and the effort to stop those that the city government's undertaken. And there's - it's sort of a fight-for-your-right-to-party moment with a bunch of the New Orleans all-stars and it's really impressive. The whole record - this is a record that's going to get Grammy nominations and probably win a few. And it's also a record when he calls the president a bitch.

PESCA: Are they going to let him play that song in the Grammy telecast?

Mr. LANGER: We'll find out.

PESCA: He should refuse - he should refuse the nomination unless they do. Let's move on to Shearwater. Jonathan Meiburg, the leader of this indie band, is really into birds. He named the band after an aquatic bird that dives into the ocean. The album's title, "Rook," that's another member of the birding community. Before we get to this guy's obsession, let's hear a little bit about the music he makes and let's hear the music right away. It's Shearwater with "Rooks."

(Soundbite of song "Rooks")

SHEARWATER (Singing): When the Rooks were laid in a path by the side of the road Crashing into the earliest tangle in the laundry line And gathered in a field they were burned in a furthering (ph) pile The cool black eyes...

PESCA: That's a song about birds.

MARTIN: That's a nice singer.

PESCA: How's it work for you, Andy?

Mr. LANGER: It's a - you know, it's sort of a low key, less bombastic, Arcade Fire thing. They call it chamber pop, because it uses harps and strings and woodwinds and glockenspiels. But it's sort of visionary. You know that they're working toward something here. You can feel that even thought there're sort of small songs filled with sadness, and there's only two big rock songs and believe it or not that one we just heard is one of the big rock songs.

PESCA: Oh, so it's a big rock song in a minor key.

Mr. LANGER: Yeah, it's definitely an artsy record and an intimate record, but it's heartfelt and you can feel a lot of promise. This is a band that is going to make - keep making records like this.

PESCA: And does the fact that so many of the songs are bird-centric, is that a good thing, a bad thing? Or...

Mr. LANGER: It depends on how much you like birds, right?

PESCA: Yeah, I guess it does, right?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LANGER: "Rooks," that's about birds, yeah, I mean, it's a - you know, it could be worse, he could be writing about smashing mailboxes.

PESCA: Or he could be writing about the last Weezer album, which would be way too self-reflective. All right, let's get on to the huge one, the big one. It's Journey. A couple of records came out this week that are repackaging bands that we're familiar with. Yes, Radiohead now has a greatest hits album. But Journey, we've got to get to Journey. The repackaging there is that Journey has a new frontman. They found this guy on YouTube. Their new album has three discs, one of new material, another one with the old band with hits re-recorded with the new singer and a DVD. Wow, so what are we going to hear? Let's hear "Never Walk Away" from the brand new album by Journey, "Revelation."

(Soundbite of song "Never Walk Away")

JOURNEY (Singing): We believe their eyes were strong. Just to find they couldn't get along. That thing they shared slowly fell to the ground. Will she go, will she stay? Will she stay?

PESCA: So is Arnel Pineda a good stand-in for Steve Perry? Sure sounds like it. But does he do anything to make the band more than a nostalgia act?

Mr. LANGER: I mean, the record's called "Revelation" and there's not one except that Journey without Steve Perry isn't Journey.

PESCA: Maybe it's a reference to the fact that in the Book of Revelations, "the end is nigh."


Mr. LANGER: That would be pretty desperate for nostalgia to be buying 11 new songs from a guy you've never heard of that they found on YouTube, 11 old songs and a live DVD featuring a guy you've never heard, that they found on YouTube singing the songs that you might have already owned the albums from. To buy 11 songs with a re-recorded vocal from some guy they found on YouTube, this isn't Journey.

PESCA: Unless the guy is Tay Zonday, I would have to agree with you.

MARTIN: OK, fine.

PESCA: This is Journey, and Andy Langer, music critic for Esquire Magazine, thank you very much.

Mr. LANGER: Thank you.

MARTIN: That does it for this hour of the Bryant Park Project. We don't go away online. We're there all the time at Speaking of which, one more thing this week, you can tell us what you think about our show. Go to our blog and click on the little banner that says "NPR Listens." We want to hear what you like, what you don't like and also just who you are. So check it out at

PESCA: Two slashes?

MARTIN: Two slashes, can you handle it? I'm Rachel Martin.

PESCA: I'm Mike Pesca and this is the Bryant Park Project from NPR News.

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