- - Monday, October 31, 2011

Four the Record

Miranda Lambert

RCA Nashville

★★★★

With a voice that falls somewhere between the trailer park and the country club, Miranda Lambert has built her career on songs that blur the boundaries between country, rock and pop. She’s a self-proclaimed “bad girl” one minute, swilling whiskey and raising a ruckus during songs like “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” and a sentimental balladeer the next, as shown on her biggest hit to date, “The House that Built Me.” Psychologists call this sort of thing personality disorder; music fans call it ear candy.

Repeating the steps that turned its three predecessors into platinum sellers, “Four the Record” jumps between genres at every opportunity, taking much of its material from outside writers like Lady Antebellum’s Charles Kelley. Miss Lambert still gets up to her usual shenanigans, even if the music isn’t her own.

On “Fastest Girl in Town,” she takes some poor, gullible guy for a high-speed joyride and splits once he gets pulled over, making off with the traffic cop instead. She gets drunk and disorderly on the album’s requisite breakup anthem, “Mama’s Broken Heart,” and croons a string of double entendres during the sassy, sinuous “Fine Tune,” which sounds a bit like Led Zeppelin’s “D’yer Mak’er” in cowboy boots.

“Four the Record” isn’t all about mischief, though. Miss Lambert, who married country star Blake Shelton earlier this year, also sings a few moon-eyed love songs for her husband. On an album filled with infidelity and hangovers, songs like “Safe” are sober reminders that love can show up in the most unlikely of places, even the newest album by country’s most celebrated hell-raiser.

 

Ceremonials

Florence + the Machine

Universal Republic

★★★½

Florence Welch writes songs like a stonemason builds castles, stacking layers of gospel choirs and tribal percussion into pop-Gothic masterpieces. “Ceremonials” improves the architecture of her 2009 debut, which grafted neo-soul melodies onto a foundation of gorgeous, atmospheric pop. Emboldened by two years of success, she attacks her newest album like a younger Kate Bush or a New Age Adele, keeping the bedrock intact while adding some gorgeous embellishments — a glittering harp arpeggio here, a baroque string section there — to the mix.

The result is distinctly European and almost overwhelmingly unique. Most big-sounding bands make music that aims for the cheap seats at the back of an arena, but Miss Welch sounds like she’s singing to the last row at Liverpool Cathedral. Her voice booms with womanly, unwieldy vibrato, and there’s a sense of religious fervor to the songs themselves, which build up to cathartic choruses like the world’s coolest, artiest tent revival.

“Shake It Out” begins with stately church organ and quickly explodes into an anthem of empowerment. “It’s hard to dance with a devil on your back,” Miss Welch howls, “so shake him off.” Ghosts and demons figure prominently on the other songs, too, replacing the antagonist ex-boyfriends that fill most albums by female songwriters.

“Ceremonials” deals with heavy stuff, resting its weight not on Miss Welch’s broken heart but on her desire to drive out the darkness that lurks inside all of us. In that sense, it’s closer to keening than traditional pop music, but it’s also framed in a hip, 21st century context, with every high-church violin riff matched by an infinitely listenable melody. This is pomp and circumstance with an indie rock heart, a meticulously crafted album that overshadows its own influences.

 

Reissued Version of “Achtung Baby”: Even Better than the Real Thing

2011 has seen its fair share of reissued albums, including deluxe editions of Nirvana’s “Nevermind,” R.E.M.’s “Life’s Rich Pageant” and Suede’s entire catalog. Leave it to U2, perhaps the world’s biggest rock band, to turn the time-honored tradition on its head by releasing several ornate versions of “Achtung Baby.”

The hefty price tag will probably deter anyone who isn’t in Bono’s tax bracket, but the “Super Deluxe Edition” is a must-have for those who still listen to “Achtung Baby.” Pairing the original tracklist with four DVDs and five bonus CDs, the reissue shines a new light on the original album, which turns 20 later this month. Most of the remixes are fairly disposable, but the outtakes are fantastic, with songs like “Lady with the Spinning Head” sounding every bit as tuneful and sonically innovative as those that made the final cut. Of course, the real treat is the actual album itself, which continues to pack a serious punch.