Tue, Dec 25, 2012 - Page 12 News List

CD reviews

By Jon Pareles, Jon Caramanica and Nate Chinen  /  NY Times News Service

Well, for one, the closest analog to Wiz Khalifa’s stoner affect is Snoop Dogg, the early years. (The two have collaborated before, though not here.) But Snoop had menace in his rhymes, and a slithery voice that seeped into the crevasses of a beat. By contrast, Wiz Khalifa is by far the most enunciative rapper of the day, his stolid verses served with flat affect and sitting atop the beats, rigid and square.

For someone so relaxed, he certainly sounds at odds with much of this album; even the warm, enveloping production, primarily by ID Labs, doesn’t loosen up his stiff flow at all.

But in the second half of the album, Wiz Khalifa allows himself to be disrupted. The production becomes more varied — the loose disco-esque drums on No Limit, or the sturm-und-drang R&B on Remember You (a collaboration with the Weeknd) — and in response, he sounds energized, bounding around like someone whose high has worn off. He’s paying attention, and it shows.

— JON CARAMANICA, NY Times News Service

Lifehouse, ALMERIA, Geffen

Unblinking reassurance in the face of a nominal struggle: that’s the gist of most songs by Lifehouse, an inoffensively sure-footed alternative-rock band from Los Angeles. The cover illustration of its sixth studio album, Almeria, depicts the stare-down preceding a gun duel at 40 paces or so: a coolly stylized nod to the spaghetti Westerns for which Almeria, the Andalusian port city, is justly known. The suggestion is that Lifehouse, an operation that long ago found its working formula, has regrouped with a new starkness; that the stakes are somehow higher, and the payoff more grimly satisfying, than before.

But Almeria, which was produced by Jude Cole and recorded in Box Canyon, California, has little of the grit or tension of its chosen premise. What the album does deliver is a gentle retooling of the Lifehouse sound, a few notches further from its post-grunge roots and a few clicks closer to the earnest, soaring fare finding traction on modern-rock radio.

Jason Wade, Lifehouse’s lead singer, has always been a sturdy purveyor of melody, though rarely a distinctive one; when his voice conveys strain, it tends to feel like a calculated risk. One indication of his current mind-set can be found in this album’s lead single, Between the Raindrops, which features a guest vocal by Natasha Bedingfield: it’s imperturbably peppy, despite its suggestion of cloud cover.

Some other songs pay amiable lip service to hardship, as metaphors for relationship turmoil: Barricade is about the walls we build, and Pins & Needles is about being strung along. “The worst is far behind us now,” Wade promises on Aftermath, a piano ballad fortified with military drums and a gospel choir.

The rest of the band — the guitarist Ben Carey, the bassist Bryce Soderberg and the drummer Rick Woolstenhulme Jr. — locks down on a solid but fairly anonymous competence throughout the album. When Peter Frampton shows up with his Les Paul guitar on Right Back Home, his easy heat and plangency marks him as an alien life form.

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