Tue, May 07, 2013 - Page 12 News List

CD reviews

READY TO DIE, by Iggy and the Stooges; LIFE ON A ROCK, by Kenny Chesney; BROOKLYN BABYLON, by Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society

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

An example of the man holding the famously chill Chesney down, right? A forced return to his pigeonhole?

Maybe a helpful assist, actually. Pirate Flag has a pulse, unlike much of the rest of this album, much of which was written by Chesney, who is partial to long walks on the beach, acoustic ballads, nonlinear storytelling and lines that don’t always rhyme. The results are mostly dismal, making for the sort of album that reinforces faith in big, lumbering institutions that understand starmaking.

Partnering with professional songwriters helps a bit, like on the tense and whimsical Must Be Something I Missed: “I wake up in the morning just making a fist/I don’t call it living, I just exist.”

But left to his own devices, Chesney veers uncomfortably maudlin on Happy on the Hey Now (A Song for Kristi); dabbles in roots reggae on Spread the Love, featuring the Wailers and Elan; and actually titles a song Marley, name-checking several Bob Marley songs over steel drums.

The bar Chesney reminisces about on When I See This Bar sounds far less interesting than the one in Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar. And Lindy is an accidentally condescending song about a seemingly homeless person — “No one knows his last name/ But I believe he’s the salt of the earth/Just look past his dirty shirt.” Worse still, it’s not even the best country song about a seemingly homeless person; it’s tougher to swallow than even Craig Morgan’s awkward and unsettling Almost Home.

— JON CARAMANICA, NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BROOKLYN BABYLON

Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society

New Amsterdam

Brooklyn Babylon, the monumentally ambitious new album by Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, opens with the dull machine-rumble of an elevated subway train, echoing somewhere in the middle distance. About half a minute in, a cohort of brass kicks up an Eastern European ruckus, setting the scene and establishing a theme. The track is simply titled Prologue, and it’s both tantalizing and a little worrisome.

Argue, a resourceful young composer from Brooklyn — by way of an upbringing in Vancouver and training at the New England Conservatory of Music — has one previous album with Secret Society, his 18-piece big band. There was no outside agenda on that album, Infernal Machines, though it managed to make a few salient points, mainly about the acres of untapped possibility in what might look like an antiquated format.

The music on Brooklyn Babylon, on the other hand, comes loaded with subtext: Argue originally created it in collaboration with Danijel Zezelj, an artist and animator, as part of the 2011 Next Wave Festival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Their multimedia piece suggested an urban fable, revolving around issues of gentrification and artistic integrity. That’s a lot to compress into album form, and so the question here is whether Argue and crew were able to make the music stand on its own.

Short answer: yes. Fittingly, for an artistic endeavor so obsessed with the act of building — one of its most dynamic tracks is Construction (PLUS) Destruction — this album looms with sturdy intent. That theme unfurled at its outset serves as a functional motif, around which many others race and swirl. (The album was produced by Argue with Brian Montgomery, who also did stunning work as its recording and mixing engineer.)

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