Brothers and sisters, welcome to the new music week. You all are busy people with busy lives in need of a soundtrack. So let's get to it, shall we? The Big Music Machine has an eclectic offering this week. Sting steps in front of a symphony, and M.I.A. steps up the jams. Crowded House moves closer to their '90s glory, while Korn walks back to their nu-metal roots. And there's Danger Mouse & Sparklehorse stepping into the beautiful "Dark Night of the Soul." If you only play one this week, this is it.
SKIP: Sting, "Symphonicities"
Sting's Never-Ending Tour of Self-Importance continues with orchestral reinterpretations of some of his biggest (and most obscure) songs. "Symphonicities" is another utterly professional and scholarly exercise. Sting, the former teacher, releases albums that feel more like PhD theses. Listening to him stand in front of the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra -- which admittedly plays some intriguing arrangements that could make the classical neophyte consider the power of orchestral music -- I can't get rid of the thought that Sting has become the William Shatner of music. Both make it impossible for any other form of life to survive in the same atmosphere. No doubt, the guy's a musical curiosity seeker. It's... just... so... much... Sting. Let's hope he develops Shatner's sense of humor about himself.
WATCH Sting rehearse songs from "Symphonicities."
PLAY: M.I.A., "Maya"
Frankly, I could skip M.I.A. after hearing about her bitching about the struggles of living in posh West L.A. because she can't afford New York. Still, "Maya" is hard to ignore. The album has a looseness and jam-iness only hinted at previously, and the politics and grooves sit comfortably side by side. "Maya" is purposely discordant and dissonant, which may rub some listeners the wrong way. But if you dig fuzz and can get the ultra-violent "Born Free" video out of your head, you'll dance your way smiling all the way to the revolution... via West L.A.
PLAY: Crowded House, "Intriguer"
After the 2005 death of original drummer Paul Hester, Neil Finn turned a solo album into a pseudo-Crowded House reunion with 2007's "Time on Earth." "Intriguer," by comparison, is a full-fledged Crowded House album. Produced by longtime Wilco collaborator Jim Scott, it's full of the pitch-perfect melancholy pop songs that we haven't heard since... well, the last Crowded House album. The band may never again hit the chart heights of their "Don't Dream It's Over" days, but it's fun to see keep them reaching. Few write and play such instantly hummable tunes. But what's the deal with Neil Finn's creepy mustache?
SKIP: Korn, "Korn III - Remember Who You Are"
After the synth train wreck that was their last self-titled album, Bakersfield's angriest middle-aged dudes ditched the keyboards and the overdubs for "Remember Who You Are." What's left is lots of Jonathan Davis screaming about wanting to be left alone. No problem.
PLAY: Danger Mouse & Sparklehorse, "Dark Night of the Soul"
Just when I'm about to give up all hope of anyone making an album that would make me lay down my life, here comes "Dark Night of the Soul," finally getting is long-delayed release after a legal dispute with record label EMI. It's an album that will restore your faith in the transformative power of music. It's an album that puts art over product. Go figure, it would be co-written by a guy who recently committed suicide. Sparklehorse mastermind, Mark Linokus, put a shotgun to his heart in March 2010, which gives the entire affair an unintended and inescapable subtext. It's also makes one the album's first lyrics (sung by one of "Dark Night's" many guest vocalists, Wayne Coyne) almost unbearable to hear: "I have shot you and stabbed you through your heart."
But make no mistake, Danger Mouse and Mark Linkous did not come together to wallow in darkness. These are 13 songs -- sung with 11 guest vocalists, ranging from the Pixies' Black Francis to Suzanne Vega -- that refuse to blink in the face of life's ups, downs, beauties, and tragedies. "Dark Night of the Soul" is sweet, idyllic, despondent, and full of worn-out rage. Musically, Danger Mouse continues to be one of the few modern producers who knows the difference between pastiche and cut-and-paste. The album's sounds keep you wondering what will comes next. It's a tragedy Mark Linkous blinked before the end.