This week, John Legend & the Roots prove that all the answers we seek are from the '70s, Selena Gomez gives the 'tweens a reason to believe, and Margot & the Nuclear So and So's is the (not so) new group you need to know. Then there's Zac Brown Band and Maroon 5 -- they each want you to play them more than any other band. We'd oblige, but only one is worth a play; the other is a definite skip.
SKIP: Maroon 5, "Hands All Over"
Maroon 5 is the Sandals Resorts of rock bands. Go to their Website, and you are met with offers for four versions of "Hands All Over," including the $199 deluxe box set with keychain and 3D glasses, as well as t-shirt, vinyl, and VIP tour packages ("personal photograph with the band," "official meet and greet laminate"). There's only so much room for the Band That Would Be King, and Maroon 5 wants their rightful place at the throne. This group wants to sell, sell, sell. They have a million ways to buy, but not one reason to care. Except for the 2.5 million people who have viewed their new faux Bee Gees single "Give a Little More." I'm prepared to be in the minority on this one.
PLAY: Zac Brown Band, "You Get What You Give"
Like Maroon 5, Zac Brown Band wants you to buy what they're selling. Badly. "You Get What You Give" is the followup to last year's Grammy-winning "The Foundation," and like its predecessor, it's filled with classic country grooves and the requisite tales of whiskey and women. But unlike Maroon 5, Zac Brown Band just has more sincerity and credibility. Maybe it's the beards, Southern drawls, and flannel. Maybe it's the fact that they can hang with Jimmy Buffett and Cee Lo Green with equal coolness. Something about this band just works, and they do what few major acts are able to accomplish: hang on to their souls while cashing their checks.
PLAY: John Legend & the Roots, "Wake Up!"
I wake up every morning looking for an album to save me, understand my pain, and show me a way forward. "Wake Up!" is that album. It's filled with songs that populated Wattstax and the streets of '70s urban neighborhoods, but it's not just a reminder of some forgotten soul gems; it's proof that the problems that plague us are the same as they ever were. So are the answers. "Wake Up" is the evidence you need that no band matters more today than the Roots. From the very first hit of Questlove's snare drum on Curtis Mayfield's "Hard Times" to the epic coda of the Bill Withers' "I Can't Write Left Handed," your fist will pump with rage and hope.
WATCH John Legend & the Roots "Wake Up Everybody."
SKIP: Selena Gomez & the Scene, "A Year Without Rain"
Here's the deal: I'm only reviewing this album to keep my cred with my 5-year-old son, who plasters his room with Selena Gomez posters and keeps her framed photo on his nightstand. I am not sh**ting you. Parenthood sucks sometimes. At least it's a break from the Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber rotation. Selena has the same songs from the same box of computer sounds, all cut from different pages of the same marketing plan. Still, I'd rather my son bring her home than Miley. That girl is nothing but trouble. Selena would never break a five-year-old's heart. Still, I'll skip the album even though my son plays it incessantly.
PLAY: Margot & the Nuclear So and So's, "Buzzard"
Indiana's Margot & the Nuclear So and So's have been the darlings of the underground for five years and three albums. With their fourth, "Buzzard," they might finally save the Hoosier State from a lifetime of John Mellencamp songs. "Buzzard" also returns them to the indie label landscape after a failed flirtation with major label Epic. Lead singer and songwriter Richard Edwards has the head of a punk and the heart of a new romantic. Or maybe it's the other way around. Either way, his songs are dark, lovely, loud, and wet with reverb. Play them to feel down-and-out and alive.