Saturday, January 29, 2011

The sweet, strong sound of woman power

(Published Jan. 29, PDI-Super)

Established female singers experimented and engaged in 2010

By Oliver M. Pulumbarit


In 2010, several women made their formidable presence felt, and they continue to do so. Experimentation, exclusive perspectives, and eclectic influences characterize some of the better-sounding works by established female music artists:

Sarah McLachlan, “Laws of Illusion”

The more things change, the more Sarah McLachlan stays the same; not surprisingly, her latest songs are a reliable, comfortable map of emotional states. The Lilith Fair founder is still a precise, relevant, and gifted musician, capable of evoking the right emotions through finely crafted pop tunes. “Laws of Illusion” has more melodic and memorable creations than her previous studio album “Afterglow.”

Christina Aguilera, “Bionic”

A more subdued Christina Aguilera gets Gaga-esque with “Bionic,” mostly a pulsating dance album with a few distinct ballads. Using vocal gymnastics sparingly, but getting creative lyrically and musically, the more self-aware Aguilera revels in bleeping, layered soundscapes. She’s almost unrecognizable in “Elastic Love,” a new wave-ish number. But she still gets to cut loose in simpler and more vocal-driven tracks. She slows down with “Sex for Breakfast” and “All I Need,” both nice breathers from the senses-stimulating dance floor ditties. Often campy but daring, Aguilera enchants, embracing motherhood and other sides to her evolving personality.

Katy Perry, “Teenage Dream”

Losing none of her wit and her penchant for attention-baiting lyrics, Katy Perry delivers a solid follow-up to her hit album “One of the Boys.” Pop anthems “Teenage Dream” and “California Gurls” are easily among its most infectious songs. Perry gets wacky with the retro pop-sounding “Last Friday Night (TGIF)” and reaches out with two self-esteem songs, “Firework” and “Pearl.” Perry confidently sings with sensitivity and sensuality, a stronger and more focused artist this time around.

Norah Jones, “…Featuring Norah Jones”

Jazz chanteuse Norah Jones gets collaborative with cool and talented friends, ending up with a truly pleasant-sounding album. It’s mostly a collection of light duets, the chosen songs a lively mix of country, bossa nova, R&B, and fusions of different styles. Among the many standouts are “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” with Willie Nelson, “Dear John” with Ryan Adams, “Virginia Moon” with the Foo Fighters, and “More Than This” with Charlie Hunter.

Taylor Swift, “Speak Now”

More comfortable with expressing her feelings through songwriting than calling up exes, Taylor Swift unleashes a more mature collection of honest, heartwarming and scathing pop-country songs. Listeners who know or speculate about her relationships assume that some songs are dedicated to fellow celebs Cory Monteith, John Mayer, Taylor Lautner, and Joe Jonas. She also addresses other experiences; she sings about the Kanye West incident insightfully, and bashes an unnamed, boyfriend-stealing “actress” who’s “better known for the things that she does on the mattress.” From first to last track, “Speak Now” showcases Swift’s musical maturity while sharing juicy and intimate stories.

Natalie Merchant, “Leave Your Sleep”

Sensitive singer-songwriter and ex-10,000 Maniacs vocalist Natalie Merchant experiments with other people’s words, resulting in an audibly adventurous album. Merchant’s translations to music of mostly obscure poems and nursery rhymes make “Leave Your Sleep” a diverse set; styles utilized include reggae, bluegrass, and Chinese folk, among others. Merchant’s voice is still warm and versatile; in “Bleezer’s Ice Cream,” she clearly and playfully conjures up imagery of 28 “divine” flavors, while “If No One Ever Marries Me” is a soothing ballad illustrating a young woman’s plans should she stay single.

Lady Gaga, “The Fame Monster”

Love or loathe Lady Gaga’s attention-grabbing costumes and music videos, her “Fame Monster” is a collection of songs almost as otherworldly as her clothes and performances, and the eccentricity fascinates and hooks. “Fame Monster” has catchy dance-pop tunes, and easily mantra-fied lyrics. Whether she’s singing about some déjà vu-inspiring stranger in “Monster,” or the less-bouncy but emotionally charged “Speechless,” fearless Gaga pulls you into her uncompromising, sonically structured worlds.

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