Previewing new albums from Lou Reed, Zwan, Erasure, and more.
Lou Reed's Edgar Allen Poe-inspired "The Raven" (Sire/Reprise) first began to take shape after the artist collaborated with director Robert Wilson on "POEtry," a primitive live stage version of the current album which debuted in Hamburg in 2001. "I think the outstanding characteristic here is that it's been made for the ears, not the eye," Reed says. "It's fun and you certainly don't have to know anything about Edgar Allan Poe to enjoy this."
Some tracks feature the abrasive rock sounds that have been Reed's trademark for years. These alternate with cuts that are worlds beyond anything he has ever tackled, what with their sumptuous classical accompaniments and spoken word dramatizations and readings. Amongst the thespians to be heard on "The Raven" are Willem Dafoe, Steve Buscemi, and Elizabeth Ashley.
The centerpiece of the two-disc set is the title track, an updated version of Poe's most well known poem. Reed performed the music for the song and wrote new words voiced by Dafoe. "You could go to a movie for two hours but this you can take home with you," Reed offers. "It's your imagination and you can listen to it with your beloved or you can get stoned and listen to it. You can do anything you want. It's yours."
With the Smashing Pumpkins having receded into the annals of modern rock history, Billy Corgan resurfaces this week as the leader of Zwan, which also features former Pumpkins drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, former Chavez guitarist Matt Sweeney, ex-Slint guitarist David Pajo, and bassist Paz Lenchantin, previously a member of A Perfect Circle. The group's Reprise debut album, "Mary Star of the Sea," is led by first single "Honestly," which is No. 7 on Billboard's Modern Rock Tracks chart.
While hardly a radical step away from the loud, melodious rock favored by the Pumpkins, Zwan seems like more of a positive-minded endeavor. "Yeah!" and "Endless Summer" take maximum advantage of the three-guitar attack, while Corgan tones things down vocally for ballads such as "Desire" and "Declarations of Faith." The band also stretches out on the 14-minute "Jesus, I/Mary Star of the Sea," already a staple of its live performances.
The group begins a brief European tour Feb. 12 in London.
'People' Who Need People
Appropriately titled "Other People's Songs," Erasure's new Mute album finds Andy Bell and Vince Clarke revisiting cherished songs from different eras and different genres -- all done in the group's signature electronic fashion.
A collaborative effort between Erasure and producer/mixer Gareth Jones, "Other People's Songs" finds the duo tackling songs made famous by a diverse group, including Peter Gabriel ("Solsbury Hill"), Buddy Holly ("Everyday"), Elvis Presley ("Can't Help Falling in Love"), and the Righteous Brothers ("You've Lost That Loving Feeling"). The album closes, ironically, with the Buggles' "Video Killed the Radio Star," with Bell's melancholic vocals replaced by the robotic stylings of Mick Martin.
"Making this album was like getting the cobwebs out," Bell says. "By picking and choosing and then recording the songs for the album, we relearned the process of songwriting, something I believe we needed to do." The group begins a European tour Feb. 9 in Norwich, England, and arrives in North America beginning March 2 in Washington, D.C.
Additional titles hitting stores this week include:
-- The self-titled Drag City debut from Loose Fur, featuring Wilco's Jeff Tweddy and Glenn Kotche in tandem with multi-instrumentalist Jim O'Rourke.
-- Famed guitarist Ry Cooder's "Mambo Sinuendo," a set of guitar duets with the Cuban guitarist Manuel Galban (Perro Verde/Nonesuch).
-- The soundtrack to the upcoming film "Biker Boyz" (DreamWorks).
-- An inspirational album from veteran vocalist Aaron Neville, "Believe" (EMI Gospel).
-- Former D Generation frontman Jesse Malin's "The Fine Art of Self-Destruction" (Artemis), produced by Ryan Adams.
-- A new album from Chicago instrumental rock outfit Brokeback, "Looks at the Bird" (Thrill Jockey).
-- The double-disc collection "Sourcelabs (The Best Of)," featuring tracks from Daft Punk, Air, Alex Gopher, Motor Bass, and Black Strobe originally issued between 1995-1997 on dance/hip-hop compilations by French label Source.
-- A four-disc, self-titled boxed set celebrating U.K. '80s pop act Culture Club (Virgin).