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Whitney Houston - I Look To You

So, "I Look To You" may or may not be Whitney Houston's first single off her eagerly-awaited return to the music industry, due out August 31, but it is the name of the album and it has been released to radio and ITUNES so you be the judge. Here's my two cents:

I downloaded it, thought it was nice but whatever. However, upon closer inspection, it is now one of my favorite Whitney songs for this reason and for this reason alone: her emotion is PALPABLE. Knowing what I know about her personal life, I feel her on this and to be honest, Whitney in her prime was a pop puppet. Her image was cleaned and scrubbed to be some girl next door, when she was really somewhat of a hoodrat.  When she went through some "thangs", she changed. Crack aside, I think she has changed for the better. She has been humanized. There are cracks in her voice and breathiness, sure, but I want to feel someone has LIVED when I hear them sing. Plus, I feel these lyrics deeply. Good for her.

You be the judge:

http://www.whitneyhouston.com/ (to listen)


The man is the king of elegant sorrow and heartbreak. Proof? Check out his new album, BLACKsummersnight. It really doesn't get any better. Proof? "Fistful of Tears", "Playing Possum" and "Pretty Wings". He also does funky. Proof? Check out album opener "Bad Habits" and its successor "Cold". When you take 8 years in between albums, your shit better be tight. Actually, it better be superb. Of course, Maxwell's shit is beyond superb. Who else can make his fans wait this long, only to deliver a 9 track album (with one of those tracks being instrumental)? No one else but Maxwell. Buy it. Live it. Breathe it. Experience it. Oh yeah...there are 2 more albums coming - one in 2010 and the final installment in this trilogy hitting our stores in 2011. Tell somebody.

Will You Be There?

I am listening to the underrated "Will You Be There?" from Michael Jackson's Dangerous album and holding back tears. Seriously, this is one of the most beautiful, poignant songs in the history of pop music. It sounds like this is his farewell song to his fans. It's almost painful to listen to. His pain is so exquisite, it's breathtaking. Thank you Michael for making this song. Rest in Peace. I actually am starting to doubt that the disbelief and loss of his death will ever go away.
As a 28 year old Black male, words cannot properly explain how I feel about MJ's passing. My earliest memories are of being terrified of the Thriller video when it premiered and of having a birthday ice cream cake with a picture of MJ in his aviators, red jacket and glove drawn in the frosting. I remember seeing the 3D mini-movie Captain Eo in Epcot when I was 6. Through all the years, I have never stopped respecting him as a pioneer and trailblazer for not just Black entertainers but for ALL entertainers worldwide. I have been to family reunions where his music has been played as well as lavish parties thrown by some of the wealthiest Cape Cod families where they blared Jackson 5 and sang along to every word. Michael's music transcends all color, socioeconomic and gender lines. Despite the fact that he never had another "Thriller" in his career, the man did not have a weak album, per se. I remember when Invincible came out. I was in Paris, living, studying and coping with 9/11 as an ex-pat (my flight was 9/9, landed on 9/10 and first day of orientation 9/11). Invincible holds a special place in my heart because it helped to maintain my bond with my home country. Everyone has their "Where were you when..." moments. When the news of MJ's passing broke, I was celebrating the 1st non-rainy day in a week+ in Boston by drinking with coworkers. After our disbelief ended, the night turned into a celebration of Michael and his music. I truly believe the man is finally at peace, away from his detractors and far away from
a cruel and unkind world. God Bless you, Michael Jackson and thanks for helping to shape my life, from childhood to adulthood.

Here are my top 20 MJ songs, in no particular order.

1. Human Nature
2. You Rock My World
3. Off The Wall
4. I Want You Back *
5. Beat It
6. Butterflies
7. The Love You Save *
8. Can You Feel It **
9. Dirty Diana
10. ABC *
11. In The Closet
12. PYT
13. Rock With You
14. Billie Jean
15. Working Day and Night
16. Thriller
17. Don't Stop Til You Get Enough
18. Wanna Be Startin Somethin
19. Jam
20. Man In The Mirror

* w/ The Jackson 5
** w/ The Jacksons

Coachella Day 3 (The Final Day!)

Booo...last day of Coachella. Sad. Tragic, even. It's so weird closing this chapter of my life. I wish I could blame the trauma of life without Chella for the tardiness of my entries about it but alas, I have fallen victim to laziness and all that jazz. Well, I hope you have enjoyed Day 1 and Day 2. Without further ado, I bring you: THE FINAL DAY OF COACHELLA 2009!

Bands Seen/Heard:

Friendly Fires
Okkervil River
Lupe Fiasco
Lykke Li
Peter Bjorn & John
Antony & the Johnsons
Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Devendra Banhart
My Bloody Valentine
Public Enemy
The Cure
Etienne de Crecy

That may seem like a lot of bands, but to be honest, I was near death for most of Sunday, barely breathing and dragging my decaying body across the polo field, pausing every 2 steps to catch my breath. It was quite a sight but I'm sure it didn't look half as bad as it felt. Anyway, point is, for a good number of these bands, I was only able to catch a song or two or barely remember what I saw and heard. Those bands/artists would be: Friendly Fires, Okkervil River, Lupe Fiasco (who I am tempted to rate and give an for failure to show up remotely on time and thus, screw up other set times), Antony and the Johnsons (to whom I will give a solid B for what I saw) and Devendra Banhart. So yeah, I will not be assessing these bands fully, as there wasn't much for me to assess.

Lykke Li, however, was pure hotness. This little spitfire from Norwegian lands tore it UP. She beat on the drums like some kind of monster, even though she isn't a drummer. She covered Kings of Leon, did her own version of Lil' Weezy's "A Milli" and had a generally good time. One of the highlights of Coachella as one of the biggest surprises. Oh yeah, the megaphone was ILLI! B+

PB&J got soul and they were another one of the surprises/highlights of Coachella, especially for what was otherwise a sort of anticlimactic Day 3 lineup. The craziest part was the fact that Robyn (along with Lykke Li) did some background vox for "Nothing To Worry About" and "Young Folks" and no one gave a DAMN!, even when Robyn was announced. There was a general headscratching going on and a couple hipsters asking "Wait, did he say Robyn?" but no fanfare. Shame. Even more shameful was the fact that Robyn didn't even get to do one song by herself but no matter, she was there to support her fellow Swedes, not like they needed support at all. I waited for "Living Thing" and I got it! It was even more Graceland-ish than on record, which suited me just fine.  Viva Sweden!! A-

For the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, I must deduct a point for not playing the best song on their new album. That song would be "Hysteric" and why they did not play it, I will never understand, but hey, you can't please EVERYONE, right? Even more baffling was their choice of opener: the epic "Runaway". It set a somewhat dour mood but since it's one of their best songs, I was willing to accept it. "Heads Will Roll" would have been a much better choice, though at least it made the setlist.. Props to Karen O for another crazy get up, especially when, at one point, she donned a shroud a la one of Michael Jackson's children. Any in-fighting that the band went through during the Show Your Bones sessions seemed to be all a distant memory, as Brian was all smiles as he put down some serious funky drums and Nick let 'er rip on the axe. Karen sounded lovely and vulnerable when she needed to and alley-cat in heat when the time was right. This band is always solid live and Coachella was no exception. A-

My Bloody Valentine. Noise. Noise. Noise. Not enough words. Noise Noise NOISE! D

What can be said about Public Enemy, really? They had a live rock band. They had FUCKING FLAVOR FLAV, who, with his 50-year old decrepit ass, stage-dove in the middle, the left AND the right. Actually, he stage-JUMPED! RESPEKT! But wait...what's this?! They decided to play It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back, their groundbreaking, seminal second album?! IN IT'S ENTIRETY?! Very little rust. Win. A

During The Cure, I was separated from my Coachella mates and kinda wanting to get back to my tent and sleep, so that I could start to look forward to getting the horse hair out of my lungs and start breathing fresh, non-noxious air again. No dice. The Cure played for a very long time, during which I was treated to the site of Robert Smith's mangled, Joker-like face. That said, they did a pretty good job of holding my attention, seeing how I was waiting for the angels to come and relieve me of my mortal cage and how I knew only about 3 Cure songs total (one of which, they didn't play). The band sounded tight. I don't know if it's the original one but they sounded like they had been playing with Robert Smith for years. I heard the songs I needed to hear and some which I didn't know I needed to hear, but apparently, did. Solid. B

As a parting gift to myself, I checked out the epically named Etienne de Crecy (whispered by April and I as "CRAZY" with a super-soft Z...try it, it's fun...I promise). Dude is French and plays techno/trance. Not my thing, usually, but he pumped up the jams and got me kinda dancing, when all I really wanted to do was dance my way into a grave at that point. I liked the fact that he was DJing from a crazy set of white cubes that glowed and changed color and shit, but he was no Ghostland Observatory, THAT'S for damn sure. I guess it was a proper ending of the weekend that came in like a lion and went out like a lamb. C

My Tweets for Day 3 (EST):

Gonna miss my camping neighbors Tyler and Chelsea when we leave the utopia that is Coachella!1:34 PM Apr 19th from TwitterFon

Last day of Chella. Lost contact and allergies are killing me. Smilin thru the pain. Thanks Okkervil River5:58 PM Apr 19th from TwitterFon

Lykke Li covered Kings of Leon's "Knocked Up". Epic.1:35 AM Apr 20th from TwitterFon

Um...I saw Public Enemy perform It Takes A Nation at Coachella in its entirety...what have U done with UR life? The Cure is rockin out now!1:37 AM Apr 20th from TwitterFon

Holdin back the tears as we drive away, sun at our backs. Goodbye Coachella 099:29 AM Apr 20th from TwitterFon

...how appropriate that this should end with my final Tweet from Coachella, written at the break of dawn on April 20th in the Empire Polo Field in Indio, CA.

It's been weird reliving it, months later, to be honest. But, I can recall it like it was yesterday...all the joy and the pain. Such a trip, such a trip.

Coachella Day 2

Can you believe that there are actually 3 days of this madness? I sure as hell couldn't. That's why it has taken me so long to chronicle the experience. It really does take a month to process the crazy of Coachella. I owed it to myself (and to you) to get this shit out here on cyberspace.  Here it goes:

Saturday, April 18, 2009 (Day 2):

Bands seen/heard:
Joss Stone
Paolo Nutini
Michael Franti & Spearhead
TV on the Radio
Thievery Corporation
Band of Horses
Jenny Lewis
The Killers

Bands Who I Tried To See But For Whatever Reason Were No-Shows:

Celebs Seen:
Eli Roth (director of Hostel)

Laziness prevailed early in the day and didn't get us out of our tents, showered and onto the main concert grounds til about 2:45 PM, just in time to meet up with our good friend Al, who made the trek out from Boston JUST FOR THE KILLERS! He is the ultimate Killers Stan. More on them later though. First up to bat, at least on my roster, was Joss Stone.

Joss Stone is a very talented young lady who gets slagged on by the British Press. It's never good to abandon your own, Britain. Bad looks. She was vocally on-point and she even came down into the aisle, right next to where Al and I were standing so we got a real close look at that vision of loveliness. I felt kinda bad for her though...as she had to constantly work for the meager affection she was able to receive from the crowd. Oh well. Coachella is full of indie music snobs and classicists. I am neither. B+

I listened to a few Paolo Nutini songs from the lawn but didn't really care that much, even when he did his famous Shoe song. Dude should just sing jingles for Nike or Payless or something... D

Next on the roster was Michael Franti & Spearhead and let me tell you...I was definitely feeling irie and all that. When he played at All Points West last year, I didn't pay him much attention but this time, there was nothing else going on and I figured it would be a nice respite to sit down and listen to some groovalicious conscious rap/reggae. It was definitely a hackysack kind of crowd but no matter. Everyone was feelin' the vibes and I dug the message of love that Michael was spreading. The perfect kind of music to listen to when it's sunny and you are in the Cali desert. B

Pohlanski, you showed up just in time, when I thought there was no hope of us meeting up in the madness of Coachella. It truly was nothing short of a miracle that I was able to meet up with arguably one of my favorite fraternity brothers during this shitshow. What better band to provide the soundtrack to our fortuitous reunion than TV on the Radio, who turned in an admirably messy set, full of jubilation and straight up glee. The horns were in full blast and the sound was somewhat muddied but madd props for playing all of my favorite songs, guys. It was a beautiful thing, for sure. B+

After TVOTR, I was supposed to check out Fleet Foxes, although, I am glad I didn't. For one, their music bores me to tears and then, there was the nagging need for some alcohol to counter all of the smoke floating around in my lungs. Pohlanski and I headed to the beer tent closest to the Coachella Stage (speaking of, I only saw TWO bands that didn't play at the main stage all day! Impressive!), where I downed a couple icy margaritas and where Pohlanski struck up a conversation with a garden-variety slampig. I am not going to go into any more detail about said slampig but she provided quite the distraction for a few hours. Around the time Pohlanski and I were getting friendly with Nameless, Thievery Corporation were in the process of drowning out Fleet Foxes, angering many of the latter's fans while doing so. The fact that a band that provides the soundtrack to Club Monaco and countless loft cocktail parties was able to drown out Fleet Foxes certainly doesn't speak volumes of Fleet Foxes, that's for sure. Having said that, Thievery Corporation were a little more rowdy than I expected them to be. Since I will forever cherish the memories associated with the Corp, they get a solid from me.

Cue the sounds of heartstrings being sharply tugged as Band of Horses provided the elegiac backdrop of love lost and mourned. I was so caught up in the majestic beauty of these guys that I sort of lost myself there...phew...for a moment. Hearing "No One's Gonna Love You" chokes me up every time but hearing it live, in the condition I was in...well...let's just say magic happened. I saw stars. I saw my life flash before my eyes. I even got misty-eyed a little. Music is powerful and I am glad I managed to take in a good chunk of BOH. A-

Oh, M.I.A. I am so thankful that I saw you in concert 3 times prior to Coachella, when you weren't exhausted from giving birth and playing the Grammys and when you weren't a last minute replacement for Amy Winehouse. Maybe that's what made this particular showing so poor...or should I say, lackluster. M.I.A's version of suck is boring, whereas most artists' version of suck is just plain suck, so I will give her somewhat of a pass. Of course, "Paper Planes" was a crowd pleaser because that's the song that 90% of the public know her for and "Boys" was the usual melee of revelers on the stage with her, but that was not enough. Next time, Maya, next time. C

Jenny Lewis is such a little minx. The fedora. The baggy tshirt. The leggings/skinny jeans/skinny pants. The woman can wear a burlap sack and still come across as ferociously sexy. Her voice amazingly holds up well over a crowd as large as the one she had. I wish I could have seen more but what I saw of her solo set was extremely impressive. "Jack Killed Mom" from her second solo offering, Acid Tongue, was a freewheeling romp. Whoooooo-wooooooo-woooooo!! Sing it, little girl from The Wizard (if you don't know that reference, shame on you...it's a classic movie!) A

...and now we come to the finale of Day 2...the showstopper...the point where Baby Jesus appeared to me in a vision of light and splendor on stage. We come to The Killers' late night set. These boys from the desert had a proper homecoming. There is no place I would rather have seen them, to be honest. I think I sang along to EVERY WORD AT THE TOP OF MY LUNGS, much to the annoyance of those around me. Whoever that guy behind me who kept chanting "Boo! Go home!" to B. Flow and the gang needed to be shanked, seriously. I have seen these guys about 4 times now and they were en fuego this time. They gave it their all. You can feel the joy from Brandon as he commanded a sea of people that was probably his biggest audience to date (I don't know...I could be making that up...) The fireworks. "All These Things That I've Done," "A Dustland Fairytale," "Bling," fucking "This Is Your Life!" I may have weeped during that song and not given a fuck.  Thank you Killers. Thank you. A+

My Tweets for Day 2: (EST)

9:30 here and have some bizarre allergies that restricts breathing and blocks my sinuses. Am I allergic to the desert?!12:34 PM Apr 18th from TwitterFon

Aaah...how could I forget...I am allergic to horses and I'm on a fucking POLO field...FAIL1:23 PM Apr 18th from TwitterFon

OMFGz...Kelly told me she walked into a P-a-P that someone had just relieved their scrotal sac. It was still fresh and dripping. Errr...FAIL1:41 PM Apr 18th from TwitterFon

Trying to fight the allergy attack but Michael Franti rules8:47 PM Apr 18th from TwitterFon

Too much epicness to tweet: Al&Pohl at Chella, transcendental Killers experience, TVOTR, Jenny Lewis, slampig, up close&personal wit Joss5:05 AM Apr 19th from TwitterFon

Coachella Day 1

Well well well...I have been to the Promised Land that is the Empire Polo Field in Indio, CA for the epicness that is the Coachella Music Festival 2009. I came, saw, heard and conquered. Well, actually, to be honest, I was conquered (damn horse allergies...) but I would do it all over again in a heartbeat, albeit armed with an arsenal of Benadryl.  In this post, I will attempt to give you, the reader, a little taste of Coachella heaven so that, even if you weren't there, you could still share in the glory. For some background info on the wondrous event, click here! Now, here is a day-by-day, play-by-play, mad-cap recap for your viewing pleasure:

Friday, April 17 (Day 1):

After getting in after midnight (cue TATE singing, "...and it starts sometime around midnight..."), pitching a tent in the dark and trying to sleep through the revelvers (c'mon guys, the festival hasn't even STARTED yet!), I wasn't sure what I was getting myself into, or if I was indeed ready for the madness. As it turns out, I wasn't QUITE ready. No matter. The first day of Coachella was definitely no joke.  Here are the bands I saw:

Paul McCartney
Franz Ferdinand
The Black Keys
The Airborne Toxic Event
We Are Scientists
Silversun Pickups
The Hold Steady
Ghostland Observatory
The Ting Tings

Keep in mind, this is FRIDAY ALONE, PEOPLE!!! I had such high hopes for TATE. They were one of the bands I was most excited to see and I gotta say, I was pretty let down. They gave excuses as this was their first festival and all that but guys, your shit needs to be TIGHT if you are playing Coachella's Main Stage and it just wasn't. The vocals weren't there and the playing was downright sloppy. They ended on a high note though when they played their single Sometime Around Midnight and they miraculously managed to pull it together for that song at least, so for that alone, I will give them a C-

We Are Scientists, on the other hand, have proven themselves to be the Little Engine That Could (and Does), as they are nothing but consistent each time I see them (this was the 4th! Can you believe that? I have seen this band more than my favorite bands!) Y'all didn't play my song this time (the epic "Textbook") but I forgive you. Just don't let it happen again. B

Oh, Hold Steady, how I wish I hadn't stayed for so much of TATE and seen more of you instead. Then again, I would have missed their only good live song so maybe not. Anyway, Hold Steady is not a young band, but they sure as hell play like one. These guys are witty, energetic and do it for the love of the game. Mad love! B+

The Black Keys are not as old as they sound. This old school rock/blues revival never gets old to me. There is a reason why The Rolling Stones are still considered icons. We sat in the back for this, kinda just chillin' and treating them as background music but what stellar background music they were. They get extra credit for playing all my faves too. B+

The Ting Tings don't get enough credit. At least, not from me they didn't. I had no idea they even played real instruments and the whole 80's Bananarama/Go-Go's vibe I got worked right when it needed to. "That's Not My Name"' became a funky jam. Props to the Ting Tings. They brought it. A-

Franz Ferdinand...HOT DAMN. Were you guys kidding about making even kinda-blah album tracks from your only-decent sophomore album sound THIS good live? Really, Franz? Oh...and let's not forget that nasty drum session y'all had when you all got on the drums together and made a joyful noise. I wanted to hear "Lucid Dreams" and didn't but you can't always get what you want. A

Ghostland Observatory. Wow. I owe April for showing me the way. All props go to her on this one. I wish I could say I knew them way back when...I really do. Other than being sandwiched under a tent with a bunch of tweens geeked out on E (yeah, they were even shining lights into each others eyes and sucking lollies and I couldn't bring myself to tell that that scene died before they were even born), I experienced nothing but bliss and awe during their set. These guys should play Boston. It pisses me off that they don't. Severely. The light show alone was worth it but the keyboardist/drummer was wearing a CAPE and the ponytailed lead singer slinked around the stage, fixating each one of us to our spots with that intergalactic howl. Adam Lambert, take notes. A+

Morrissey, you twat. You sounded robust for your age. You really did. The few songs I heard you do were good but you had to ruin it with that anti-meat, diva tirade.  Boo! I couldn't wait to get out of there. Dear Moz, play only veggie fests from now on. Better yet, do something cool and start your own. D+

If only the lead singer of Silversun Pickups could tone down that screech a LITTLE bit because it comes across as whiny and, at times, horribly shrill, in a live setting. I was grateful to be outdoors for this one because otherwise, the combination of the singing and the loud playing would have undoubtedly made my ears bleed. That said, I could not knock the fact that the songs sounded EXACTLY like they did on record. There is a reason why these guys are famous and drew such a large crowd. B+

Macca, Macca, Macca. It's all about you, man. For someone your age to jump back and forth between upper and lower stages like that, tackling piano, electric and acoustic guitar without breaking a sweat? Brilliant. For someone your age to do all that and still sing perfectly and sweetly? Master Class. The young'ns should all take note because this is how you please a crowd, kids. All those Beatles songs were perfect nostalgia and further proof that The Beatles really did make timeless classics. The tributes to John, George and Linda were also very touching, as was Sir Paul's awkward, goofy comments. Oh...and he played for almost 3 FUCKING HOURS. Bow down, bitches, bow dow.  A+

My Tweets for Day 1: (EST)

At Coachella after a 14 hr trek from SF and now has to wait in the line of death...why?2:54 AM Apr 17th from TwitterFon

Line of death was great. My cowboy hat let me skate thru securitae. Helped pitch my first tent lulz. All is right with the world!4:25 AM Apr 17th from TwitterFon

Up and at em! Ppl here are such donkeys...raising holy hell at all hrs. Wake and bake?11:18 AM Apr 17th from TwitterFon

Sittin in the desert sun but not baking...yet. Just took a pic of mobile showers and tent structure1:11 PM Apr 17th from TwitterFon

Um...according to a girl I overheard while charging iphone: Coachella is like concentration camp w/ the camping and surviving.3:12 PM Apr 17th from TwitterFon

@sweatyy wish u were here3:15 PM Apr 17th from TwitterFon in reply to sweatyy

There are some hot-assed messes and lame try-hards at Chella. Highlight so far was We Are Scientists...TATE disappointed except Midnight8:20 PM Apr 17th from TwitterFon

Icon_lockLast 20 of Hold Steady was predictably great. Black Keys rock like old school blues rock...stank and gritty8:41 PM Apr 17th from TwitterFon

Icon_lock@johncmayer ugh why aren't u playin Coachella and showin these jive turkeys how it's done. Black Keys are stank funny tho8:42 PM Apr 17th from TwitterFon in reply to johncmayer

Icon_lockOMFG Franz PWNed10:36 PM Apr 17th from TwitterFon

Icon_lockMorrissey just said "I can smell human flesh and I hope to God it's human". Hardcore11:57 PM Apr 17th from TwitterFon

Icon_lockNow...the smell of burning animals is making me sick...I can't bear it...Morrissey is off the hook4:04 AM Apr 18th from TwitterFon

Icon_lockEpic wins of the night: Silversun Pickups, Ghostland Observatory, We Are Scientists, Ting Tings and Paul McCartney FTMFW! Morrissey=EPICFAIL4:56 AM Apr 18th from TwitterFon

Undiscovered Talent

I heard one of the most seductive voices tonight that blew me away. I could hear this woman on the radio, in the clubs, in my ears buzzing sweetness. Y'all be on the lookout. She is a special friend of mine.

American Idol Season 8 Champ!

KRIS ALLEN FOR THE MOTHERFUCKING WIN!!! American Idol Season 8. Light vs. Dark. Glam vs. Gentle. Adam vs. Kris. To quote Kara D, "THAT. IS. ART. IS. TRY!"  I grew to be in awe of (and even love) Adam Lambert but Kris Allen had it all and everytime I closed my eyes, I could hear him on the radio and, in the end, THAT is what is all about. Take notes, people.                                     

March Madness

So, the month of March was all abuzz with March Madness madness. I firmly and steadfastly ignore all of that basketball silliness and bring to you...THE REAL MARCH MADNESS!! 

March was a pretty good month for music. Here are the highlights:

U2 - No Line On The Horizon (March 3):

What better way to kick off the madness that is March than with the 12 studio album by the "best band in the world"? (hey, Bono said it, I didn't!) Yes, the infamous light-phobic frontman still has his ego intact (on the very U2-esque "Magnificent", Bono proclaims, "I was born to sing for you...my first cry was a joyful noise". Basically, Bono sprang from the womb with his vocal cords of steel fully formed and his plan to save music fully hatched. With an album as strong as this, especially given the fact the band has been making albums since the Reagan Administration (hard to imagine, I know...), these Dubliners' superhero capes are in full gleam. Armed with the best producers money can buy (Daniel Lanois, Steve Lillywhite and Brian Eno - the Holy Trinity which has always brought out the finest in U2), Bono and Co. lay to waste any speculation that they have worked well past their rockstar expiration date. Every song pulses with vitality and a strong sense of purpose. "Moment of Surrender" is both gentle and insistent, with Bono sounding as weary as one would expect him to sound after saving the world, one AIDS victim, disenfranchised soul and poverty-stricken human at a time. The band has never sounded this tight and the songs haven't sounded this relevant since perhaps Achtung Baby, as back-to-back masterpieces "Unknown Caller" and "I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight" clearly demonstrate. Let it be said that this is the album that made me a believer.

Kelly Clarkson - All I Ever Wanted (March 10):

All Kelly Clarkson ever wanted was to make an album on her own terms (re: her third album (and artistic triumph My December). Perhaps it was too soon to get exactly what she wanted but compromise is not always a cuss word. A little give and take can yield perfect results, as shown on Kelly's fourth (and best) album.  None of her vocals in albums past have ever come as close to genius as they do on "Cry", which, intentional or not, is a master class in range and vocal dynamic. Kelly has never had as much fun as she does on the scorching "If I Can't Have You", which calls to mind a poppier version of a classic Killers song. Kelly has never been as playful as she is on the 60's girl group tribute "I Want You" (which has background vocals that sound suspiciously like an uncredited Duffy). First single (and Billboard Hot 100 #1) "My Life Would Suck Without You" could easily have been written about Clive Davis. Even though Kelly didn't write the song herself, you can imagine she got quite a kick out of the lyrics as soon as she read them . Towards the second half of the album, Kelly decides to up the ante and silence all those who thought she may have been replaced by the likes of Katy Perry (imagine that?! Though, to give Perry credit, she did write two of the catchiest songs on the album). "Already Gone", produced by Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic, manages to effortlessly sweep aside all memories of its sister song, Beyonce's "Halo" (also produced by Tedder), even though the song has barely been on the radio for a couple months. "Save You", with its crashing drums and epic production by Tedder (not to mention an impassioned vocal by Kelly) is begging to be used in a pivotal scene in Gray's Anatomy or Gossip Girl. Then, there is "Whyyawannabringmedown," which is raw, aggressive and flat out fun. Yes, Kelly. You can be snarky and still have fun. Not everything has to be gloom and doom, as it was on My December. Obviously, Kelly had some demons to work out last time. Now, she is back to making hits and showing those other pop stars how it's done. Welcome back to the throne, Kelly.

Chris Cornell - Scream (March 10):

I've always maintained that Chris Cornell could sing the damn phone book and still make it sound compelling. His second solo CD, Carry On wasn't exactly a prime example of that sacred truth. That album did have his wicked "Billie Jean" cover, though. For Scream, Cornell's third CD without a band, the man with the golden pipes decided to hook up with Timbaland. Apparently, critics and the music buying public are incredibly biased. Chris Cornell should only make ROCK. This album sounds like FutureSex/LoveSounds with Chris Cornell singing! Sell out! All these ridiculous statements I read. When you mix one of music's most innovative producers in the history of music with one of music's brassiest vocalists, this is the album you get. Scream is incredibly ornate and takes more than a run-of-the-mill sound system to fully appreciate its richness. Chris sounds like he is having the time of his life, singing to beats that take all kinds of unpredictable twists and turns, much like his serpentine howl. Second track "Time" is funk for the future and is instantly gratifying. That said, there are no particular standouts because each song is fused to its predecessor by Tim the mad scientist so that the album is enjoyed on a whole, start to finish, the way albums are actually meant to be enjoyed. It's quite a shame if this genius piece of work continues to be ignored but listening to this album, I can honestly say that I have the utmost respect for Chris Cornell and Timbaland for thinking outside the box, giving ignorant haters the middle finger and creating something truly unique, which is tragically becoming more and more rare these days.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz! (March 31 retail, March 10 digital):

Critics seem to misunderstand the title of the third full-length YYYs album. They seem to think that, in titling their album It's Blitz!, the YYYs were preparing the listener for a brutal sonic assault of some sorts. Perhaps lead single "Zero" with its angry synthesizers battling it out with Nick Zinner's guitar, Karen O's fiery, fretful vocals and what sounds like a drum machine (which is odd, considering that the YYYs are in possession of one of rock's best drummers) or the pure, cocaine and candy, throbbing disco of "Heads Will Roll" do offer up that sonic assault in spades but technically, "blitz" only signifies a sudden, intensive attack and that's exactly what this sea change of an album is executing. Building on the framework of their previous career highlight "Maps", YYYs have upped the swoon factor on virtually every song on the album besides the aforementioned one and a couple of middle tracks ("Dull Life" and "Shame and Fortune" should appease those fans who bitch about their favorite group going soft). I have always averred that this was one of those bands that could only benefit from cleaning up their sound and flirting with the mainstream and they have gone and proven me right.  Not only is there not ONE clunker in this group of 10, some songs are already on my shortlist for best songs of the year.  "Skeleton" has an immaculate slow burn to it which builds steadily on a mildly Celtic melody over a martial drumbeat which builds into a thunderous climax which would be great in the hands...err...feet of the Broadway act "Stomp". "Runaway" is pure drama and belongs at the closing credits of the next classic indie film or better yet, so they have their first mainstream hit that they so deserve, at the end of some big budget drama. The YYYs use their blitz tactic again when they throw in Karen O's sexy, louche disco duet with TV On The Radio frontman Tunde Adebimpe ("Dragon Queen") and then suddenly switch gears with a song that holds the record for not only the band's crowning achievement but perhaps an early frontrunner for song of the year. Yeah, I said it. "Hysteric" blows me away every time I hear it and makes me simultaneously rapturous with joy and maddeningly depressed at once. The simple chorus of "Flow sweetly/Hang heavy/You suddenly complete me" combined with a frantic yelp "Hysteric" is a heartbreaker and has to be heard to be believed. Brian Chase is the star of this song, as his masterful both fill space and create tension. I am waiting for the CW to catch on and feature the song on a Gossip Girl episode, which, hopefully, in turn, will spark a wave of interest in the band. I am not one of those obsessive stans who feel the need to hold on to "my" band and not want them to be shared with the world at large. I believe that truly awe-inspiring music like this album should be shared with as many people as possible, in the hopes that the radio is saturated with quality, not just quantity.