Inside Music with Melinda Newman

Avril Lavigne, 'Glee,' and R.E.M. lead March 8 album releases

Raekwon and Lupe Fiasco release strong sets

<p>Avril Lavigne's &quot;Goodbye Lullaby&quot;</p>

Avril Lavigne's "Goodbye Lullaby"

Adele's reign at No. 1 may come to a halt next week as March 8 brings new releases from a number of potential spoilers, including Avril Lavigne's "Goodbye Lullaby," R.E.M's "Collapse Into Now" and the fifth volume of tunes from "Glee."  There are other strong new releases from Lupe Fiasco, Raekwon and Exene Cervenka.

Exene Cervenka, “The Excitement of Maybe” (Bloodshot): X frontwoman’s new solo album includes first single, the horn-laden (!?!?!)  “Already in Love.” Not very punk, you say? We say Cervenka has earned the right to do whatever she wants. Catch her at SXSW if you can.

Bruce Cockburn, “Small Source of Comfort” (True North):
Canadian singer/songwriter/truthteller releases his first studio album in six years. It’s a welcome return.

[More after the jump...]

Album Review: R.E.M.'s 'Collapse Into Now'

The band gets a little help from friends like Patti Smith, Eddie Vedder and Peaches



I’ve been a longtime fan of R.E.M., but somewhere after “Out of Time” and “Automatic for the People,” I lost the thread. Part of that could have been the mind-numbing omnipresence of “Losing My Religion” or I just had enough R.E.M. in my musical canon. Maybe once I could actually understand what Michael Stipe was saying after he mumbled all those years, the mystery was gone--not that I have any clue what he’s singing about even when I can understand him.

“Collapse Into Now,” the band’s 15th studio album out March 8,  has demanded that I listen to it. For one thing, the set-up campaign is one of the best R.E.M.’s label, Warner Bros., has coordinated in years for the band, but, more importantly, the music is among the strongest Stipe, guitarist Peter Buck and bassist Mike Mills (I still miss drummer Bill Berry) has made in more than a decade.

The new album, supposedly R.E.M.’s last for WB, is wonderfully retro in that it contains all the elements that drew me to R.E.M. so long ago, including mandolins, sparse harmonies, and beautiful backing vocals from Mills, whose singing contributions to R.E.M. have always been underrated  in my mind. But it doesn’t sound in the least as if R.E.M. had run out of ideas so they decided to imitate old songs in order to re-capture past glory. Instead, it sounds like whatever musical shackles seemed to be holding them down over the last several years, have come unbound. They seem interested in what they have so say again, and so am I.

Many of the songs, like opening shot, “Discoverer,” are instant earworms, while others, like the gorgeous “Uberlin” sneakily grow more appealing upon repeated listenings. 

“It’s just like me to overstay my welcome,” Stipe sings in “All the Best,” a high speed,tune that sounds like early “Radio Free Europe” era R.E.M. crossed with Patti Smith, but “Collapse” feels more like a much desired return.

“It Happened Today” starts off spare and folky and builds, until it explodes into gorgeous vocalizations from Stipe and Mills. It’s Beach Boys-by-way-of-Athens, Ga. Plus, Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder shows up to support his longtime friends.  That homage to Brian Wilson continues on “Every Day Is Yours To Win,” an often sweet, lovely ballad held together by a twinkly melodic riff and cascading harmonies at the very end.

“Mine Smell like Honey,” opens with the ferocity of “Rockville” then goes into a tune so driving yet melodic that it’s impossible not to sing along, especially as Mills subtly harmonizes in the background. The drumming  is the strongest on the album. For fans of R.E.M.’s long-ago patented jangly rock, this is the standout.

The title alone makes “Alligator Aviator Autopilot” worth the effort, but for us long timers, there’s something wonderfully stream-of-consciousness about the song that brings a smile to your face. None of it makes any sense, but the punk sensibility, sheer adrenalin, and Peaches’ participation (both in singing along to the chorus and a spoken refrain) will have you jumping up and down as you listen and saying to strangers: “Hey, hey alligator, you’ve got a lot to learn.” It could be a new catchphrase. I plan to use it at least once a day.

Producer Jacknife Lee keeps the trains running on time here: the album is punchy and precise with very little fat: bright, spritely “That Someone Is You” clocks in at 1.44 and that feels just right.

There are a few missteps, nothing horrible, but tracks that I found myself wanting to skip over, including “Oh My Heart,” about going back to New Orleans and the anguish the protagonist feels, although the city’s resilience is clear. While undoubtedly heartfelt, it seems out of sync with the  rest of album.  Same with the gentle “Walk It Back,” which felt mundane in comparison to the other tunes.

“Blue,” the album ender, is a near six-minute, largely spoken-word manifesto of sorts from Stipe (which also contains the album’s title), that, quite honestly, if he weren’t a rock star, someone could think were maniacal ramblings. Instead, it’s an interesting, sometimes hypnotic, piece of art-rock with Smith,  one of Stipe’s musical heroes, added for extra dimension.

The song ends with a reprise of “Discoverer” to bring the whole project full circle. Who knows where R.E.M. goes from here. Oddly, they’ve announced that they have no plans to tour behind this album, which is a shame since several of the songs here practically stand up on their back haunches and beg to be played live. Plus, the band is making mini-movies, directed by the likes of James Franco, for each track. In the meantime, as R.E.M. figures out its next move, the band has delivered a wonderful reminder of what made us fall in love with them in the first place.

Can Adele make it two weeks in a row on the Billboard 200?

Justin Bieber and Mumford & Sons continue to sell well



Credit: Jeff Christensen/AP

It looks like two in a row for Adele as “21” is on target to top the Billboard 200 album chart next week with sales of up to 160,000. That’s more than a 50% drop from this week’s 350,000, but is still the second highest tally of the year.

Ex-Floetry singer Marsha Ambrosius’s solo debut, “Late Nights and Early Mornings,” will come in at No. 2, one of three new titles in the top 10, shifting close to 90,000 copies. Dropkick Murphys’ “Going Out In Style” comes in in style at No. 6 with sales of up to 40,000. Staind lead singer Aaron Lewis looks strong to come in at No. 8 with his country debut, “Town Line.”

The rest of the top 10 is filled with now familiar faces, as Mumford & Sons’ “Sigh No More” continue to enjoy a post-Grammy sales bump with sales of up to 60,000 copies for a No. 3 slot. Former No. 1 title, Justin Bieber’s “Never Say Never” slips to No. 4, while “Now 37” rounds out the top 5.

Bruno Mars’ “Doo-Wops & Hooligans” remains strong at No. 7, while Bieber’s second top 10 entry, “My World 2.0” will likely be at No. 8. The latest from leading ladies Nicki Minaj and Rihanna land at No. 9 and No. 10.

Paul Simon sets tour in support of first new album in five years

'So Beautiful or So What' comes out April 12

<p>Paul Simon performs at the 25th Anniversary Rock n'Roll Hall of Fame concert in 2009.</p>

Paul Simon performs at the 25th Anniversary Rock n'Roll Hall of Fame concert in 2009.

Credit: AP Photo/Henry Abrams

Paul Simon will hit the road April 15 in support of “So Beautiful or So What,” his first new album in five years. The tour opens in Seattle at the WAMU Theater and wraps six weeks late on June 1 at Boston’s Wang Theatre.

The set list will feature a number of tracks from the new album, produced by Simon and Phil Ramone (with liner notes written by Elvis Costello), as well as plenty of hits, and, as the announcement suggests, “several songs that haven’t been performed live in many years.”

Simon’s tour mates include Cameroonian guitarist Vincent Nguini, drummer Jim Oblon, pianist Mick Rossi, saxophonist/keyboardist Andrew Snitzer, bassist Bakithi Kumalo, guitarist Mark Stewart, master percussionist Jamey Haddad and multi-instrumentalist Tony Cedras.

"So Beautiful or So What" comes out April 12 on Concord.

Music Power Rankings: Adele, Jennifer Lopez and Lady Gaga are this week's top ladies

'American Idol' and Trent Reznor also make the list

<p>Jennifer Lopez at the &quot;American Idol&quot; top 13 finalists party on Thursday night in Los Angeles.</p>

Jennifer Lopez at the "American Idol" top 13 finalists party on Thursday night in Los Angeles.

Credit: AP Photo/Chris Pizzello

I tried so hard to figure out a way to fit Charlie Sheen into this edition of Music Power Brokers since he dominated the headlines this week, but I couldn’t figure out any musical connection. So instead, we shine the light on someone much more deserving: British singer/songwriter Adele, whose sophomore album, “21,” sells a staggering 352,000 this week, the highest first week tally of 2011. Not only is the album a commercial success, but a critical one as well, destined to make many “best of 2011” lists.

Lady Gaga makes it 3 weeks in a row atop the Billboard Hot 100, but J-Lo's gaining

'American Idol' judge scores best opening frame of her career

<p>Lady Gaga in the video for &quot;Born This Way.&quot;</p>

Lady Gaga in the video for "Born This Way."

Credit: Interscope

Lady Gaga may be spending her third week at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with “Born This Way,” but she better move over for a returning diva: Jennifer Lopez is proving to be the true “American Idol” as “On the Floor,” featuring Pitbull debuts at No. 9 on Billboard’s Hot 100 this week. It’s not only the highest bow of the week, it’s the highest starting point for any song in Lopez’s chart life.

“On the Floor,” whose video premiered on Thursday night’s “American Idol,” is Lopez’s 10th top 10, and her first return to the Top 10 since 2006, when she was featured on LL Cool J’s “Control Myself.” Last week, Lopez's label, Island Def Jam, didn't have a release date for her new album, "Love?," but Billboard now reports it will be April 19.

Like “Born This Way,”  Cee Lo Green’s “F**k You,” and Bruno Mars’ “Grenade” hold their spots, No 2 and No. 3 respectively, from last week.  Pink’s “F**kin’ Perfect” climbs 4-6 in what has to be the first time two songs with the F-word in the title have simultaneously been in the top 5.  Then toss in Rihanna’s “S&M,” which rises 7-5 and you have probably the least family friendly Top 5 ever.

[More after the jump...]

R.E.M. picks James Franco and Albert Maysles to direct clips from 'Collapse Into Now'

Each song will have a short film as part of Michael Stipe-curated project

<p>James Franco isn't taking a break after hosting the Oscars.</p>

James Franco isn't taking a break after hosting the Oscars.

Credit: AP Photo/Chris Pizzello

Hot off his Oscar-hosting stint, James Franco has been tapped to direct videos for “That Someone Like You” and “”Blue” from R.E.M.’s new album, “Collapse Into Now,” out March 8.

Is Lady Gaga stealing Britney Spears' thunder?

Hear 'Criminal,' the latest 'Femme Fatale' snippet that just dropped

<p>Lady Gaga in her new music video for &quot;Born This Way.&quot;</p>

Lady Gaga in her new music video for "Born This Way."

In an excellent post on Feb. 28, Pop Dust’s Maura Johnston asks if the nearly daily leaks of song snippets from Britney Spears’ March 29 album, “Femme Fatale”  are a good thing. And she poses the bigger question: are they standing in for Spears herself, who has so far been largely M.I.A. from television or radio in promoting the forthcoming set. (A little note: while we were writing this, Spears tweeted yet another snippet; this one for “Criminal.” We embedded it below.)

Six lessons to learn from Adele's smashing first-week sales for '21'

Plus, check out Mike Posner's cover of 'Rolling In The Deep'



Credit: Jeff Christensen/AP

Adele’s sophomore set, “21,” bowed on the Billboard 200 today with sales of 352,000, according to Nielsen SoundScan. That’s the highest opening week tally in 2011. It also marks the biggest debut for a new album since Kanye West started with 496,000 with “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” the week ending Nov. 28. That same week, Nicki Minaj launched “Pink Friday” with sales of 375,000. As well as she's doing here, she's blowing up even bigger in her native U.K.: She is the first artist since the Beatles to have entries in both the top 5 of the album and singles charts. Here’s how she did it and what other artists can learn.

1) Set up, set up, set up.
Columbia, Adele’s U.S. label, began greasing the wheels in September by discreetly playing one or two tracks for people to start to get a whisper campaign going. Then in October, a full four months before the release date, Adele played small showcases in New York and Los Angeles for tastemakers to continue to build the buzz. Here’s our report from her Los Angeles show. There has been a slow, but steady simmering on the project ever since then that came to a boil as the release date approached.

2)  The focus has been squarely on the music. While paparazzi have hassled Adele in her native London, here she’s simply not the stuff of tabloid fodder. Maybe it’s because she’s not posing in next to nothing or falling drunk out of a bar or dating a semi-celeb, but when we talk about Adele, we talk about the music...and her talent. And isn’t that a nice change of pace? What a concept.

[More after the jump...]

Listen: Sneak peek at Britney Spears' 'Seal It With A Kiss'

Another track from 'Femme Fatale' surfaces

<p>Britney Spears </p>

Britney Spears

Another day, another snippet from a new Britney Spears song. Late last night, Spears’ producer Dr. Luke released a snippet of “Seal It With a Kiss,” from her forthcoming album, “Femme Fatale,” out March 29.

The 25-second snippet is, like everything else we’ve heard so far from “Fatale,” is heavily dance oriented, although “Seal It With A Kiss” had more pop elements than some of the other leaks, such as the short portion of “The Big Fat Bass” that sneak peeked on on Monday. Of course, how much can we really tell from these teeny bits.

Snippets of several of the songs are leaking almost daily, as we've reported here, including 

"I Wanna Go," "Inside Out," We also got the hi-tech video for "Hold It Against Me."



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