Album reviews: Tim McGraw, Lana Del ReyBy Reverb Staff | January 31st, 2012 | 4 comments
Tim McGraw, “Emotional Traffic” (Curb)
In 2005, the year Toby Keith turned 44, he released “As Good as I Once Was,” one of his most bellicose and smarmy singles in a career that specialized in them, and a declaration of potency in the face of encroaching middle age. Keith, one of country’s most pugnacious characters, figured out that aging gracefully in country music, unlike in many other genres, can sometimes mean becoming even rougher and less warm than you were in your younger years.
Tim McGraw, who is 44, comes from roughly the same generation as Keith, but from a whole other perspective. McGraw was never much of a bruiser to begin with, though early in his career he was sizzling with machismo, a romantic with a troublemaker streak.
That’s just a memory, though. The first single from “Emotional Traffic,” his 11th studio album, is “Better Than I Used to Be,” which may as well be a shrugging answer song to Keith’s. Here is the fighter in decline, “Standing in the rain so long has left me with a little rust.” What could keep him in contention, though? That’s right, a little of your love: “I pinned a lot of demons to the ground/Got a few old habits left/But there’s still one or two I might need you to help me get.”
Admitting that you can’t go it alone is no great insight, but all throughout this often tepid album, McGraw is conceding. A woman only gives him a fraction of her love on “One Part, Two Part,” and he grins and bears it. The same is true on the Eric Carmen-esque “Halo,” on which at least McGraw has hired someone to write a metaphor that bites where his voice doesn’t: “Cover me with rage/I’ll take it like a circus lion, silent in my cage.”
The older McGraw has gotten, the more resistant he’s seemed to grit. Texture has been all but absent from his voice since the mid-2000s era of songs like “When the Stars Go Blue” and “Drugs or Jesus.” “Only Human,” a new duet with Ne-Yo, is a slice of ’80s whimper-soul but isn’t as alluring, or as sui generis, as “Over and Over,” McGraw’s 2004 duet with the rapper Nelly.
At some points on this album, as on “The One” and “Right Back Atcha Babe,” McGraw appears to be channeling the endless youth of a Kenny Chesney. Even though he’s never been a true stoic on the order of Alan Jackson or George Strait, McGraw has never sounded this casual; it doesn’t suit him. –Jon Caramanica, The New York Times
Lana Del Rey, “Born to Die” (Interscope Records)
Before you judge Lana Del Rey for her disastrous performance on “Saturday Night Live,” listen to her album.
This month’s performance on “SNL” was strikingly horrific. Del Rey sang two songs with no emotion or effort, appearing bored and detached. Her hair even looked strange. The thing was a mess, but that’s not the complete case on her album, “Born to Die.”
Del Rey’s buzz has been outrageous lately, with headlines ranging from that “SNL” performance to her father’s wealth to her plump lips. But her debut is somewhat impressive, at times lovely, at others lackluster.
The 12-track set mainly finds the 25-year-old singing about a tumultuous relationship — she often sings about how he “likes those insane girls” — and she sounds convincing on the first single “Video Games,” as well as “Dark Paradise” and “Summertime Sadness,” which is almost as good as a Lykke Li track. But on other songs, Del Rey is a lyrical failure, sounding unfocused.
Sonically, “Born to Die” shines, thanks to rap-based producers like Emile Haynie (Ice Cube, Cormega, Kid Cudi) and Jeff Bhasker, the man behind much of Kanye West’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” and “808′s and Heartbreak.” It’s a mix of 1960s retro, eerie artsy girl hooks and weird-girl pop — an odd mix, and overall oddly uneven album. –Mesfin Fekadu, The Associated Press