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New Releases: Jake Owen, R. Kelly, Britney Spears, Muse

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Jake Owen

Jake Owen (courtesy Sony Music)

Every Tuesday, Dan Weiss runs down the week’s new full-length music releases, from charting hits to more obscure depths, the underrated and the overrated, from a critical pop fan’s perspective.

ALBUM OF THE WEEK: Jake Owen – Days of Gold (RCA Nashville)
For a few seconds when the title track on Jake Owen’s fourth album powers up, you’ll swear you’re hearing faint echoes of Frank Ocean’s “Strawberry Swing” ascending for the heavens. Then the band kicks in, the way a door kicks in. The hardest-rocking country of the year needs no help outclassing or out-braining Luke Bryan’s so-called party, the subversive, barrelhouse Skrillex to Bryan’s limp, archetypal Deadmau5. Of course, this is still Nashville so there’s sap included in its mixed bag, but Owen nails two of the year’s most undeniable singles: the backswing blues shuffle of “Ghost Town” that recalls Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats” with somehow an even catchier chorus, and the endless internal rhymes he breaks off in the blissful, near-rapped chorus of the power-pop “Tipsy” (“dizzy, dizzy”/“nitty gritty ditty”/“kiss me”). When he’s off his peaks, Owen’s no Eric Church, but he’s sweeter, and damn does country radio need someone who belongs in the same sentence.

R. Kelly – Black Panties (RCA)
As he’ll never learn, 18 tracks is too much, and Kells’ melodic-rhythmic scope is too limited. Uptempo maybe, fast never, his half-assed jokes still sound mostly better off as 140-character Tweets than three-minute fillers. So per usual, it’s hard to imagine wanting to sit through an hour of this again without skipping around, as opposed to say, Usher’s Looking 4 Myself, which is better in deluxe 21-track form and has some actual tempo changes. Migos and Juicy J remain overrated (and repugnant), so the two songs with female genitalia in the title don’t quite live up.

Some of the better hooks are barely a play on the title: “Every Position” (“I ain’t got no favorite one”), “My Story” (“And I’m stickin’ to it”). But he’s just so unfunny. “She make a pole disappear like hocus pocus”? His music is often lacking too, hitting a nadir on “Spend That,” a completely listless rewrite of 2 Chainz’ “I’m Different.” He hits a tuneful stride in the middle, with the circular “Right Back” and its glassy arrangement a la Bjork’s Vespertine, a good Kelly Rowland duet called “All the Way” and a paean to his own “Genius” in the sack. Then the excellent closer “Lights On” is both warm and dynamic — two traits the 17 songs prior could use more of — and he mentions both “R. Kelly’s greatest hits” and why you need “these inches” in your life. It’s possibly his most sex-positive song in a horny career that should have more of them; “I wanna see you in rare form” is quite the request. We could ask the same of him.

Britney Spears – Britney Jean (Reign Deer/RCA)
Nothing to dislike here, I’m just happy Britney Spears made it to album eight. But this is about that time that “Toxic” fans impatient with the idea of actually listening through a Britney album start complaining that she’s not making her Ray of Light. Maybe they didn’t notice the “you never know what you got til it’s gone” one beneath all the serviceable EDM. Those of us who  prefer Music to Ray of Light just want will.i.am to get some new sound effects, since the far more uptempo and imaginative Femme Fatale was full of ‘em, mostly attached to Bugatti-priced hooks. Her T.I. and will.i.am duets beat Miley’s bought cameos and are less inspired than Gaga’s. But this is as short on standouts as the new Pearl Jam, whose singles also stuck out like not-necessarily-great sore thumbs. “Work Bitch” is oddly charmless; Ms. Conservatorship can’t sell herself as a dom, and it’s a shame because she’s worked her entire childhood off. The ivory-tickling “Perfume” is by far the best thing on this ten-song slight. Blame Miley for bringing power ballads back in style—and for lowering the bar.

Muse – Live at Rome Olympic Stadium (Warner Bros.)
This isn’t quite the pit stop it should be for non-fans — the debut Showbiz from back in the ’90s has “Muscle Museum,” “Cave” and “Uno,” all of which could replace the crappier stuff on The Bends. But if you’re wondering how they got so big, they at least sound it in an Olympic stadium where Kings of Leon or Foster the People or MGMT or Alabama Shakes wouldn’t quite make themselves at home. The live grit dampens the overproduction problem of their real records — those Aerosmith riffs on “Supremacy” can really breathe now without the damn orchestration. It’s nice to ascertain that they rock more than they prog, even on eight minutes of “Knights of Cydonia,” or once the techno-scale runs of “Follow Me” kick in. “Panic Station” is more than adequately funky, and their best song “Madness” gains a few f-bombs and a juicier guitar solo. Recommended to non-fans.

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