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Boys' Rock

The fall is already treating us really well, with these three releases making especially strong showings on my various music conveyance devices. All are surprising in their own unique ways.

189. Elbow: The Seldom-Seen Kid (2008)

It only took 18 years, but Elbow finally got my attention with this amazing album. The sound is big and majestic; the lyrics are up-close and personal. Singer Guy Garvey has a rough, accented voice that contrasts well with his band's polished sound, and the album is expertly sequenced.

Personal favorites include a lovely, swooning ballad called Mirrorball, the oblique and swampy Grounds For Divorce, and the joyous love song One Day Like This.

No offense to Coldplay, but this is what the meandering Viva La Vida should have sounded like. It's bound to be on a lot of best-of-the-year lists, if that kind of thing matters to you. Grade: A Fave Song: Mirrorball

190. The Broken West: Now or Heaven (2008)

ARTISTIC LEAPS are always tricky. Go too far and you risk alienating the fans you've garnered thus far (see the next review). But California's The Broken West did it right (and fast), not so much abandoning the buzzy power pop of last year's debut I Can't Go On, I'll Go On, as isolating what worked and expanding upon it.

As happens, it seems heartache led to inspiration, as several excellent songs wallow in pain (the bitter, piano-driven House of Lies, the desperate Auctioneer, and the lighter-waving Embassy Row, among many others) amid one ray of hope (the shimmery, propulsive Perfect Games). The melodies are catchy but unpredictable and the album flies by, only to beg to be played again. Grade: A Fave Song: The Smartest Man Alive

191. Kings of Leon: Only By The Night (2008)

Speaking of ARTISTIC LEAPS...

The southern boogie of Kings of Leon never really connected with me. Their first album came and went from my collection. I must admit, I never thought to wonder how I would feel if they started sounding less like The Black Crowes and more like U2, but now I don't have to.

Some fans are not so happy, crying the familiar, "They've sold out." I'm not completely unsympathetic; had I been a big fan of their earlier sound, I might have felt the loss of it. But with no such bias, the anthemic, atmospheric mood of this album suits me just fine.

The high point comes early with the staggering one-two punch of Sex On Fire and Use Somebody, but the family band land some other heavy hits with the groovy opener Closer, the dreamy Manhattan, and the sensuous I Want You. Throughout, the songs and performances are lived-in and passionate. If Kings of Leon stay on this evolutionary path, I'll be right behind them. Grade: A- Fave Song: Sex On Fire


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