The soundscape changes when Red Hot Chili Pepper bassist Flea joins the party for the slap-happy “Hard Life Easy,” a tune that finds Bettencourt lying low until it’s time to take a bluesy solo. When Bettencourt himself is playing bass, the guitars get heavier if not quite metallic. But when the DC-based electronic duo Thievery Corporation step in on “The Solutionists,” Bettencourt once again rides the groove. None of that is as shocking as when Farrell drops the veil of effects that usually surround his telltale voice and attempts to croon in the ballad “Awesome.” It’s more than just disconcerting — it’s downright silly. The next time Farrell throws a party, someone should make sure nothing like that happens again.
Meg and Jack White left the garage a long time ago. But even as their sound has grown bigger with each album, they’ve held onto the bloozy basics that fueled their initial rootsy forays as the WHITE STRIPES. Their new Icky Thump (Warner Bros.) is the biggest White Stripes production yet, with doubled and tripled guitars all over the place, organ filling in the spaces between Jack’s guitar and Meg’s drums, full-on mariachi horns on a gritty cover of the Patti Page–popularized “Conquest,” and humming bagpipes to go with what sounds like a mix of acoustic guitar and mandolin on the folky “Prickly Thorn, But Sweetly Worn.” Icky Thump opens by touching on one of the White Stripes’ primary sources, Led Zeppelin, with a title track on which Jack, in his best Plant-like wail, mentions “sittin’ drunk on a wagon to Mexico” and suggests, “Why don’t you kick yourself out, you’re an immigrant too.” The riff is pure Jimmy Page, and the organ runs hint at what John Paul Jones brought to latter-day Zep. So it’s not all that strange to hear the Stripes messing with Celtic folk (again on “Prickly Thorn, But Sweetly Worn”). But the infectious “Rag and Bone,” which has Jack and Meg going back and forth about some abandoned “stuff” they’ve found in a mansion somewhere, is pure playful nonsense that brings the Stripes right back to their Detroit roots. The couple could go on doing this forever simply by adding a new little twist to the plot every couple of years.
When RYAN ADAMS came out of the gate fronting Whiskeytown in the mid ’90s, he seemed like one of alt-country’s best hopes for a commercial breakthrough. Whiskeytown turned out to be as scattered a venture as Adams’s solo career has been. And until now, Adams (who plays Somerville Theatre this Friday) has spent at least as much time rocking as he has playing the country gentleman. But his new Easy Tiger (Lost Highway) finds him settling down to a full plate of tunes that split the difference between classic rock and country. He’s in Gram Parsons mode for the swinging opener, the sweetly sung “Goodnight Rose,” and the lovelorn “Two,” with its big acoustic guitars and Emmylou Harris–style background vocals. It isn’t until things get a bit ugly on “Halloweenhead” that Adams deviates from a script that might be acceptable on Music Row. But this one — with its talk of drugs and junkies, its hard and heavy guitars, and a chorus that starts with “It’s all the same old shit again” — brings enough bad-boy attitude to the proceedings to keep the rock in the picture.
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