Album Reviews for Nov. 23, 2012

Rihanna
UNAPOLOGETIC

Rihanna’s seventh album, Unapologetic, features the 24-year-old pop-rhythm-and-blues star covering a diverse collection of characters and styles. She gets her thug on in the explicit “Fresh Off the Runway.” She’s a source of inspiration in pop anthem “Diamonds,” her 18th hit single. She plays an all-business stripper spouting harsh, clipped phrases in “Pour It Up.”

Rihanna’s more vulnerable Unapologetic moments include the emotional “Loveeeeee,” a duet with Future. The two singers play the roles of a young man and a young woman who wonder if their attraction to one another is mutual. “I need love and affection,” Future confesses, “and I hope I’m not sounding desperate.” To the contrary, “Jump” is seriously lustful, in its lyrics and electronic simulation.

As happens in pop and R&B recordings that major labels expect to debut at No. 1 and yield multiple hit singles, Unapologetic’s deeper album tracks exploit Rihanna’s vocal talent most of all. She sings powerfully for the grand “What Now.” “Stay,” a duet with Mikky Ekko, is another vocal showcase, as is the especially expressive “Lost In Paradise.” Rihanna also returns to her Caribbean roots with the full-tilt reggae of “No Love Allowed.”

Unapologetic’s most talked about song likely will be “Nobody’s Business,” featuring Chris Brown, the ex-boyfriend who pled guilty to assaulting Rihanna the night before the 2009 Grammy Awards. But with Brown doing his familiar Michael Jackson impression for the duet, “Nobody’s Business” is among the album’s least interesting songs.

Elvis Presley
PRINCE FROM ANOTHER PLANET

When Elvis Presley soared to fame in the mid-1950s, much of the nation embraced him. New York City was an exception, or at least the critics who knocked the rising Southern star’s TV guest performances for New York-based programs featuring hosts Jackie Gleason, Steve Allen and Ed Sullivan.

Following his U.S. Army stint and 1960s movie career, Presley famously returned to public performance in August 1969 in Las Vegas. But it would be three years later that Presley performed his first New York concert, 15 years after those lambasted TV appearances.

Presley made his much-belated New York debut in June 1972. He performed four sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden, selling 80,000 tickets. His triumphant return is documented in Prince From Another Planet. The box set’s title comes from a New York Times newspaper account about Presley’s 17 years-in-the-making conquest of New York.

Recordings of Presley and his troupe’s afternoon and evening shows on June 10, 1972, reveal the excitement in the Garden. The crowd responds enthusiastically, including screaming that suggests it’s still 1956 and ’57.

Presley was 37 years old in 1972, still slim and youthful. His energized Garden performances, preserved in audio form and in newly discovered film shot by a fan (featured on the box set’s DVD along with Presley’s press conference and a 20-minute documentary), present him in late-career glory.

The two June 10 shows are nearly identical. Both open with a song from the dawn of the singer’s career, “That’s All Right.” Later in each concert, Presley sang a string of his rock ’n’ roll classics, in abbreviated but still exciting fashion. But in 1972 he seemed more concerned about being seen as a modern, versatile artist. He sang Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Proud Mary,” Dusty Springfield’s “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” and Tony Joe White’s “Polk Salad Annie.”

Presley also turned to Broadway during the evening show, performing “The Impossible Dream” from Man of La Mancha. He sang everything well, effectively making all of the songs his own. Presley and his musical entourage, including Shreveport guitar master James Burton, also performed impassioned previews of what would be his next hit, “Suspicious Minds.”

The two concerts in the Prince From Another Planet are among the great Presley concert recordings.