Sound Bites

Posted: Thursday, June 26, 2008

KATY PERRY "One of the Boys" ★★

Katy Perry's decidedly politically incorrect first single, "Ur So Gay," not only got Madonna to declare it her favorite song. It also raised high hopes that the former contemporary Christian singer turned snark queen might, indeed, be the American answer to Lily Allen - which she's being marketed as. "I hope you hang yourself with your H&M scarf," she purrs at an ex-boyfriend, of whom she declares "Ur so gay/And you don't even like boys." Unfortunately, the fun stops there. Boys' witless second single, "I Kissed a Girl," does an excellent job of pandering to horny Maxim readers, while not nearly measuring up to Jill Sobule's cute and coy 1995 hit of the same name. And it goes downhill from there, with a steady flow of collaborations with corporate producer-songwriters, starting with Alanis Morissette enabler Glen Ballard and including Desmond Child, Dr. Luke, Butch Walker, Max Martin and Dave Stewart. From the mean "If You Can Afford Me" to the unimaginative "Mannequin," Perry, who was first touted as a "Next Big Thing" in Blender in 2004, takes every possible precaution, and in so doing sucks the joy out of this impersonal package that's pretty much a lock to make her a big star.

SCOTT KEMPNER "Saving Grace" ★★★ ½

A founding member of '70s New York proto-punks the Dictators and later the leader of the great roots-rocking Del-Lords, Scott Kempner has had a career far shorter on luck than talent. His first solo album in 16 years shows that adversity (personal as well as professional) has only sharpened his muse.

"Saving Grace" has a couple of raw rockers, but Kempner steers clear of the wisenheimer attitude of the Dictators and the Springsteen-style populism of the Del-Lords. The dominant mood is downbeat and inward-looking, with the singer "a little lost and lonely in the night," as the title cut puts it. His unsparing reflections are framed by richly crafted music with '60s echoes, from ringing Beatlesque guitars to an air of urban pop romanticism.

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