What the Pussycat Dolls make painfully clear on "Doll Domination" (Interscope) is that, as far as music is concerned, they are not the dominators, they are the dominated.
They sound like they are at the mercy of their songwriters and producers, making for huge swings in quality. One minute, they will sound sleek and empowered, as they do on Missy Elliott's "Whatcha Think About That," the next they will sound hopeless and screechy as they do on "Inside Man," which may have the worst opening minute of any major-label pop song this year. (Think Christina Aguilera, only off-key and screaming, over a jazzed-up version of Stevie Wonder's "Part Time Lover.")
On "Out of This Club," they sound sweet and fresh with the help of R. Kelly and Polow Da Don, in a sequel of sorts to Usher's "Love in This Club" as girls who want to settle down after a wild life. But on "Whatchamacallit," they spout nonsense about trying to keep people from copying their looks ("The bag, it match the boots and the boots they match the hat, so I pop the tags, don't ask me where I bought that at girl - uh uh uh uh") and then run out of ideas for a chorus.
Obviously, the Pussycat Dolls franchise is built on interchangeability and anonymity, but that takes for granted the ability to keep churning out hits. And on "Doll Domination," it sounds like that particular well is running dry.
THE GRADE C-
BOTTOM LINE Dominated by subpar songs, the Dolls fall flat.
THE GRADE B+
BOTTOM LINE Brainy indie-pop stories about broken homes and busted relationships
Don't worry, "Acid Tongue" (Warner Bros.) features the good Jenny Lewis - the one who delivered the exceptional solo debut, "Rabbit Fur Coat," not the one who disappointed in Rilo Kiley with last year's slick, empty "Under the Blacklight."
Apparently, Lewis funneled her strengths into her solo work. She shows off her songwriting in the ambitious "The Next Messiah," a brainy and brawny blues-rock epic filled with twists clocking in at nearly nine minutes. She shows off her tender vocals in the gorgeous piano-driven ballad "Godspeed." And she combines edginess and style in the raucous soul masterpiece "Jack Killed Mom."
"Acid Tongue" has Lewis leading her band - including the great Johnathan Rice on vocals and guitar - with so much confidence that returning to her Rilo Kiley past seems wasteful.
TV on the Radio's "Dear Science" (DGC/Interscope)
R&B up-and-comer Jazmine Sullivan's "Fearless" (J)
Cold War Kids' "Loyalty to Loyalty" (Downtown)
Plain White T's' "Big Bad World" (Hollywood)
Jackson Browne's "Time the Conqueror" (Inside)
The Jonas Brothers' pal Demi Lovato's "Don't Forget" (Hollywood)
Copyright © 2008, Newsday Inc.
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