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Sound Advice

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U2

No Line on the Horizon

Interscope

Sounds like: U2's rock optimism meets uncertain reality

Short take: Like today, it's not great but could be worse

If future generations look back on this recessive/depressive moment in history for an "Ain't We Got Fun"-style musical milepost, they may find it in No Line on the Horizon. Any measure of hope U2 and producer Brian Eno found during Barack Obama's inauguration is tempered in the pragmatic themes of their latest work. The album's title track may echo the glossier, headier Achtung Baby days of "The Fly" and "Ultra Violet," but "White as Snow" is steeped in a soldier's lament during an Afghanistan winter. "Magnificent" may be the band's shot at a 2010 World Cup theme song, but it's dulled by a war correspondent's bleak letter home in "Cedars of Lebanon." The band still feels like partying with bar anthem "I'm Gonna Go Crazy if I Don't Go Crazy Tonight," high-octane blues rocker "Breathe" and the funk-flavored "Stand Up Comedy," but the mournful gospel of "Moment of Surrender" makes it clear that the train has left Zoo Station for a much grayer world. Jason Notte


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The Drones

Havilah

All Tomorrow's Parties

Sounds like: A dingo enjoying your baby

Short take: The Drones put the raucous back in Aussie rock

A hit at last fall's All Tomorrow's Parties Festival, Melbourne quartet the Drones seem poised to take the mantle of Australian icons like Midnight Oil and the Birthday Party. Frontman Gareth Liddiard spits out even more righteous vitriol per stanza than Midnight Oil's Peter Garrett, although Liddiard's particular demons appear to be more personal than political. Still, it's all in the service of turbulent guitar rock that's much more dynamic (plus weirdly uplifting) than anything Nirvana managed to record, especially on the sprawling opener, "Nail It Down," and the swaggering single, "Minotaur." Like "Shark Fin Blues" from their wistfully titled Wait Long By the River and the Bodies of Your Enemies Will Float By, the best tracks on Havilah are rife with highly contagious melodies, strangely literate lyrics and frenetically inspired guitar interplay, all from an Australian band that actually sounds Australian. Despair and torment never sounded so good. Bill Forman


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Chris Isaak

Mr. Lucky

Reprise

Sounds like: David Lynch soundtrack material

Short take: Fortune smiles on the tuneful Isaak

Insecurities abound on Chris Isaak's new studio album, Mr. Lucky, as the singer-songwriter continues to croon about a wicked world filled with wicked things. Betrayed lovers and broken hearts make up the lion's share of Isaak's new 14-track offering, which is the long-awaited follow-up to 2002's Always Got Tonight. However, while that album added hints of modern rock and even funk into the mix, Mr. Lucky thankfully finds Isaak retreating back to his Bakersfield-meets-Roy Orbison roots with the angry opener "Cheater's Town," the rockabilly swagger of "Mr. Lonely Man" and the country-radio-friendly "Best I Ever Had." From a lyrical standpoint, the straight-ahead rocker "We Lost Our Way" sums up the new CD, with the full-time musician and part-time actor lamenting broken love in the City of Lights: "You'd move faster without a ring / Oh we lost our way in California ... It all turns bad." Singing about bad luck makes for a good time on Mr. Lucky. John Benson

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