The Emancipation of Mimi
(Island Def Jam)
Keep up at the back: Mimi is Mariah Carey's alter ego, her innermost self. Why she needs emancipating isn't immediately clear. You would have thought Carey could buy her way out of most strictures. But after a couple of dicey albums - the disastrous Glitter (2001) and the anodyne, vanilla Charmbracelet (2002) - it's clear a big change is in order in Carey's career. On album number 10, Carey has gone all urban again, apeing Beyoncé in her visuals and enlisting the surefire Neptunes' dazzle for two good tracks ('To the Floor' and 'Say Somethin'). 'Get Your Number' sees Jermaine Dupri join Carey for a track that wittily samples Imagination's 'Just an Illusion' and rips off both Nelly and the Neptunes. Regardless, it's good fun, demonstrating that even Mariah Carey's boring diva voice can be made intriguing given enough hoops to jump through. But not even Kanye West can quite save the mediocrity that is 'Stay the Night' and the presence of fast rapper Twista on 'One and Only' feels tokenistic. It's a partial liberation at best.
Do Me Bad Things
(Must Destroy/ Atlantic)
Four years ago, it seemed unlikely the wider world would be interested in a glam rock band who sounded like Queen on a budget. But the Darkness went on to be massive. Their record label took a shine to Croydon's Do Me Bad Things, a chaotic nonet intent on being impossible to classify. And, really, Do Me Bad Things shouldn't work. There are sludgy blues riffs and falsettos, half a dozen singers and songs that lurch, wild-eyed, between genres like sugar-crazed toddlers grabbing at sweets. 'What's Hideous', for instance, starts off in the province of pomp-rock, features an occasionally arresting Kelis-like soul vocal, and ends in a skronk of jazz. 'Liv Ullman on Drums' is like a marriage of soft rock, jazz-funk and Billy Joel. Just over a year ago, you could be reasonably confident this extremely naff band had a culty future playing to Rocky Horror Picture Show fans. Now that the Scissor Sisters have proved that having deeply uncool sources is no barrier to success, all bets are off.
Bleed Like Me
Known for their seething synthesised sounds and singer Shirley Manson's dominatrix-next-door voice, Garbage have returned to rock for their fourth album. Recorded after a major crisis - the 12-year-old band effectively broke up for a bit - the impression here is of a band reminding themselves of the basics. The steel and samples have given way to buzzing instruments and directness. Opener 'Bad Boyfriend' even has Manson sounding a little like PJ Harvey while guest drummer Foo Fighter Dave Grohl hits hard for his former producer (Garbage lynchpin Butch Vig oversaw Nirvana's Nevermind). 'Boys Wanna Fight', meanwhile, is intentionally dumb enough to sound good on the radio. Had they made an early Eighties-influenced heavy synth meisterwork, however, Garbage might have been in with a chance of being vaguely important again. As it is, they are merely keeping on keeping on.
Loudon Wainwright III
Here Come the Choppers
The 'W' rack at HMV must be getting seriously full. This week it is the turn of Wainwright père to release a record - sire of Rufus and Martha (whose debut came out last week), sometime actor, and author of 20 albums. He began his career being compared to Dylan. More than 30 years down the line, his children have become his peers and the family saga - Loudon left Rufus and Martha's mother when they were young - has become public property. Wainwright-watchers will enjoy 'When You Leave', a penitent take on his walkout 30 years ago. He also ponders the legacy of his grandfather, Loudon I, on 'Half Fist', seizing elegantly on a detail in a wedding photo. Drummer Jim Keltner last played with Wainwright in 1975 and rejoins him here; jazz guitarist Bill Frisell lends a hand, but his excessive noodling mars 'Had to Be Her'. Here Come the Choppers is a bits-and-pieces album, with hints of the incisive songwriting of Wainwright at his finest, but a bit too much prosaic solipsism to rank among his best.
Saul Williams (Wichita)
Saul Williams is hip hop's poetic conscience, an uncompromising intellect hooked up to a busy tongue, as infuriatingly patchy as he is righteous. He rarely just does straight hip hop, preferring to back his spoken word up with various musical backdrops. Amethyst Rock Star, his last album of 2001, saw him collaborate with rap/rock doyen Rick Rubin, sharply dividing critics. For this follow-up, Williams remains with rock, collaborating with System of a Down's Serj Tankian. Happily, their piano-led 'Talk to Strangers' is direct and excellent - nothing like SOAD. The missing prince of rap/rock, Rage Against the Machine's Zack de la Rocha, drops in on 'Act III Scene 2 (Shakespeare)' and you wish he hadn't. 'List of Demands', meanwhile, rocks; 'African Student Movement' matches its revolutionary content with radical form. Hip hop needs more voices as brave as Williams's. But his messages might travel further if his musical choices weren't so uneven.