RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS STADIUM ARCADIUM The Chili Peppers have always been proud hedonists, so their decade of musical coasting has seemed less a squandering of talent than an example of character as fate. But with producer Rick Rubin pushing their buttons, the Peppers summoned up two discs and 28 tracks' worth of ambition, and sure enough, they can still write hits. The first disc, subtitled Jupiter, is wall-to-wall melodies that bob and weave on Flea's bass playing and Anthony Kiedis' vocal cords. (Lyrically he's still concerned with the abstract fantasia that is his California life, but no matter.) The second disc, Mars, is more experimental but still catchy enough to play straight through. Welcome back, fellas.
GNARLS BARKLEY ST. ELSEWHERE Rapper Cee-Lo and producer Danger Mouse (he of the gene-spliced Grey Album--a mix of the Beatles' White Album and Jay-Z's Black Album) present the best psychedelic soul record since the P-Funk era. Cee-Lo has Bobby Womack-style chops and a willingness to get vulnerable, but Danger Mouse replaces all the moldering soul tropes--over-the-top strings, key-changing hysterics--with minimalist bass lines, trippy samples and planetariums full of crunchy galactic sounds. The result on Necromancing, Just a Thought and the superb Crazy (the first single to top the British charts powered only by downloads) is emotional tension balanced perfectly with innovation. NEIL YOUNG LIVING WITH WAR From the first fuzzy chords, the question posed by Young's 32nd album is not Why does Neil hate George Bush? but How much does Neil hate George Bush? The answer: Um, a lot. But hate isn't all that interesting, and on the best songs here Young transmutes his into empathy for the families of fallen soldiers (Families), optimism about the future (Looking for a Leader) and exuberance; Let's Impeach the President opens with a jazzed-up sample of Taps before turning into an all-out party anthem. Minds are unlikely to be changed, but Young's gift for creative indignation is good for the ears.
WOLFMOTHER DIMENSION There's a 2006 copyright on the back, but you can be forgiven for thinking this Aussie trio's debut is a misplaced artifact from an early Led Zeppelin session. Not only are the members of Wolfmother blissfully unaware that some people now find the monster guitar solo passé, but they also write Wiccan-ish songs with titles like Joker & the Thief, Witchcraft and White Unicorn ("With the white unicorn across her shoulder/ Makes you think that she might have been someone who's older") that are no less fun for being totally incomprehensible. What raises their unironic embrace of classic-rock cliché above the bar of mere cuteness is frantic musicianship and the crisp wail of singer Andrew Stockdale.
ANE BRUN A TEMPORARY DIVE
This Norwegian girl with a guitar has a whiff of the coffeehouse about her, but it's a good coffeehouse. Her depressing songs are monumentally mordant (many are about breakups, one's about death), but she also flashes a sense of humor ("My friend, you left me in the end/ I can't believe I'm writing a song where friend rhymes with end") and really comes out of her shell on Song No. 6, a sweet, stomping duet with fellow melancholic Ron Sexsmith. Most compelling of all is her voice--a mix of Bjork's unpredictability and Joni Mitchell's directness that makes even the dourest material affecting.