With practically nonexistent major releases, especially at the beginning of the summer, Hip-Hop seems to be experiencing a Neptunes and Timbaland hangover. Its not that Hip-Hop isnt putting any fresh material out there, but when Jay Z, the most consistent Rap artist on the planet, chooses to release a smaller version of his sloppy and under-realized 2 disc set, The Blueprint 2, and call it simply Version 2.0, it shows that theres something rotten in the state of Hip-Hop.
Without a doubt, there will be plenty of new Club ready throwaways for those summer nights. The fact that vacuous and meaningless Hip-Hop has become more recently acceptable only serves to damage any hope that the genre will rediscover its progressive power, especially in the Mainstream Pop Universe. Lets hope something newer and better than Dr. Dres newest toy 50 Cent can come along and lift Hip-Hop out of its creative rut. Otherwise, its going to be a long Summer for Rap.
For Rock music fans, this summer is anything BUT creatively lacking. Blurs newest album, Think Tank (released May 6), is the first of many highly anticipated Alt. Rock releases. This is Blurs first album without founding member and lead guitarist Graham Coxon, who was widely viewed as the bands driving musical force. Think Tank owes much to lead singer Damon Albarns side work with Gorillaz, as each tracks drum-machine beat and inventive samples re-invent Blurs sound with almost Beck-quality results. Blur isnt dead, as many hard-core fans would have you believe, its entirely reborn wrapped in dark chrome blues. Its Think Tanks almost mechanical soul that epitomizes the electronic shift Alt. Rock has undergone since Radioheads Kid A and breathes new life into a band in doubt.
Radioheads newest, Hail to the Thief (due June 10), is easily the most anticipated album of the summer, regardless of genre...and for good reason. Hail to the Thief was leaked to the internet nearly a month ago and was immediately posted to music sharing networks, surprising even the most rabid fans. The recordings show a much more melodic Radiohead, with all the future shock of OK Computer, the techno drone of Kid A, and the sneer of Amnesiac.
When it was later revealed that the leaked recordings were recorded in February of 2003, long before the final versions of the songs were finished and mixed, downloads actually increased. Ravenous fan appetite, coupled with a tantalizing preview into Radioheads Art-in-Progress, make Hail to the Thief the most desirable album of the summer, if only to hear what all the fuss is about.
Certain to be another summer Rock behemoth is Metallicas long awaited St. Anger (due June 10). Anger is Metallicas first album since the departure of bassist Jason Newsted, but dont expect his absence to change the tried and true Hetfield-Ulrich Metallica sound. The band recently shot a video at San Quentin Prison where they played for inmates in what was undoubtedly a more than interesting concert. Metallica have kept St. Anger well hidden from most online trading services, and if Linkin Parks success with their hit album Meteora is any indicator, it pays to keep albums under strict lock and key.
The Deftones, who tour with Metallica and Linkin Park on the summer Sanatarium Tour, will release an epynonymous follow up to their Grammy-winning breakthrough White Pony (due May 20). According to the band, the album is so raw and emotional that only one track was suitable for release. Fortunately for metal fans, raw and emotional for the Deftones means loud and heavy.
Last but not least, Staind attempt to build on their huge success with their newest effort 14 Shades of Gray (due May 20). While this release is without a doubt one of the most commercially anticipated of the summer, artistically its become very hard to stomach the constant sorrow and grunge-dirge nature of Stainds metal-on-metal grind. The first single off the album, Price to Play breaks absolutely no new ground and offers a grim portent on the rest of the album. Its impossible to write them off, but Stained has a big chip on its shoulder for this album that could either spur creative growth or relegate Staind to a band that almost was.
When all is said and done, summer music is less important as an art form and more important as a soundtrack to our (usually) more carefree days . There seems to be a theme song for every summer activity, whether its driving in your car, lying on the beach, partying with friends, or a warm clear starry night. Its because summer albums can become so ingrained into ourlives that they have such power over our musical tastes. This summer, there are many albums with the potential to become permanent fixtures in your CD player. No matter the season, thats music to the ears.