CDs by The Black Crowes, B-52s, The Matches, Kylie Minogue and Crystal Castles

Warpaint, Funplex, A Band in Hope, X and Crystal Castles

Warpaint
THE BLACK CROWES

(Silver Arrow/Megaforce/Sony BMG)

Those famously brawling Black Crowes siblings — singer Chris Robinson and guitarist Rich — are back with their first studio album in seven years and it's a glorious return to the fierce, gritty rock 'n' roll the brothers unleashed in the early '90s. The disc opens triumphantly with the salty rocker "Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution." The song finds Chris selling the paranoid lyric with gallows glee over Rich's thick riffs and Luther Dickinson's rich slide guitar playing. Although he's still very much active with his band the North Mississippi Allstars, Dickinson is billed as a full-fledged Crowe here and drops stinging backwoods licks all over the place. Adding him to the fold was a crucial move by the Robinson brothers; Dickinson gives the band's Southern rock revivalism a fresh, juke-joint edge — perhaps his presence helped keep the feuding sibs' egos in check.

There's not a song that doesn't gel on this tight, focused record. On slower numbers like "Oh Josephine," which clocks in at more than six minutes, Chris delivers soulful vocals about a woman's salvation over churchy organ — resulting in an emotive epic that recalls the finest entries in the classic-rock canon. The psychedelia-flavored "Wounded Bird" takes a propulsive groove and laces it with Dickinson's soaring slide work and Rich's roadhouse exploits as the tempo rises and falls. The acoustic "Locust Street," a hymn to the lost and lonely, has a dusty-roads charm to it that personifies rock 'n' roll catharsis. The Robinson boys have vacillated between hiatus and meandering jam-band mode in recent years, so Warpaint comes as nothing short of a revelation. 4 stars —Wade Tatangelo

Funplex
B-52s

(EMI)

The B-52s' quirky dance-rock hasn't lost any of its bubbly allure on Funplex, the influential new wave band's first studio album in 16 years. Singer/songwriters Kate Pierson, Fred Schneider, Keith Strickland and Cindy Wilson returned to their native Athens, Ga., to craft these cheery odes to post-disco decadence. The B-52s smartly revisit the template that created party favorites like "Rock Lobster" and "Love Shack" while also throwing in a few electronica touches that sound lifted from LCD Soundsystem's bag of tricks. Funplex contains nothing revelatory or particularly innovative, but it's smile-inducing nonetheless and a welcome return from college rock's greatest party band. 3.5 stars —WT

A Band in Hope
THE MATCHES

(Epitaph)

Oakland quartet The Matches' transformation from straightforward pop-punk outfit to eclectic modern rockers has been fully realized on their third album, A Band in Hope. It's a disc that makes no attempt at cohesiveness. The bouncy "Wake the Sun" sounds like it could be used to sell Old Navy sweaters; "Future Tense" recalls something by The Cars; and then there's the anthemic album opener, "AM Tilts," which displays a moody, indie-rock bent. You could argue that the album lacks direction, but the unpredictable stylistic leaps from track to track mostly come as pleasant surprises — especially when the band piles on the hooks. 3 stars —WT

X
KYLIE MINOGUE

(Capitol/Astralwerks)

Minogue's 10th studio album keeps the Aussie current, if only by hopping on the retro-'80s bandwagon. X is smart, super-slick Euro-pop, from the New Wave throwback "The One" to the fuzzed-out "In My Arms" and the syncopated ba bum ba bum of "Heart Beat Rock." Minogue teams with Madonna songwriting/producing alumni here, and it sounds like it: "Wow" blatantly cops from "Holiday." Luckily, the hooks hold up — come-hither club anthems that implore folks to "drop your socks and grab your mini-boom box/ do the pop lock body rock" ("Speakerphone"). Minogue's breathy vocals fare best on the sexy, Serge Gainsbourg-sampling "Sensitized," while the R&B-infused first single "All I See" is a sugary confection for fans new and older alike. 3 stars —Amanda Schurr

Crystal Castles
CRYSTAL CASTLES

(Last Gang)

After making a name for himself remixing songs for Bloc Party and the Klaxons, Toronto-based instrumentalist Ethan Kath, along with vocalist Alice Glass, debut their first full-length set of eight-bit electronica. Nu-rave loops meet mic-eating chants on tracks like "Through the Hosiery" and "Alice Practice," a soundcheck turned single. Highlights include the atmospheric "Vanished," "Untrust Us" and "Air Ware," a surprisingly delicate assemblage of squeaks, buzzes and tinkles that scales synth heaven. Others are fun, 2-D dance floor fodder: "Black Panther" tweaks for the unce-unce set, and "Xxzxcuzx Me" is all Atari 5200 audio flourish. 3.5 stars —AS

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