Luther got his fabulously successful career in just under the wire. Best known as a singer — but also a songwriter, producer and arranger — Vandross' music was hopelessly romantic and, at times, hopefully romantic. Unlike today's hip-hop-influenced R&B, with its songs about hit-and-run sexual conquests, the late Vandross was not predatory, not salacious. He didn't promise sexual performance; he promised love. He looked at love from all sides — from the exaltation of new love to the dire desperation of lost love to the unremitting ache of unrequited love. And lots of other iterations of love. This four-CD box set begins with a previously unreleased demo called "Ready For Love" and includes a dozen songs with the word "love" in the title, culminating in a manifesto of sorts: "Power of Love/Love Power."
Certain people find Luther's music overly sappy. They're missing out. There's something beautiful about wallowing in unabashed romanticism. That's what you get from his music. It starts with his voice, the delivery mechanism that gives deep meaning to Luther's myriad examinations of love. The voice is more velvet than silk, in that it's thicker with a deeper grain. His range is staggering, his phrasing and interpretive abilities among the best ever. His quick slips into falsetto can raise goose bumps. If sometimes Luther overdid it on the gymnastics, we'll forgive him. The music's florid, string-drenched arrangements only add to the effect.
Love, Luther covers the gamut of his career, from his early salad days as an anonymous disco singer in a few also-ran acts to the tear-inducing title song of his last studio disc, Dance With My Father. Luther was maybe at his best covering other people's ballads. His version of Bacharach/David's "A House is Not a Home," first made popular by Dionne Warwick, is a tour de force, an emotional steamroller. Likewise, he upped the ante on the Carpenters hit "Superstar" by filling it with a profound sense of longing. The list goes on: "Since I Lost My Baby," "Creepin'," "The Closer I Get to You."
The manna for Luther-philes in this set is a previously unreleased three-song sequence titled "The Montserrat Sessions." Recorded at the famed AIR Studios, Luther performs three ballads — "There's Only You," "Anyone Who Had a Heart" and "So Amazing" — with pared-back instrumentation and more relaxed vocals. They're not radically reworked versions, but you'll hang on every note.
Let me sum up this review about Love, Luther by saying: I love it. 5 stars —Eric Snider
Set to coincide with the release of Sigur Rós' new DVD, Heim, this double CD collects two separate EPs by the slow-mo Icelandic group: Hvarf is five tracks' worth of new recordings, while Heim is made up of live acoustic renderings of previously recorded songs. Both sides are intriguing, but Heim holds more interest because of the way the band is forced to translate its heavy, reverb-soaked ambience into mellow chamber rock. Hvarf, on the other hand, mostly continues the band's past trajectory. There's plenty of evidence throughout of Sigur Rós' tendency to drift uncomfortably toward prog, but what rescues the double disc from irredeemable preciousness is the sheer beauty of the arrangements. 3 stars —Cooper Levey-Baker
Our Ill Wills
SHOUT OUT LOUDS
Not since the members of the '90s hit machine Ace of Base were executed for crimes against humanity has Sweden done as much for international music as they have this year. OK, so Ace of Base wasn't, to our knowledge, executed, and Sweden still hasn't apologized for ABBA, but the emergence of its native Shout Out Louds is certainly a consolation. Or a Cure. Yes, there are distinct similarities. It starts with frontman Adam Olenius' vocals, virtually a dead ringer for Robert Smith. The important difference, though, is that Olenius' singing, and the Shout Out Louds' music overall, is decidedly more upbeat than The Cure's. "Tonight I Have to Leave It" is infectious pop fare of the first order, while the introspective self-reproach of "Impossible" keeps the album from being overly light. Electronic dance grooves drive most of the songs, but the guitar-heavy ballad "Meat Is Murder" provides a brief yet welcome break. Our Ill Wills is well crafted, and though it never manages to break new ground, the disc does offer up material that's instantly familiar — overall, a winning formula. 3 stars —Alan Grant