Entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out recent releases from America’s sweetheart Kelly Clarkson, hyper-patriot Kid Rock, punk survivors Anti-Flag and pop septuplets Maroon 5.

New Album from an Old Artist

Anti-Flag: American Fall

Formed in the working class haven of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania way back in 1988 by singer Justin Sane and drummer Pat Thetic, Anti-Flag have always taken a strong political stance. Anti-war, anti-imperialism and anti-capitalism, the band are also pro a few things, including Greenpeace and Amnesty International, and have taken an active role in the Occupy movement.

After breaking up and reforming, Anti-Flag released their debut album Die For the Government in 1996, followed two years later by sophomore effort Their System Doesn’t Work For You. After releasing a bunch of tracks on an album named North America Sucks, the band fought a backlash from the type of people who care about that sort of thing.

Sonically, American Fall bears a resemblance to Cali-punk bands like The Offspring and Rancid, although with a heavier edge. Thematically, the album deals with drug abuse, trans rights, the war on poverty and the overarching specter of Donald Trump, who if nothing else has been good for giving punks something to be angry about again.

It is somewhat amusing to compare the attitudes to the U.S. between American Fall and Kid Rock’s new album Sweet Southern Sugar: one takes a harsh look and demands that the country do better, the other smokes a bag of weed and claims that everything is fine.

Standout tracks: American Attraction, Finish What We Started, Racists

Sample lyric: “Just because you don’t know you’re racist, a bigot with a checklist." (Racists)

Verdict: 8/10 — classic punk rock with a modern twist

Album title that really should have been Googled

Maroon 5: Red Pill Blues

For those fortunate enough to have avoided the bottom feeders of the internet that are MRAs, you may be unaware of the meaning behind the term "take the red pill". Inspired by the Keanu Reeves classic The Matrix, taking the red pill represents stripping away artifice and seeing the world as it really is. While this may not seem like a bad thing, the term was quickly adopted by internet basement-dwellers to bash feminism, equal rights and anything that threatened the white male patriarchy. There was even a movie made last year that many saw as outright propaganda for the MRA movement, but apparently all of this passed Maroon 5 by.

Keep in mind that there are no less than seven members of Maroon 5, including vocalist Adam Levine who has over 8 million followers on Twitter, many of whom were quick to let the singer know of his faux pas when the album was released. In an attempt at damage control, guitarist James Valentine stated that the band members were all "hardcore feminists", which must be a comfort to the scores of women that Levine has slept with.

Either way, this storm in a teacup scandal is more interesting than any of the music on Red Pill Blues, which is exactly the same sort of disposable pop that the band have been producing for years. Not without the odd catchy hook, Red Pill Blues seems to lack the breakout hit that Maroon 5 albums usually include.

If you’re looking for a Harder to Breathe or Moves Like Jagger, you might be disappointed, but if you’re looking for something to listen to until the new Nick Jonas album comes out, then you could probably do worse.

Standout tracks: Best 4 U, Who Am I

Sample lyric: “Tell me, tell me if you love me or not, love me or not, love me or not.” (What Lovers Do)

Verdict: 4/10 — polished but empty

Album I Expect to Suck

Kid Rock: Sweet Southern Sugar

In another sign of the impending apocalypse, Kid Rock recently announced his intention to run for the U.S. Senate, then almost immediately declared that he was definitely joking when a bunch of people started saying that he couldn’t be any worse than the clowns doing the job at the moment. While you consider the horrific possibility of a Kanye West/Kid Rock presidential run in 2020, you can kick back and listen to his new album, a remarkable snapshot of modern America.

There’s the arrogance that marks American foreign policy, typified by tracks like American Rock ‘n Roll and Tennessee Mountain Top, the class warfare that informs Po-Dunk and the rampant substance abuse of Raining Whiskey. There’s also a pisspoor cover of the Four Tops Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch which reflects how some things genuinely were better in the good old days — or at least until white rappers were a thing.

After making his name as an off-brand Eminem in hat with songs like Badbawitha and Cowboy, the singer born Robert Richie embraced country and western, even recording a duet with Sheryl Crow. He then discovered that he could rip off a classic song and change a few words, and proceeded to lower the bar with derivative crap like All Summer Long.

If you’re a fan of cheap whiskey and shagging your cousin, you’ll probably love Sweet Southern Sugar. Everyone else is best to look elsewhere…

Standout tracks: Po-Dunk, for being wildly insulting to its subject.

Sample lyric: ‘Bible by the bed and a bottle sitting pretty, pigskin on the TV, bacon on the skillet.’ (Po-Dunk)

Verdict: 3/10 — still better than Senator Kid Rock

Ch-check It Out…

Kelly Clarkson: Meaning of Life

Like many music fans, I have mixed feelings about Kelly Clarkson. She clearly has a fantastic voice and was absolutely the right choice to win the inaugural season of American Idol. On the other hand she’s a bit of a hypocrite, refusing to allow new Idol contestants to cover her songs on the show.

Generally, Clarkson is a pretty good role model for young women, staking a stance against the fat-shaming that internet trolls love so much. She refused to work with alleged scumbag producer Dr Luke back in 2009, and has constantly fought against record industry execs who want her to be the next Britney Spears. By the same token… all of her albums sound sort of the same.

There is more than one occasion on Meaning of Life where Clarkson tries to emulate her hero Aretha Franklin, but struggles to find the emotional depths of the original soul diva. When she’s singing poppy songs about love and heartbreak it’s all fine and Clarkson is still one of the best at writing a "woman scorned" track without coming off as a victim like Taylor Swift. It is no insult to say that she doesn’t have the gravitas of Aretha Franklin — there have only been a handful of singers in history that share this distinction.

It seems churlish to give a bad rating to an album that has nothing fundamentally wrong with it, but somehow lacks the vital spark that takes a project from good to great. I find it slightly odd that you can’t tell if the love songs are being some to her partner or to Jesus, but whatever floats your boat I suppose.

Standout tracks: Love So Soft, Medicine

Sample lyric: “You show me love, you lift me up, you take me higher and higher. (Meaning of Life)

Verdict: 7/10 — great voice, somewhat lacking in inspiration

Books by John Turnbull are available on Amazon and Kindle, including supernatural thriller Damnation’s Flame; action/romance Reaper, black comedy City Boy and travel guidebook Bar Trek: EuropeDamnation's Flame by John Turnbull is also available in paperback in the IA store HERE (free postage).

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