Album reviews: Nine Inch Nails, Lily Allen, Angelique Kidjo

Nine Inch Nails
Bad Witch
(The Null Corporation ***)

An EP that Trent Reznor calls an album just to outfox Spotify, Bad Witch would nevertheless fit onto a single CD with Nine Inch Nails’ previous two offerings, Not the Actual Events and Add Violence. But unlike those records, you’d be able to blind-ID which one these songs hail from. The abrasively distorted opener “S- Mirror” is uncharacteristically followed by hyperactive neo-drum ‘n’ bass (“Ahead of Ourselves”) and free-jazz horns (“Play the Goddamn Part”) that come together memorably on the squelchy advance single “God Break Down the Door.” On that song and the closing “Over and Out,” Reznor croons like none other than his onetime collaborator David Bowie, whose latter-day albums, particularly Earthling and Blackstar, Bad Witch pays deliberate homage to. If only the droning final two tracks, making up nearly half the 30-minute running time, were any good. — Dan Weiss

Lily Allen
No Shame
(Warner Bros. ***)

Lily Allen’s quick wit served her extremely well on the British songwriter’s terrific albums Alright, Still (2006) and It’s Not Me, It’s You (2009) in which she moved through the London party world in her early 20s with a sharp eye and a sure sense of self worth. Allen lost her footing with the inconsistent Sheezus in 2014, though, which used irony as a crutch and tried too hard to keep up with trends.

On No Shame, Allen’s done with all that foolishness, instead turning a blunt, unstinting eye on herself as she grapples with the aftermath of divorce. Her trademark bubbly pop sound occasionally appears, as on the charming “Waste,” which features dance hall emcee Lady Chann. But No Shame is mostly more morose and less fun than that.  On the spare, keyboard-only “Apples,” Allen is forced to admit: “Now I’m exactly where I didn’t want to be / I’m just like my mummy and daddy.” More painful still, the piano ballad “Three” is sung from the perspective of Allen’s daughters: “You say you love me, then you walk right out the door / I’m left here wanting more.” No Shame succeeds because it doesn’t aim for uplift or intend to be empowering. It just tries to be real. — Dan DeLuca

Angelique Kidjo
Remain in Light
(Kravenworks ***½)

 

Call it subtle irony, payback, or circle-of-life stuff: Benin, West Africa-born Angélique Kidjo reimagining the Talking Heads’ 1980 classic is both rich tribute to David Byrne’s twitchy world-funk aesthetic and a reclaiming that which the Heads appropriated in the first place.

Like the original, Kidjo’s Remain in Light bonds African music, grooves, and hypnotic repetition to Western notions of sound and uses appropriate collaborators (now, Fela Kuti drummer Tony Allen, Drake/Beyoncé producer Jeff Bhasker, Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig) to get there. Often, Kidjo’s holy-rolling results wind up sounding similar to the Heads’ take, as the initial African influences were so divinely provident and prominent. The cool halt of “Houses in Motion” and its rubbery rhythmic pulse is a great example of dedication to the original and a tribute to Heads’ Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz. But minus the Heads’ usual avant-punk-funk éclat and Kidjo’s own sense of jubilation, moments such as the elated “Once in a Lifetime” and “Crosseyed and Painless” are closer to African religious music. Then there is the matter of Kidjo’s lustrous voice versus Byrne’s chickenish cluck. On a simmering, slow song such as “Listening Wind,” where Byrne’s wiggly yelp showed off a cool and nervous hesitancy, Kidjo’s assertive baritone carries the track to new emotional heights and a fresh, funky confidence. — A.D. Amorosi