Vampire Weekend, Vampire Weekend: It's a mystery why people congratulate Vampire Weekend (and as a corollary, laud its breezy tunes) because it acknowledges, embraces and writes about its privileged background. Besides the fact that nothing is more boring than the concerns of the rich, this honesty doesn't change that Vampire Weekend is full of milquetoast arrangements, quaint indie-skiffling and white-bread lyrics. Even its most interesting characteristic — cheery, Hawaiian-shirt polyrhythms and jittery percussion — can't salvage the fluffy, high-tea affectations. In the end, the album remains nothing more than Paul Simon's Graceland filtered through a Gossip Girl lens. (AZ)


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Kanye West, Late Registration: Perhaps the most controversial (if not challenging) artist of the decade, Kanye West came into his own on Late Registration. Too bad the album didn't boost anything but his ego — and his inflated sense of self. For every genuine tune (the touching "Hey Mama") or pleasing marriage of galloping beats and old-school samples, there's a lyric that immediately sounds dated ("From the Chi, like Tim, it's a Hardaway") or another self-inflicted pat on the back ("You girl don't like me/How long has she been gay?" or "Big K pick up where young Hov left off"). The lyrics of "Gold Digger" are no better than the misogynistic tripe spewed by artists West is supposedly better than — which makes sense, because Registration's tired boasts about his likeability or talent read like insecurity, not braggadocio. (AZ)


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Amy Winehouse, Back to Black: The very-public, very-sad decline of Amy Winehouse has overshadowed her recording career. But even before the drugs, arrests and tabloid hounding, the resonance of her Grammy-winning soul throwback, Back to Black, was overstated. Sure, the Daptone horns and sparkling Mark Ronson production add impeccable class and flair to the project. But Black was swept up in the UK's nü-lady-soul zeitgeist (c.f. Adele, Duffy), which meant that things like, say, Winehouse's narrow, nasal range and Billie Holiday-sans-nuance emoting were overlooked. Above all, there's a curious lack of depth to the album — as if Winehouse's assertions against rehab or her love-gone-wrong moans were merely surface emotional filler. (AZ)

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