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Picks and Pans Main: Music

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Blake Shelton

Based on a True Story … |


It would be easy for cynics to dismiss Blake Shelton’s eighth studio album as a product of synergistic opportunism more than artistic inspiration. After all, it drops the same week that Shelton returns as a coach for the fourth season of The Voice. What a coinkydink? But the ever-engaging country star smoothly wins over the skeptics. Hey, the dude isn’t the reigning CMA Entertainer of the Year and Male Vocalist of the Year (third time running) for nothing. While Shelton, perhaps too busy with his TV pursuits, didn’t write a lick of this, you wouldn’t know it from how these songs—and stories—capture his personality. Like him, it’s just all so dang likable. He hits his stride quickly with the first two tracks: “Boys ‘Round Here,” which boasts some of the same slinky swagger of wife Miranda Lambert’s “Baggage Claim” and features her Pistol Annies on backup, is a talk-singing ode to “keepin’ it country.” Then the ballad single “Sure Be Cool If You Did” nails Shelton’s aw-shucks charm as he unassumingly woos a woman who’s “lookin’ like a high I wanna be on.” When you’re on a high like Shelton, you can get surefire songs like these.


Girl Who Got Away |


“If only for today/I wanna be/The girl who got away,” sings Dido, providing a dreamy escape on the title track of her fourth album. Her last one came out way back in 2008, so this girl did indeed get away for an extended hiatus. But aside from recruiting rapper of the moment Kendrick Lamar to appear on the pulsing “Let Us Move On” (Drake might have been a better choice), it’s as if she never left. Electronica, folk and hip-hop still float gently through her moody atmosphere. Sometimes, though, all the understated ambience can fade into the background like sweet nothingness.

Depeche Mode

Delta Machine |


Coming off of Dave Gahan’s revelatory album with Soulsavers, 2012’s The Light the Dead See, Depeche Mode’s latest feels somewhat disappointing. It’s solid—their synth-pop sound still holds up surprisingly well after more than 30 years—but unspectacular. Still, songs like the electro-piano ballad “Heaven” and the “Personal Jesus”-esque “Soothe My Soul” show why these Brits will always be goth gods.