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Pop Making Sense
by David Byrne with Tony Peregrin
2012-11-21

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Many have saluted the late Nina Simone by covering her signature songs; examples include George Michael, Sophie B. Hawkins, Jennifer Hudson, Michael Buble and her own daughter, who uses the moniker Simone. On her latest, Pour une Ame Souveraine (For a Sovereign Soul), Meshell Ndegeocello reinterprets the iconic siren's works.

The multi-instrumentalist does not attempt to recreate the legend's deep, powerful voice, nor does she try to tackle the big-band sound on certain titles like "Feeling Good." Instead, the Grammy nominee brings her own arrangements with her smooth vocals intact. Being renowned as a bassist, it is no wonder her reworking of the groove-heavy "See Line Woman" is magical. The set boasts numerable remarkable cameos, including lesbian folk musician Toshi Reagon on "Real Real" and "House of the Rising Sun," Sinead O'Connor on "Don't Take All Night" and Lizz Wright on the moving grassroots gospel number "Nobody's Fault But Mine." Ndegeocello returns to The Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln Ave., for two shows Friday, Nov. 23.

After the commercial flop Bionic, Christina Aguilera canceled a tour with Leona Lewis, starred in the forgettable Burlesque and joined the judge's panel on The Voice. Now a single mom and still in possession of one of the strongest set of pipes in the pop market, Aguilera rebounds with Lotus.

The platinum blonde belts it out on the inspirational "Sing for Me," which follows the blueprint to her anthem "Beautiful." Singer-songwriter Sia lent her talents to Bionic's strongest moments and to David Guetta's smash "Titanium"; she and Aguilera reunite on the piano-based ballad "Blank Page." Even though there is a prevalent theme about rebirth, the Xtina personality resurfaces on the feisty, sexy stomper "Your Body." Two of her counterparts from The Voice guest on Lotus. Cee-Lo Green is on the funky, upbeat radio-ready "Make the World Move" and Blake Shelton brings his country undertones to "Just a Fool." "Army of Me" and "Red Hot Kinda Love" overshadow filler like "Let There Be Love" and "Around the World."

While Lily Allen is out on maternity leave and as we wait for new material from Jessie J., Cher Lloyd fills the void of spunky, British pop star with her debut, Sticks & Stones. Her gold single "Want U Back" is comparable to the overlooked 2009 cut "New in Town" by Little Boots. The highlight of Lloyd's debut is when she kicks it old-school on "Playa Boi," with its sample lifted from Neneh Cherry's "Buffalo Stance." "With Ur Love" was a hit overseas and boasts a big, tasty chorus. Just skip the dreadful "Swagger Jagger," which topped the charts in her native U.K. Amid all of this electro-pop, I had to do a double-check upon hearing an actual guitar on "Beautiful People," a collaboration with Carolina Liar. Lloyd has come forward as a victim of cyberbullying and placed fourth on the British version of X-Factor.

Every now and there is a song that just sinks into my head, whereby resistance is pointless. Icona Pop offers such a guilty pleasure with the fun, explosive "I Love It." Here, the Swedish pair sings, "I threw your shit into a bag / and pushed it down the stairs … I don't care, I love it" over a grinding dance beat. Side effects from hearing the chorus might be jumping up and down, which can lead to awkward moments in the office or supermarket.

In case you weren't completely sick of all things Jersey Shore, this jam apparently was used on the spin-off J-Wow and Snooki. "I Love It" opens the six-track EP Iconic, which also has the marvelous, moody electronic piece "Sun Goes Down" and electro-pop goodies like "Ready for the Weekend" and "Top Rated." This EP should ward off a blistering winter. Icona Pop plans to release its full length debut in the United States in early 2013.

The influence from the '80s keeps popping up on albums this year by the likes of Diamond Rings, Neon Trees and Dragonette. Blaqk Audio draws inspiration from the Reagan era on Bright Black Heaven, which debuted on top of Billboard's Electronic Albums charts. The duo gives a nod to OMD on the upbeat "Faith Healer," then has a potential hit in store with "Fade to White." The deliciously dark "Deconstructing Gods" references "Love Comes Quickly" by Pet Shop Boys in the verses. "Ill-Lit Ships" is an electronic emo ballad worthy of British counterparts Hurts. The pair shows that the works from Soft Cell and The Cure were closely studied on "Bon Voyeurs."

Want more Blaqk Audio? Check out the band's killer cover of Love & Rocket's "No New Tale to Tell" from 2009's tribute compilation New Tales to Tell.

After a hiatus, The Flesh Hungry Dog Show delivers the ultimate yuletide treat by making a triumphant return to Jackhammer, 6406 N. Clark St., Friday, Dec. 7, with another Christmas with the Joans. The queer-centric showcase offers a fantastic alternative to the usual music blaring out of gay bars. The Joans, Chicago's beloved Joan Crawford-inspired band, will be headlining and premiering the hilarious holiday cut "A Very Crawford Christmas" from the film Scrooge & Marley. DJ Moose will be spinning while the bands Pieptone! and Bric-a-Brac as well as the go-go dancing troupe The Revelettes will be on the bill. Tickets can be purchased in advance at www.fleshhungrydog.com .


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